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Local business and education leaders fighting for more state funding for teachers and students

Posted at 6:03 PM, Mar 02, 2022

MILWAUKEE — Hundreds of business and education leaders in Wisconsin are calling on Governor Tony Evers and state lawmakers to use some of the state’s projected $5.5 billion dollar surplus to increase education funding in two key ways.

Dozens of the leaders who live and work in the Milwaukee formed an education coalition and held a press conference at the Riverside Theater Wednesday, where they detailed their request. A similar press conference was held in Madison with education and business leaders there. Together, they have drafted a letter to the governor and state lawmakers, that they are now asking members of the public to sign.

Local school districts that have signed the letter are Milwaukee, Kenosha, Greendale and South Milwaukee. It also includes signatures from public, charter and private choice school leaders, which are all too often forced to compete for funding.

“In Milwaukee, charter and choice schools get 36 to 46 percent less funding than public schools,” said Tim Sheehy, the president of the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce. “Giving parents choice, then inequitably funding that choice creates a system in which we have second class students.”

Sheehy, along with Palermo Villa Inc. CEO Giacomo Fallucca, Milwaukee Bucks president Peter Feigin, Kapco Metal Stamping chief executive officer Sean Cummings, and Greater Milwaukee Committee president Joel Brennan, were among those who spoke at the press conference.

To make up for inflation, the coalition wants $343 allotted to every K-12 student in the state, regardless if they attend a public, charter, or private choice school. It would go into effect in the fall. This school year, there was no increase to “per-student” funding. Before that, it was a $179 allowed to each K-12 student in the state.

The coalition also want the state’s reimbursement rate for Special Education to be raised from 28 to 50 percent for all public, charter and private choice schools. They say it is no secret that Wisconsin is lagging behind the nation in funding support for students with disabilities.

These measures would come with an estimated cost of $700 million.

The Director of Business Services for the South Milwaukee School District, Blaise Paul, spoke at the press conference in Milwaukee. He says The South Milwaukee School District is facing a $1 million budget deficit. He described how most districts in the state are in crisis - struggling to cover costs, retain teachers, and programs for students.

Rachel Swick, who teaches at Lakeview Elementary in South Milwaukee, says she’s never seen so many fellow teachers leaving the field. She says many are tired of using their own money to pay for classroom supplies.

“When you look at potentially having no raises or increases for teachers who are spending out of pocket money to do their job, and are working harder than ever before, it’s really demoralizing,” said Swick. “This is the toughest year we’ve ever had, hands down. Teaching post-pandemic is not easy. If things don’t improve and services are cut or class sizes increased, it’s the children that ultimately suffer.”

A staggering 55 percent of educators are thinking about leaving the profession earlier than they had planned, according to a National Education Association survey of its members released Feb. 1. That represents a significant increase from 37 percent in August, and is true for educators regardless of age or years teaching.

The survey also found that a disproportionate percentage of Black (62%) and Hispanic/Latino (59%) educators, already underrepresented in the teaching profession, were looking toward the exits.

Joel Brennan, who now leads the Greater Milwaukee Committee, served as the secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Administration for the past two years. The Department of Administration oversees the state budget office and resource allocation.

“I know from my previous job, which I only left a couple months ago, that the state has the money,” Brennan said. “Don’t let anybody tell you that the state does not have the money.”

If you'd like to read and sign the letter drafted by the coalition, by clicking here

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