On Public Education for All

“As a mother, an employer, and a proud graduate of Wisconsin’s public schools, I care deeply about making sure that every Wisconsinite has access to the best educational opportunities. Wisconsin used to be the education state, before the last Republican governor slashed billions from our K12 schools, colleges, and universities. Wisconsin must reinvest in education at all levels so that every child has the opportunity to learn and succeed.”

Wisconsin’s constitution guarantees a free, quality public education to every child; public education is the cornerstone of our democracy. Wisconsin’s schools have been under relentless attack from the GOP – from slashing over $1 billion in funding, to demonizing educators, to privatization schemes. We can never accept this. Here are my priorities for education:

Prepare kids for success in a modern economy. Our children need to develop skills needed for the jobs of tomorrow. We ought to emphasize STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics) as core areas for learning, in addition to critical thinking, communication, and cooperation skills. All students should have the opportunity to participate in the arts, humanities, and physical education/athletics, regardless of their parents’ income levels.

Provide equitable and sufficient funding for urban and rural schools. We must reverse Walker’s massive cuts to our schools and restore public education as a core priority for Wisconsin. For too long, politicians have focused on affixing blame rather than having the courage to truly commit to funding our schools at a level and in a way that would ensure educational excellence. It’s time for the state government to fulfill its obligation to provide a great education for every child. All kids in low-income areas should be able to have free breakfast and lunch, to ensure they are ready to learn.

Invest public dollars in public schools. Our taxpayer dollars should support only public education. Parents should be free to send their children to any school, but our taxpayer dollars should not subsidize private or religious schools at the expense of public education for all. It’s time to bring our failed experiment with private voucher schools to an end, while minimizing disruption to current students as possible. We should reduce and then eliminate voucher funding with minimal disruption to students and families. We must significantly increase our funding commitment to public schools, especially in areas of the state which have been hardest hit by budget cuts. We need smaller class sizes, more experienced teachers, and more resources in schools with higher needs — and we must prioritize equity in our funding formula, rather than exacerbating district-level inequality. All the children of Wisconsin, rural and urban, deserve our immediate and sustained commitment to their public schools. Parents, regardless of their income or zip code should not have to worry that our public schools aren’t meeting the 21st Century needs of their children, and only by investing significant resources in our public education system can we ensure excellent schools for every child.

Recruit and retain excellent teachers. The most important factor in a child’s success is the teacher at the front of the room. We must attract the best and brightest young people to careers in education, and keep them in the classroom with adequate professional development and mentorship, sufficient prep time, and student debt forgiveness for taking on challenging teaching assignments. That means ensuring dedicated young people an affordable college education, wages that support a family and a middle class life, a voice in their workplace, and above all, respect for their profession. One cannot value education and disrespect the educators who provide it.

Support innovation within the public school system. By enabling Wisconsin school districts to be creative within our public education system. Wisconsin has a long tradition of public education – Only schools under the supervision of elected school boards are required by law to teach all students, including students with special needs. I will seek to end the Independent 2R charter programs that operate outside of their school districts, and encourage school districts to experiment with instrumentality charters. The best way to unleash innovation within our public school system is to empower excellent teachers to lead their classrooms as the professionals they are, and to provide adequate preparation time, professional development, and teacher mentorship for all teachers.  

Stop the endless high stakes testing. We must free our children and our teachers from the tyranny of constant standardized testing. While benchmark testing can be a useful tool, in recent years the corporate testing industry has exploded – teachers are losing valuable instructional time, students and parents are frustrated, and results are used to punish low-income schools and students rather than help them. We should acknowledge and encourage the efforts of those students and schools facing the toughest challenges by emphasizing student growth rather than proficiency in assessments.

Free 2 year college. Wisconsin should make its two-year colleges and technical schools free, increasing access to low- and moderate-income students who don’t have family support. Several other states have seen significant increases in the number of students, especially students from low-income households, by utilizing a “last dollar” scholarship that minimizes the cost to the state and greatly increases career and earning prospects of people who otherwise might not be able to afford higher ed.

Cancel and reduce student loan debt. A college education is no longer possible for most Wisconsinites without taking on massive debt that impedes their ability to buy a home, start a business, have children, or get on sound financial footing. We must provide more public support to public universities to reduce the massive tuition increases that have priced many out of a college education. We should increase availability of grants rather than loans for students who need financial assistance. We should regulate predatory for-profit schemes that don’t deliver results for their students and cancel ill-gotten debts, while increasing loan forgiveness and cancellation options for all student borrowers. And we should make it possible to refinance all student loans just like you can refinance a mortgage or auto loan.

Offer universal early childhood education. The more we learn about brain development, the more we’ve understood how critical the early years are, particularly birth through age 5. Wisconsin should address the high cost of childcare by expanding the availability of early childhood education. We should make 3K and 4K universally available to all children in Wisconsin. This will not only ensure that all kids have a safe environment in which to play and develop emotionally, socially, and intellectually, but it will help prevent racial and economic disparities, and help parents with the huge cost of childcare.

Build a culture of lifelong learning. In today’s global economy, it is increasingly difficult to maintain a middle-class life with only a high school education. We should provide more training and employment assistance to displaced workers, and help employees keep their skills up to date. In addition, we ought to expand educational and training opportunities for adult learners – including vocational and technical college and universities – to help workers succeed in a knowledge-based economy. Finally, we must make libraries a priority again – access to the world’s knowledge ought to be available for every citizen in our democracy, and in today’s interconnected world, libraries are safe, welcoming community spaces for kids and seniors alike.

Use evidence-based policymaking for educational excellence. Many educational reforms are based on political ideologies and assumptions rather than solid evidence of what works to help children learn and succeed. Our educational policies should be based on evidence of classroom success, not rhetoric that serves the needs of politicians.