Back to School: Or the "equivalent" of school?

28 August  2012
Dear Scott Walker

As I ready my kids to go back to school, now in the second year of having to deal with the cuts that have weeded out some of their finest teachers and laid bare budgets that already had no wiggle room (forcing many schools to cut essential programming, force out teachers, and increase class size), I am disturbed by the timing of recent announcements and the increase in disproportionate funding to charter and private schools at the expense of the vast majority of our children. 

Just yesterday, Wisconsin Superintendent Tony Evers announced $16.1 million in federal grants will be poured into the charter programs that serve a tiny fraction of our students. More disproportionate investment in education inequity: $16.1 million in federal grants to 84 schools. Whose children are left behind? Almost all of them. Only 40,329 of the 870,000+ Wisconsin kids in public schools attend charters. 

To put this in perspective: in the 2011-13 budget, DPI requested $2,280,500 to fund SAGE schools that would protect then-current funding levels at $2,000 per student for about 11,500 low-income Wisconsin kids. You denied this request (knowing it could cost some schools their SAGE standing at the federal level) and added additional cuts to SAGE and HeadStart programming. In the same budget, you approved an increase of $7,086,200 GPR in FY12 and $15,460,800 GPR in FY13 for charter school funding based on 21,600 pupils in FY12 and 22,900 in FY13 and a per pupil payment of $6,442 per FTE in both FY12 and FY13. This disproportionate investment in the few at the expense of the many is jaw-dropping, especially at a time when "the many" are expected to pull their belts even tighter as they prepare to deal with the second - and worse - year of your unprecedented cuts to public education.

As a parent who strongly believes in the need to invest evenly in all of our students, and especially to ensure that inequities in the system that disadvantage low-income students are addressed honestly and productively, I am terrified by the dangerous pattern that you have very clearly estabilished here, and have publicly promised (on many occasions, and despite warnings from countless education professionals) to see through to the end: Disinvest in our most vulnerable kids. Overinvest in a handful, and split that investment pretty much equally between low-income, highly segregated schools and private ones. Lower standards for qualifications and assessments (not just at the charter schools but across the board).   

In a poll that came out just last week (in which Americans overwhelmingly agreed Obama is better than Romney for public education), 57% of people said they think teachers should have more rigorous training.  

Is the ultimate goal to make this untrue?
So I was equally disturbed to read your praise for a new Teacher "Equivalency" Certification  process by which non-educators can get into our classrooms bypassing the traditional certification route by proving they have the "equivalent" experience in the private sector or in preschool classrooms. 

The new "Teacher Equivalency Certification"  was announced by Dr. Evers just this week: a process that would allow someone without a degree in teaching to get a public school teaching license if he or she has a bachelor's degree; has been a private school teacher; has similar out-of-state certification; or has "at least 3 years of teaching" at the post-secondary, preschool, or industry level.  You praised this move, saying "We must also help districts find qualified men and women with workplace experience who are interested in sharing their knowledge with the next generation, especially in high need areas like science and math."  I find this position extremely insulting to educators, who have been specifically and carefully trained in a whole range of skill areas that have nothing to do with their area of expertise.  Being an industry expert or having experience with a "subject" does NOT prepare one or qualify one to teach that subject.  How is a chemist prepared to deal with special needs students? How does a computer programmer possess the skills and training needed to deal legally and effectively with chronic acting-out in the classroom?  How has an accountant's experiences in a cubicle prepared her for the demands of ensuring common core standards are met while reaching out to students of widely differing needs and abilities?  Imagine if the roles were reversed and the teacher demanded the private sector job - at the same rate of pay.  It just defies reason, and it's a slap in the face to dedicated educators.

This move has been promoted by Dr. Evers as a way of creating "career opportunities" for non-teachers to become teachers.  How insulting.  While I'm sure the private sector can produce some good teachers (and a degree in education doesn't automatically translate into classroom success, either), the underlying assumption here is simply more of the same anti-educator rhetoric we've heard since you took office: anyone can teach, "real" teachers are just lazy and unqualified, teachers don't deserve what the earn, teaching is easy, and on and on and on.  It also makes me wonder what this will mean to compensation: how much will these "equivalent teachers" earn? Is this a ruse to lower the wages for educators? Or a plan to turn industries into "temp services" that will farm out "teachers" (and take a cut of their wages) to public schools?  My mind races to imagine how the education-privatizers might capitalize on a move like this, especially when your own "Job Czar" is trying to actually make it more expensive for people who might really want to invest in a degree in education to do so and your administration continues to push a discredited rumor that our workforce is under-skilled and unprepared for employers - a move which allows you to put the reins of education directly in the hands of potential employers.

The path to a career in teaching begins with respecting that teaching is a profession - not a "job" that anyone can just step into.  I am extremely skeptical of the token "assessment" requirements for anyone who has  "not completed a Wisconsin recognized and approved educator preparation program."  What message does this send about the value of those programs? What message does this send about the value of teaching, when it is parsed down to its simplest form of "sharing knowledge."

As a parent who volunteers regularly in the schools and someone who works professionally with educators every day, I know that there is no testable "equivalent" of a degree in education.  There is no "equivalent" to taking the time to learn about the rigors and restraints of standardized testing, the complexities of assessment, the pedagogies that work (and don't) for the range of learners in our classrooms.  And, ultimately, I don't want my kids taught by the "equivalent" of teachers. I want them taught by people who dedicated their lives to the profession, and who give that profession the respect it requires by receiving the proper training and education.  

