Governor’s power moves could be devastating for students

(Simon A. Eugster photo)

Have you ever heard about something so absurd that you can’t quite believe that it even happened? Bernie Madoff comes to mind for me—I still can’t quite figure out how he pulled off such a scam.

I get the same feeling when I think about what has been happening in Wisconsin. Only this time, it’s our children who are being swindled.

In order for young people to receive the opportunities they need for future success, they first need quality teachers who are supported in their critical work. Ensuring that the best and brightest teachers are in our classrooms means that students will receive the educational opportunities they need to thrive.

Anything that diminishes that opportunity is counter-intuitive, contrary to research and just plain wrong.

Some months ago, the Wisconsin legislature approved something called Act 21. Governor Scott Walker asked for and received the power to have the final say over the rules that interpret the laws passed by legislators and how they affect citizens on a day-to-day basis.

The legislature also passed the now-infamous Act 10, the law limiting the ability of Wisconsin teachers to engage in collective bargaining on anything except a cost-of-living increase to their base wages. With his newly found power, Walker “helped” the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission (WERC) write the rules for Act 10 to mean that local school boards don’t have to consider a teacher’s ongoing education, additional educational credits or other supplemental duties as part of base wages. If used, that interpretation effectively reduces a teacher’s base pay by 30 percent for bargaining purposes.

I don’t expect the majority of Wisconsin’s 424 school districts to use this new “tool” from the governor to further punish teachers who have already seen decreases in their take-home pay in order to help balance local budgets. They’re all educators, and I trust—and we should all demand—that they will work together for all of our children.

The Governor, however, put local districts between a rock and another very hard rock. By cutting state aid and local revenue limit authority by $1.6 billion, and then dangling this carrot in front of them, boards have only two choices—they can either make a bad decision or make an even worse decision.

Teachers who receive ongoing education are better teachers, which is what we all want. If we shortchange them, we shortchange our kids. Giving cash-strapped school boards the opportunity to refuse to pay for that excellence is bad policy. In short, it’s bad for kids, bad for their schools and bad for our communities.

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