Concluding their 60 Miles for 60 Percent for Public Schools, a group of public school supporters rallied on the Patrick Marsh Middle School Cafetorium on Tuesday June 25 to finish the march that started just days before in Palmyra on the way to the State Capitol.
The march, with parents, board members, school leaders and others, sought legislative restoration of the $900 million cut from the proposed education budget.
Sun Prairie city and school district officials were on hand to support the cause, which was also supported by donations from local businesses who gave breakfast treats, fruit and coffee to the group marching to the Capitol.
“I think at the heart, my message is very simple is that the needs keep growing with the accountability of our schools and our educators never go away,” remarked Sun Prairie Area School District (SPASD) Superintendent Brad Saron. “And so we need to match the funding to the expectations and the services that our kids deserve. Thank you for making that March down to the capitol and thank you on behalf of all of the kids of the Sun Prairie Area School District.”
Sun Prairie School Board members Carol Albright, Tom Weber and Bryn Horton attended the rally, but only Horton spoke.
“I don’t have tons to say, but I wanted to say this but I am proud to be a part of a group of people who are willing to make sacrifices,” Horton said, noting the board transferred $14 million last year to the district’s Fund 40 for special education. “And to let people know that our kids deserve the best that we can give them and I’m, I will be proud no matter the outcome of what happens after the legislature votes on the budget. So thank you from my parent’s heart for what everybody does here right now.”
Sun Prairie Mayor Paul Esser, whose wife Carol is a retired SPASD teacher, thanked the group and expressed his appreciation for the march.
“Shortly you will leave here and start your walk into Madison and know that you go with my best wishes for today in your success and all of the Sun Prairie community wishes you well in what you’re doing,” Mayor Esser said.
“The community of Sun Prairie and the City of Sun Prairie, have a close relationship with the Sun Prairie School District. That’s a partnership that benefits everybody. I’m sure that’s true in your communities. And with that thought in mind, I as the city representative support the school district and you and what you’re doing here today,” the mayor added.
“So I want to thank you for what you’re doing for the state of Wisconsin, for the leadership that you’re showing. By doing this, the willingness you have of giving up your time to do this, and I wish you the best in Madison today.
“You let them know you’re coming. The representatives that in the state legislature and assembly that represent Sun Prairie are totally in support of what you’re doing,” Esser added. “So you are in a good place to begin your march. Have a good day and thank you for spending the night in Sun Prairie.”
The most emotional comments came from Gina Pagel, a Waunakee teacher and Sun Prairie native whose parents were teachers. She recalled the words of Cesar Chavez, who once asked his son Paul if he had done all that he could to win their cause. The answer was yes, but Chavez told his son that you only lose when you stop fighting.
“Thank you to all of those of you who have participated in this meaningful collective action and to those of you who are committed to leaving no stone unturned as we march forward,” Pagel told the rally. “If you have to have yet to contact your legislators, ask yourself, ‘did I do everything I could do?’ 860,000 kids are counting on us. Let’s get to work.”
Heather DuBois Bourenane, the Sun Prairie resident whose Wisconsin Public Education Network helped organize the march and rally, shed a few tears after Pagel’s remarks, but said it wasn’t the first time it happened during the march.
“We have heard story after story as we’ve gone on the 60 mile journey and I haven’t not cried at any of this before, but like I’m crying extra hard when we’re standing in my own kids’ school — the school where I personally am an election official when we vote in the gym, the school miles away from my own home,” Bourenane said.
“Just thinking about all of the kids who are really counting on us, these budget battles are about the money for the resources our kids need but we’re not fighting for the money,” Bourenane said. “We’re fighting for the kids. Thank you Gina for the reminder — the fight doesn’t end today.”
Despite the group’s march to the Capitol, the State Assembly approved the budget with a $500 million increase for K-12 education funding, instead of the nearly $1.5 billion increase Gov. Tony Evers had sought. On Wednesday, the State Senate approved the same budget and sent it to Evers for his signature or veto.