By Senator, Lena C. Taylor
They have a trifecta: Control of the Assembly, the Senate and the Governor’s office. Yet, Republican legislators are split on which is more important: Create the illusion of property tax cuts, increase school funding that will directly make its way into the classrooms of our children, or allow schools to raise their own funding, since the Republicans abdicate their responsibility at every turn, to properly fund our state’s K-12 education system.
As the ranking Democratic member of the state’s Joint Committee on Finance, I should have been sitting in committee this week. Whether working to increase funding to critical non-traditional programs intended to deal with issues that impede far too many students academic outcomes, like mental health, trauma-informed service delivery, or bullying, the needs of Wisconsin’s most challenged students wait idly by.
Our families are waiting for leaders that are not interested in political self-interests to include failed presidential bids, back-up gubernatorial re-election plans and needed campaign slogans. Our community is waiting for elected officials who don’t place party divisions over collaboration driven by one motivation – what is in the best interest of our state’s strongest resource, our children.
Area stakeholders are waiting for a legislature that is working to prepare the best possible workforce. Understanding the need for a solid educational foundation, future employers and business leaders, are looking to state government to prioritize resources and services that will put Wisconsin students in the best position to compete.
As the representative of a senate district that houses some of the most challenged schools in the state, I know postponing this work is not an option. That is why I am working to introduce motions in the budget that will increase Poverty Aids to low performing or failing schools. Data overwhelmingly supports the findings that low-income students are four and a half times more likely to drop out of high school, and even those who are academically proficient are far less likely to complete college. We must change this outcome.
With an appreciation for the trauma that many students can experience to include parental divorce, drug use, domestic violence, or incidents of ancillary community violence, I am committed to working to wrap services around students. The Mental Health Collaboration Grants, proposed in the budget, is a program based on a Minnesota model that provides early intervention to address the mental health of students in schools. This proposal was passed in Minnesota nearly 10 years ago, for twice the amount of money Republicans are proposing to fund it for our students. I am offering motions to ensure our children don’t receive Band-Aids but a get a cure.
Further, my Democratic colleagues and I are working on a number of measures to increase funding for special education, require additional voucher school accountability, restore funding to the AODA grant program for schools, and increasing resources in the classroom.
However, due to Republican indecision, ineffective use of taxpayer dollars, personal grandstanding, and legislative priorities that reflect outside interest groups and more importance on party messaging, Wisconsin’s children wait.