August 27, 2015

Education is the key

By Sen. Lena Taylor

Every politician has their thing. For some it’s ego. For others it’s power. For me, little if anything comes ahead of fighting for kids.

That’s why it was so hard to read this week’s Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article, “Teacher ranks shrink in area.” The article highlighted a Public Policy Forum report that found Milwaukee Public Schools have lost 730 teachers over the five year period since Governor Walker enacted Act 10, which stripped nearly all collective bargaining rights from public workers, such as teachers. 

The fight over whether public workers, like teachers, should have the right to collectively bargain for better working conditions, better learning conditions and better wages was a key reason 14 of us Senate Democrats broke quorum and went to Illinois back in 2011.

At the time, we argued it was unwise to strip 50 years of collective bargaining rights from public workers. After all, what’s wrong with teachers collectively negotiating for better learning conditions for their students? Since the Walker law change, we are seeing the effect of stripping collective bargaining rights and are losing staggering amounts of teachers.

The report also revealed a huge racial gap between teachers and students. According to the report, 29 percent of MPS teachers are racial minorities. Compare that to MPS’s data that shows 86.1 percent of our students are racial minorities. Doesn’t it strike you as wrong that, in a school district that is largely students of color, most of their teachers are white?    

I am a product of the Milwaukee public school system. I still live on the same block I grew up on. That is why I am so disturbed by the fact that our children are struggling to make it in school. At a time when 85 percent of our students read below grade level, something has got to change. We need more teachers, particularly more teachers of color, to connect with our young people and improve our educational outcomes.

During my time in the state legislature I’ve got more experience fighting for funding to increase public education as a member of the state’s Joint Committee on Finance than any other Democrat in the Legislature. I’ve voted against cut after cut Governor Scott Walker has made to funding of public education, including his largest cut to public education in our state’s history. Our schools are the center of our communities and education is the key to breaking the cycle of poverty. We should be investing in our public schools, not divesting!

For my efforts in fighting for public funding, I’ve received awards from the Milwaukee Teacher’s Education Association, MPS and even one from the National Education Association. But all the awards in the world don’t matter when our kids are struggling. That’s why I’m working on bipartisan legislation to provide more than $1 million to fund the Milwaukee Summer Reading Improvement Project. The program focuses in on kids in grades 1-3 who have tested below their respected grade in reading. I believe that getting to these kids when they are young will have a tremendous opportunity to increase their ability to succeed at not only reading, but other subjects in the future.

Our kids can’t vote. And they are too young to advocate for themselves. And that is why I am doing my best to be their voice in the Legislature. Please, lend your voice to the children by joining the fight by emailing me at Sen.Taylor@legis.wi.gov or consider helping with the Milwaukee Summer Reading Project http://www.marquette.edu/education/centers_clinics/Reading.shtml.