Larson Report 
NEWSLETTER

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 A Capitol Update from State Senator Chris Larson

Dear Wisconsin Neighbor,

As our children returned to school this month, I reflected on the state of education in Wisconsin. 

During his time as Governor,
Scott Walker enacted the biggest cuts to education in our state's history and they have left a lasting scar on our state.


Wisconsin teachers continue to work miracles with a difficult budget and recruitment and retention issues due to 2011 Act 10, but more must be done. Our teachers know that the recent slight dip in test scores isn't surprising, it is the result of Walker and legislative Republican's drastic funding cuts. Larger class sizes, resources re-allocated to unaccountable private and voucher schools, and low test scores are the direct result of Republican-led deliberate harm to public education.

As Derek Bok said, "If you think education is expensive, try ignorance."

Thankfully, Gov. Evers knows that what is best for our kids is what is best for our state and used his veto power to increase school spending by an additional $65 million in the 2019 budget.


Today I joined State Superintendent Carolyn Stanford Taylor as she delivered her first annual State of Education Address at the Capitol and handed out awards to the Teachers of the Year. I share her goal of working together on behalf of every child and ensuring equity in education. The power and promise of education - particularly for our most underserved students - is central to our state's future.


Through local funding referendums, the work and sacrifice of educational professionals, and an increased direct financial burden on families with school children, our public school system has remained good - but it could be great.


This Larson Report will review the devastating effects Gov. Walker and the Republicans had on public schools, the current state of education in Wisconsin, and where we can go from here.

In Service, 

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P.S. If you are at Bay View Bash this Saturday, swing by our booth to say 'hi.' We'll have a working breathalyzer from 1-3pm so individuals can test their sobriety. Drive safe!

Wisconsin's 2011 Labor Fight and Its Impact on Classrooms
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2011: Act 10 Protest

When then-Governor Walker proposed stripping away the collective bargaining rights from most public employees, including teachers, he described it as "dropping the bomb." He knew that the action he was taking was unnecessary and opposite to what Wisconsinites have valued for most of our history, especially good public education.

Act 10 had a devastating effect on our classrooms: our educational workforce is now less experienced (teachers had an average of 13.9 years of experience under their belt in the 2015-2016 academic year, down from 14.6 years in 2010-2011) and we have fewer teachers (10.5% of public school teachers left the profession after the 2010-2011 school year, up from 6.4% the year before). Students also performed worse on standardized tests, particularly in already struggling schools, after collective bargaining agreements expired.

We must ensure we can attract top talent to serve in Wisconsin amidst a teacher shortage. A Department of Public Instruction study found key instructional areas are experiencing staffing shortages and it is getting worse. The federal Department of Education has designated teacher shortages in the 2019-2020 school year in Wisconsin across grade levels and subjects including science, language arts, math and more. According to the dean of the University of Wisconsin-Madison school of Education, the number of students enrolling to study to become a teacher is down 35% nationally. The special education situation is even more dire as the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education reported that "half of all schools and 90% of high-poverty schools struggle to find qualified special education teachers."

At the time, there was a feeling that Republicans were going to ram Act 10 through without taking the proper time to really explain such a fundamental reversal in our state's culture and economy. That is why every Democrat in the Senate took the rare step of leaving our state to deny a quorum and slow the process down. It was the only thing we could do to allow some time to start to unpack what Act 10 would mean to our teachers and other public employees. In the end, highlighting the fact that this wasn't really about cost savings, Republicans stripped all the fiscal elements from the bill and just passed the provisions of what then became known as Act 10, to break public unions and their ability to advocate for their members. They were able to hurriedly do this without Democrats being present because the bill no longer had a direct fiscal component, so different rules for passage applied. Beyond the damage to our education system, the deep division that this bill ripped across our state resulted in a decade of social unrest, recall elections, and lawsuits. I continue to advocate for the right of workers to organize collectively to pursue fair wages, safe working conditions, and other basic rights. 

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The Fight to Restore Public School Funding and Increase Transparency 
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Governor Evers wrote a bold state budget that envisions a renewal for Wisconsin and reflects the will of the people. 

Gov. Walker cut school funding more than any other Governor, and Gov. Evers' budget proposal was a significant step toward repairing that damage.

Legislative Republicans owed it to their constituents to negotiate in good faith with Governor Evers and work within the framework of that proposed budget, but instead they continued to underfund education with $900 million less in school funding

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Gov. Walker's refusal to raise special education reimbursement rates hit our state, and Milwaukee Public Schools, especially hard. One of the hallmarks of public education is the outstanding job our teachers do in educating those with special needs. Unlike private institutions and voucher schools, public schools cannot cherry pick which students to accept and which they will not. Statewide, local school districts have spent over $1 billion annually covering the cost of special education.

Special education categorical aid hadn't been raised in over a decade, but Gov. Evers rightfully proposed a 60% increase totaling $606 million. Unfortunately, the Republican-led legislature drastically cut this support and only $97 million was raised.


I applaud Gov. Evers' use of the line-item veto power to increase per-pupil allocations by $87 million over the biennium.

