Wisconsin Recalls: It's (Also) About Saving Our Schools

An open letter to anyone who cares about public education, and to anyone who thinks the Wisconsin recall elections are just about public employees and collective bargaining.

3 August 2011

Dear friends,

You may have noticed, in the past few weeks, a couple of events coming out of Wisconsin news: The first is that our recall elections are coming up, and on August 9 and 16 the people will vote to see which of our recalled Senators will remain in office.  Up for recall are both Republican and Democratic legislators, and the stakes are high around the state as the balance of power could potentially shift in our Republican-run regime. The second thing you might have heard about is our participation at the Save Our Schools event in Washington, DC, which had a large Wisconsin contingent. These two events are not unrelated.  Public schools are under attack, and the recall elections might be our last chance for a while to fight for them. I ask that you take a few minutes to consider the evidence and the potential impact of these elections on policies that directly effect our children, and their schools.

Exhibit A: Alberta Darling, the Republican Senator from District 8 who famously admitted that she does not listen to public testimony during the budget hearings because (1) people had "already spoken" on this issue "at the ballot box" (a lie in the extreme, when you consider that Scott Walker did NOT campaign on his education-killing budget), (2) the people who testified didn't matter because they weren't "taxpayers" (since taxpayers would be working at that time - the time she purposely selected to limit potential testimony) and (3) the hoards of people testifying against the bill were irrelevant to her, because they didn't represent the "silent majority" of Wisconsin citizens who were too busy or too lazy to speak up in support of the budget.  That Alberta Darling, you should know, is being sued for her violation of the Open Records Law in refusing to produce her correspondence and appointments with out-of-state groups like the American Federation for Children, who have poured over $500,000 into Wisconsin recall ads and contributed to the campaigns of Republican legislators across the state. Other legislators have complied with similar requests. Why won't Darling produce these records? What is she trying to hide? Exhibit B might provide some answers to that question.

Exhibit B: The influence of ALEC and the AFC on Wisconsin's trickle-down education legislation.
If you've been following the news about Wisconsin, you know that one of the things Wisconsin citizens are most angry about is the draconian, unnecessary cuts to public education - over $1.7 billion (!) in cuts to our schools, which are forced now to balance budgets by forcing teachers into early retirement and cutting programs that are essential to our most at-risk students. These cuts, however, don't come in vacuum. While Walker repeatedly claims these cuts are just mandatory hits that show how we all have to "tighten our belts," not all belts in Wisconsin are getting tighter. These cuts come hand-in-hand with corporate tax breaks, a 15% increase to road construction and to other areas that benefit funders of Walker's campaign, as well as increased funding to charter schools - including the use of public funds to provide vouchers for rich children to attend private schools, legislation that comes to us directly from the coffers of one of Wisconsin's major campaign contributors: Amway/Prince mogul Betsy DeVos and her astroturfing front-group, American Federation for Children, a group which has a national aim to privatize public education.  Michigan-based Betsy DeVos is perhaps most famous for her openness in acknowledging that she expects a "return" on her political investments - "buying influence," she calls it - a return that her Wisconsin investments, Scott Walker, Scott and Jeff Fitzgerald (the brothers who serve as heads of the Wisconsin Senate and House), Senator Alberta Darling, Representative Robin Vos (the current WI head of ALEC), and others (including some Democrats) are apparently more than willing to provide. It's also worth noting that Scott Jensen, the former Wisconsin Assembly Speaker who was convicted of felony charges of abuse of office, sits on the AFC board as "Senior Advisor" to its "Governmental Affairs Team." The conservative group The Presidential Coalition, an offshoot of Citizens United, has spent $300,000 in ads supporting Republican Luther Olsen in his race against Fred Clark in District 14. Ethics violations have been filed against tax-dodger Kim Simac, who's challenging incumbent Jim Holperin (D) in District 12, for failing to included the "paid by" on her tv ads. While both sides have raised significant funds at the grassroots and local level, the number of out-of-state special interest groups pouring money into keeping the Wisconsin Senate Republican is directly linked to the national movement to privatize public schools, a fact that voters should not overlook when entering the ballot boxes in the upcoming weeks. What return do they expect on their "investments"? Is the quality of your child's education a price you are willing to pay for it?

