by Colleen Flaherty
After 20 years of teaching in Wisconsin public schools, John Havlicek is still happy teaching Spanish at a La Crosse high school. “I love it. Teaching is not what I do, teacher is what I am,” said Havlicek.
Unfortunately, the past few years Gov. Scott Walker has implemented policies that have had a direct impact on the students in his classroom.
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“The real significant change is that the kids that are most in need of additional support are the least served because with the budget crunch, schools have to make a lot of really tough choices,” said Havlicek. “The kids who have been underserved historically are the real victims of budget cuts.”
Under Gov. Scott Walker, $300 million in funding flowed to an unaccountable, private school voucher scheme by cutting $1.6 billion from public education, the largest cuts to education spending in Wisconsin history. In Havlicek’s school, where around 50 percent of students receive free or reduced lunch, students living in poverty are especially hurting.
“I see more kids every year that didn’t have breakfast, or I can see that they’ve got probably two pairs of pants and three sweatshirts they wear day after day, or kids or who can’t partake in extra curriculars. When we offered other things like field trips, we try to find the money ourselves. They can’t afford five or ten dollars.”
Several of other policies—such as Walker’s lack of support for raising the minimum wage, refusing federal funds for the expansion of Medicaid and devaluing public education and educators—have all hurt Wisconsin’s neediest citizens.
When health care money is turned down, more students can’t come to school because of basic health problems. When you refuse to support a living wage, then you have more parents and frankly kids who are working to support their families when they’re in high school,” said Havlicek. “All of that snowballs, and then when you raise class sizes and reduce all the support and funding for the one place they get it, their public school, that hurts. I don’t know that Gov. Walker has shown he’s inclined to change direction on any of these things.
On top of that, Walker’s attack on public sector unions and their right to collectively bargain, also known as Act 10, has left educators in Wisconsin feeling disrespected.
“Act 10 is just a culmination of this narrative that teachers are the problem. That’s like saying dentists are the problem when it comes to cavities,” said Havlicek.
“It’s certainly not helping kids. To somehow say that teachers are not on the side of kids is idiotic. There’s not a single teacher that went into it for the money.”
When it comes to the expansion of the voucher program and corporate charters, Havlicek said that’s a prime example of Walker not valuing public education. Rather than listen to those who work in public schools, Walker puts the expertise of corporate reformers first in his education policy. “That’s like saying, look, I’m not a doctor and I have no medical training, but I’ve gone to a hospital, so I’m going to tell you how to improve what you do. That’s what’s happening with us.”
This fall, while Wisconsin schools may still be reeling from budget cuts and legislation that harms families and students, Havelick hopes that public education supporters turn out to the polls.
“I don’t think Walker has shown that he values the most vulnerable of our citizens because all of this gets reflected into the public schools. It doesn’t take long to tear things down, but it takes a while to build them up. We need to start building again.”