by Mary Ellen Flannery
There are few voters who know more about the power of politics than the folks in Wisconsin, where a despotic governor squashed the rights of workers to collectively bargain earlier this year.
There are also few voters who know more about the power of activism than those same folks in Wisconsin, where, after 12,000 volunteers knocked on more than 92,000 doors this summer, outraged citizens recalled two state senators in special elections.
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Now, led by grassroots activists and educators like Dale Dulberger, a part-time faculty member at Waukesha County Technical College, Wisconsin voters are working hard (once again) to ensure the rights of people and the future of public education.
“They’re talking about turning the clock back 50 years on public policy—from workers’ rights to reproductive rights for women,” Dulberger said. “If you don’t get active and stay involved, you need to know that there are people who will take away what you have in a minute.”
As a community college instructor in Wisconsin, Dulberger knows this first hand. This year, Gov. Scott Walker, “Romney’s surrogate in Wisconsin,” Dulberger points out, cut funds to the state’s technical colleges by 30 percent. These are the same colleges that are training the next generation of workers for much-needed jobs in health professions, applied technologies, and other fields.
“We have a very good job placement rate—something like 90 percent of our graduates get jobs in their field, in this region, within six months,” said Dulberger. In the manufacturing program especially, most students have job offers on the table before they graduate. “Employers are swooping in!”
But the budget cuts—and Walker’s deathblow to collective bargaining—means sacrificing the quality of education that these students get. Faculty members at WCTC found their class loads suddenly increasing this year, and with dozens more students per instructor, they have found it difficult to provide the same high-quality, individualized instruction, said Dulberger.
“Anybody who says they’re for rebuilding the economy or giving people job skills, but then cuts funding by 30 percent… Well, how can you say that honestly when, in reality, you’re cutting the capacity of the technical colleges to deliver product?” asked Dulberger.
President Obama, on the other hand, has said that he strongly believes in the job-related mission of the nation’s community and technical colleges. And it’s not just words. He delivered the $2 billion TAA Community and College Training Grant program, and has proposed an additional $8 billion in the Community College to Career Fund.
“We don’t need more top-down economics. What we need is some middle class-out economics,” Obama told the crowd at a Florida community college earlier this year. “I want to give 2 million more Americans the chance to go to community colleges like this one, and learn skills that local businesses are looking for right now.”
Dulberger works with a non-partisan coalition of community leaders and activists in Wauwatosa, a suburb of Milwaukee, where they recently published an open letter to voters, co-signed by more than 100 residents, asking their friends and neighbors to consider the facts around middle-class investment, women’s rights, and education cuts.
People need real information—not attack ads on television, Dulberger said. He’s working hard to deliver that information to his neighbors in Wisconsin. But he asks all Americans, and especially NEA members, to do something more: Take that information to the polls on Tuesday.
“Make sure you vote,” he urged.