Exhibit C: Scott Walker, national pawn poster boy for "school choice." 
Code for privatizing public education, "school choice" legislation slowly defunds public schools as it builds up programs to fund private education.  With millions of dollars pouring into these efforts, our own Scott Walker has become the national model for the shameless exploitation of public funds in the name of "education." When he signed into law the voucher bill that conservative news outlet Newsmax glowingly called "the largest expansion to the state’s school choice programs in history," Betsy DeVos sang his praises: “Governor Walker and state legislators pledged to put Wisconsin’s children first, and today that important pledge has become law. We encourage governors and state legislators across the nation to be equally bold in fighting for the creation and expansion of school choice programs.” Claiming to represent minorities and low-income interests, the AFC garners misleading "support" from conservative front groups like School Choice Wisconsin, the Wisconsin Council of Religious & Independent Schools, Hispanics for School Choice, and Democrats for Education Reform, all of which have similar goals of using public funds to support private education with the elimination of income caps, district regulations, teacher accreditation, testing and curriculum requirements, and the legal requisite of citizen input and transparency.  In short, the privatization and deregulation of public education, which can be more simply and accurately referred to as the destruction of public education as we know it. And Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker is marching at the forefront of this movement, proudly presenting the keynote address at the AFC's annual national conference in Washington, D.C. this spring. Dean Pagani sums up Walker's speech perfectly:

The keynote speech at the AFC summit was given by Wisconsin’s Scott Walker, who has become the symbol of the taxpayer battle against public employee unions. His remarks however did not dwell on the labor/management aspect of the choice movement. Instead, Walker made a direct connection between school choice and economic expansion. More than half a dozen times during his remarks he came back to the idea that statistics in his state show the more choice has expanded the more the economic strength of the state has “expanded on a parallel track.”
Walker and those who supported his education-killing budget know exactly what's at stake here. They are willing to sacrifice the good of our schools and the quality of public education for the benefit of the few, and the already-affluent. They do not have my children's interests in mind, and unless you're rich, they don't care about your kids, either.   This is why we need to recall Scott Walker, Alberta Darling, and every other Wisconsin legislator who supported this bill. They all ran on a pro-education platforms, and have since done everything in their power to defund public education in favor of a privatized, tax-payer funded private school system.  Ironically, they continue to depict outraged Wisconsin citizens as 'out-of-state' dissidents or union thugs, while they meet behind closed doors with members of ALEC and the AFC, selling our kids to the highest bidder and asking us to pay the price.

I ask that you join me in sharing with your friends and neighbors in Wisconsin the importance of these recall elections - to us, and to the rest of the country as they watch these elections unfold. People need to know what is really at stake here. It's not just about unions. It's not about money, or partisan politics, or collective bargaining. It's about all that, and more. It's about transparency. It's about voter rights, worker rights, human rights. It's about protecting our state from national policy-pushers whose policies will only benefit the few. It's about protecting our schools.  It's about our kids.  And my kids are not for sale, and their education isn't either. How about yours?

Heather DuBois Bourenane
Wisconsin taxpayer, parent, and supporter of public education

Scott Walker's keynote address at the AFC national policy summit. "National policy," eh? What about states' rights and local governance?  Who do you want deciding on the curriculum at your kids' school? If you want to remain a part of this process, these recall elections matter more than you realize. When public schools are privatized, citizen input and publicly elected school boards are a thing of the past.  The Wisconsin legislators who voted in blind partisan support of Walker's policies have abandoned our schools and the communities they serve. That is why I'm working to see them recalled. They have broken their promises and sold out our kids. It's about the children.  It's about the schools.

UPDATE: On Aug. 3, 2011, a day after a lawsuit was filed against her for withholding public information in violation of the Open Records Law, Alberta Darling produced the requested information regarding her relationship with the American Foundation for Children, currently pouring hundreds of thousands of dollars into her campaign.  See more here and see the emails, which clearly show the AFC's hand in authoring the Wisconsin legislation, here.

1 comment:

  1. The second thing you might have heard about is our participation at the Save Our Schools event in Washington, DC, which had a large Wisconsin contingent.
    I am glad so many went to DC-to learn and to network with other teachers. Thank you for your well done post and best of luck. Our children depend on dedicated teachers in Wisconsin-to grow and learn.