Republicans shouldn't be ignoring what the people voted for and coldly turning their backs on their Wisconsin friends and neighbors. At a time where we have a surplus and growing economy, we can afford to reinvest in our state's children. The people voted for a new direction for Wisconsin, not more partisan games.

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One of those partisan games is the school voucher program. My position is clear: so-called "choice" schools lack accountability, and public funds should not be spent for religious voucher schools. On Monday, September 16th, I proudly stood with school board members, fellow parents, neighborhood leaders, and the Milwaukee Teachers Education Association to protest Trump's Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos' visit to a religious voucher school in Milwaukee.

Public dollars should be for public schools. Period.

If you are dissatisfied with your public school, you can go to an elected school board member and advocate for change. Parents of children attending "choice" schools do not have the same accountability.

Just about every expansion of "choice" schools in Wisconsin has happened late in the budget and without a public hearing. Any expansion of voucher schools takes money from public education. This program was an experiment that has run its course and if it continues, it should be up to local communities, not Republicans in Madison putting a heavy hand on decisions behind closed doors.


According to the Department of Public Instruction, in the 2017-2018 school year, Wisconsin taxpayers paid $269.7 million to private voucher schools, while 230 of Wisconsin's 426 public school districts received less state aid than they did in 206-2017. In addition, 84% of children receiving vouchers in the 2017-2018 school year were either already attending private schools, homeschooled, or new to Wisconsin schools. It is clear that we cannot afford to continue to support the failed voucher experiment as it currently exists.

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Funding for schools comes from the "
Third Friday Counts." On the third Friday in September (tomorrow), schools across the state conduct a count of their students. This count determines the membership of each school district and voucher program. The membership number is then used to determine the distribution of state aid to public schools and the diversion of state funds to voucher programs.


Many public school advocates will point out that voucher programs have used marketing gimmicks to get as many students signed up before the membership count as a way to increase their funding from our state and local school districts.

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Photo Source: Stop the Takeover of MPS Facebook page


Gimmicks like these cost our neighborhood public schools dearly. In some cases, students who were counted as voucher participants are then “counseled out” of the voucher school and placed back into a public school. The money the voucher school received for that student does not travel with them into the public school. After the September count is conducted, districts are locked at their membership number and will not be able to count new students until February. This means that public funds flow directly to private voucher schools that are not educating our children.


During the budget process, the entire Democratic caucus offered an omnibus amendment
that would ban corporal punishment at private schools, set criteria for awarding a diploma at a private school (there is no clear standard now), and set clear suspension and expulsion policy. The Republican-led legislature tabled it and thus it did not get a hearing.


In addition to that amendment, during the budget process, I introduced the Real Voucher School Accountability Act. It was rejected by the GOP majority, but I will not stop fighting - I will be introducing this as standalone legislation soon. Schools that receive public money owe it to Wisconsin taxpayers to provide quality education, and private voucher schools receiving public resources must be held to the same standards of accountability as our neighborhood schools. The Real Voucher School Accountability Act would keep our kids safe by ensuring the same level of teacher transparency and accountability that we require from public schools, help all kids to achieve their best by providing access to crucial resources for kids in voucher schools, such as assessing reading readiness to students in 4-year-old-kindergarten through 2nd grade and creating similar graduation requirements for voucher schools as public school students; and protect our tax dollars (as was originally intended when vouchers started) by allowing communities to decide for themselves if they want to allow private voucher schools in their neighborhood through a referendum as well as cap voucher school enrollment.


Holding private schools accountable for how they use tax dollars, and transparency in how tax dollars are spent, continues to be a priority for me in the legislature. I've sponsored legislation to ensure that the residents of Wisconsin see exactly how much state aid has been reduced, if any, to their local district due to the voucher program on their property taxes.

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Not every debate we have on education has to be partisan. Just this week, the Education committee held a hearing on another legislative priority I have worked on with Sen. Alberta Darling that provides funding to the Department of Public Instruction for awarding grants to allow teachers and school leaders to participate in professional development training in character education. Character education is a learning process that enables students and adults in a school community to understand, care about, and act on core ethical values such as respect, justice, civic virtue and citizenship, and responsibility for self and others. Schools like Brown Deer Middle/High School and school districts like South Milwaukee have been named Wisconsin Schools of Character and have been recognized for their exemplary character education programs. 


I am committed to finding ways to work across party lines to make sure our children have the opportunity to live in great communities for years to come.

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Call the legislative hotline at 1-800-362-9472 and ask for your state representatives. Tell them you support fully funding our public schools. 

Here is the current legislation I have sponsored to increase funding and transparency in education:

SB138, Professional Development for Character Education: funding professional development training in character education for teachers, pupil service professionals, principals, and school district administrators, granting rule-making authority. Character education is a learning process that enables students and adults in a school community to understand, care about, and act on core ethical values such as respect, justice, civic virtue and citizenship, and responsibility for self and others.


AB299
, Transparency in Voucher Funding: provides full transparency to residents of Wisconsin about how their property tax dollars are spent. This would require property tax bills to include information from the school district where the property is located regarding the amount of any net reduction in state aid, if any, to the district as a result of pupils enrolled in the statewide voucher program.

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