Wisconsin’s Leaders Must Prioritize Racial Equity and Justice to End Our Persistent Racial Disparities

By the numbers, Wisconsin is the worst state for African-American children. Our state leaders must reduce our state’s persistent racial disparities. Students of color have lower average test scores than white students – a problem some mistakenly refer to as the “achievement” gap. In fact, it is actually an “opportunity gap” that reflects much broader inequities in our society, where children of color have far fewer opportunities to thrive.

For generations, our state has failed to invest in communities of color — ignoring segregation and racial injustice that keeps Wisconsin from achieving our full potential. Our legislature must address these pernicious inequalities in a holistic way. The truth is, while most teachers work hard to serve their students, they are asked to do far too much with far too few resources. Schools alone cannot close the opportunity gap – it starts in our communities, not our classrooms.

The opportunity gap begins even before birth, with higher infant and maternal mortality and poorer health outcomes for people of color. Even when adjusting for income and employment, African Americans still face worse outcomes – leading researchers to conclude that the stress of racism itself negatively impacts health. When combined with economic and community instability, like lack of safe and affordable housing, low wages, lack of benefits, employment discrimination, and mass incarceration these disparities are magnified.

As a state senator, I will work to reduce infant mortality and healthcare disparities by authoring legislation to ensure that every Wisconsinite has affordable healthcare, including comprehensive prenatal care and nutrition. Parents should have the right to a doctor or midwife of their choice, a birth support person like a doula, and nurse home visits that are proven to reduce infant mortality. We need at least 12 weeks of universal paid family and sick leave, so new parents can bond with their babies and those who become ill or have a sick or dying loved one don’t have to worry about losing their income. Every baby born should receive a $1000 baby bond from the state, to help close the racial wealth gap and address economic inequality from birth. These measures will improve the health and lives of Wisconsinites while spurring economic growth by making it easier for workers, entrepreneurs, and small businesses to compete and grow.

In the legislature, I will work to restore Wisconsin’s public schools, reinstating funding to K12 and higher education and stopping the flow of public dollars to private, unaccountable voucher schools. We must fix the funding formula, which disadvantages both urban and rural school districts, so every child regardless of zip code or county can go to a great public school. Perhaps the best investment we can make as a state is to guarantee access to early childhood education and high-quality affordable childcare in every community. Expanding early childhood programs dramatically reduces the opportunity gap, and is one of the smartest, most just, and most economically savvy investments we can make.

I support raising the minimum wage to $15/hr and indexing it to inflation, creating incentives for affordable housing development, and investing in small business across Wisconsin to create living wage jobs and new economic activity, especially in communities that have lacked access to capital. We should make UW’s two-year colleges tuition-free and address the student debt crisis, because too many Wisconsinites, disproportionately young people of color, are priced out of higher education.

We must also stop end our failed mass incarceration policies, which cost hundreds of millions of dollars each year and actually make us less safe. That starts with building trust among communities of color and law enforcement, ensuring adequate training in de-escalation and implicit bias, and collecting data on charging and sentencing to stop racial disparities. Ending cash bail, truth in sentencing, and most crimeless revocations, while legalizing cannabis and increasing prevention/diversion programs for mental health and substance use disorder will drastically reduce the number of people in prison and save taxpayers money. We can expand education, job training, and reentry support to reduce recidivism.

Wisconsin can be a state of opportunity and fairness – if we elect leaders with the courage to solve our common challenges rather than exploiting them to divide us. As your state senator, I will look at all policy decisions through a racial justice and equity lens, and prioritize ending racial disparities  so that every child, every family, and every community in our state can thrive.