Why does the minimum standard for what we expect from our schools keep getting lowered?  When will it stop?  Is there a bottom to how low you will go, or do we just have to wait until all the schools fail?  The race to the bottom is an ugly, ugly thing.
What's next? You want parents to sit back, let our schools fail so that your friends at the AFC and other privateers (who have been so aggressively trying to buy our elections) can jump in and "save" them, creating for-profit ventures out of once-excellent schools.  And then what? What do we do with all of these underserved students?  Let them "pull themselves up by their bootstraps?" Let them "invest" borrowed money in vocational programs that may or may not lead them to living-wage jobs? Let the prisons do the rest?

Dr. Ever's Fair Funding for Our Future plan
It doesn't have to happen.  You have claimed you want to work together and are constantly pretending that you work closely with Dr. Evers - if so, I advise that you take seriously his Fair Funding for Our Future plan, which addresses the very real harm done by simply gouging funds from out schools and restores funding to a level that ensures our kids can get the education they need to thrive in the workplace and as smart, well-rounded, well-trained members of society, ready to do their share to move Wisconsin forward.  This program, - as education experts like Thomas Mertz have made clear -in conjunction with something that will specifically ensure funds to our poorest schools (like "A Penny for Kids," a proposal that raises the sales tax by one cent which would raise $850 million a year for schools and reduce the need to increase property taxes), would prepare our kids for a chance at real success. Your plan prepares them to live off the state forever. 

I have been following the blow-by-blow cuts to education ever since you took office. I have also been listening carefully to what people on both sides are saying about what does and doesn't work.  The facts could not be more clear: your plan pushes forward a catastrophic, fundamentally misguided attack on public education that has very little to do with "unions" or "workers rights" and everything to do with an ultimate goal of reducing accountability and opening the door to privatization.  I oppose that, and not on a partisan basis (don't even get me started on what I oppose in the Obama plan). I oppose it because it's bad for our kids. It's bad for my kids.  It's bad for all of us.

Please. On just this one thing: give a little.  During the recall, the one point on which both sides agreed (that is, both people who voted for you and against you) is that your cuts to public education were beyond the pale and a direct assault on the Wisconsin Idea and our bipartisan history of progressive excellence in education.  You can go on pretending your unique combination of no business experience and no education qualifies you to be an authority on everything else - we don't like it, but we're used to it. But when it comes to our kids, and our schools, do the right thing. Open your mind to what people who don't have a financial stake in this matter are saying and listen. Let us reinvest our money in our kids. We shouldn't have to beg.  But I'll beg now so my kids won't have to do it later.

On Tuesday, I'll be sending my kids off to school.  The little one is starting kindergarten (full-day, so I can finally afford to get back to work and try to crawl out of the hole your helpful cuts to my benefits and pay have left us in).  Off they'll go: with a kiss and a hug and a few tears (and that reminds me, I think I'm supposed to organize the Boo Hoo Breakfast! Better get on that!)...and a lot of worry.  Worry about what this year will bring for them personally, what the new budget will do to their school now that we don't have the "cushion" afforded last year by all the teachers forced into early retirement.  But also hope:  because they are so smart, and so ready, and so resilient, and their teachers are so wonderful, and the staff and administrators at the school so supportive, and our school board has their best interests clearly in focus. Dollars can't change any of that.  But our district is lucky. Others are not.  And those are the kids I'm worried about most.

So it'll be bittersweet: seeing them go off into that world where I can only protect them from a distance, with solid home-training, loving guidance and support, and by advocating for them as a parent-citizen at every level I can (on the PTO, at the school board, through our elected officials).  I'm doing my best.  I ask you to do the same.  

"Let us think of education as the means of developing our greatest abilities, 
because in each of us there is a private hope and dream which, fulfilled, 
can be translated into benefit for everyone and greater strength for our nation." 
- John F. Kennedy

If you're really as laser-focused on jobs as you say you are, remember what really matters: without a truly educated (not just "trained") workforce, there are no jobs. There is no middle class. There is no American Dream.  There is no hope.

Reinvest in our schools.  Make sure our money is going where we want it to go: toward making our schools even better than they were before your cuts started to unravel them.  Raise the bar.  Make sure our teachers are the best by making sure we hire people who know that being an expert doesn't make you a good teacher, and who have the humility to know that the training that leads to the classroom is, if anything, too low a price to pay for the huge responsibility of educating all of our children.  Put education first. Make it your priority. And not just with lip-service to your own kids and pithy examples of all the teachers who allegedly thank you for the helpful cuts to their own schools. Put education first by listening to what the education experts, educators, administrators, Dr. Evers, and concerned citizens on both sides of the fence have been telling you: the cuts are too deep.  It's not working.  

Humility is the most admirable trait a leader can possess. Show some now.
Reinvest in our schools before it's too late.

Heather DuBois Bourenane
Sun Prairie



  1. Thank you for your e-mail message. I welcome you expressing your views and concerns to me, and I commend you for participating in your state government. I take into account the views of all of the citizens of Wisconsin, and I will keep your specific comments in mind during my service as your Governor.

    If you would like more information about my positions on issues, or would like to read my public statements on issues, I encourage you to explore my website: I like to respond individually to every letter and telephone call I receive; however, I cannot respond to each e-mail individually due to the volume. If your request is time sensitive, please call my office at (608) 266-1212. You may also write to me via conventional mail at Governor Scott Walker: PO Box 7863, Madison, WI 53707.

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    Once again, thank you for contacting me. Please feel free to contact me again if I can ever be of assistance to you.


    Scott Walker

  2. Excellent commentary. Are you attending the Fighting Bob Education Break out session? (It's not officially listed on the schedule but is approved.)