“Pump. Pump. Pump it up. Pump that school funding up,” was chanted by about a dozen marchers as they made their way from Cambridge to Marshall High School in the rain Monday.
Wisconsin’s largest public education advocacy group participated in a four-day march from Palmyra to Madison to protest cuts from Wisconsin’s school budget.
Heather DuBois Bourenane, executive director of the Wisconsin Public Education Network and Milwaukee Public Schools board director Megan O’Halloran organized the 60-mile Stand Up for Public Schools March. It started Saturday in Palmyra and concluded Tuesday at the State Capitol in Madison.
“Our March to Madison will be complemented by local actions in various communities around the state,” the organizers said. Stops along the way included Deerfield, with a whistle stop in Marshall and final the destination in Sun Prairie on Monday. The final leg of the march was set for Tuesday morning to Madison.
The organizers were demanding restoration of funds in special education, mental health, and bilingual/bicultural aid.
Bourenane and O’Halloran said $900 million was gutted from the governor’s budget proposal, and the bare-bones version ignores the critical concerns heard by lawmakers at public hearings over the past two years. The Stand Up for Public Schools March organizers said the budget that lawmakers will vote on in the last week of June does not even attempt to close Wisconsin’s funding gaps.
Signs outside of the high school in Marshall read “I love my public school.” Marchers carried a banner that stated, “Marching for the schools our kids deserve.”
“Any increase in funding will help Marshall schools,” district Administrator Daniel Grady said. “We support public education, not just in Marshall, but across the state.”
Grady said the district was excited to share its facility with those participating in the march. He thanked the marchers for stopping and using their words to promote funding for education.
A light lunch was provided to those taking part in the march.
In addition to protesting funding cuts, participants said they were marching in support of a budget change that would increase the amount the state repays districts for special education services. The current 25 percent special education reimbursement rate is the lowest in the country, they said. Advocates are pushing for a 60 percent reimbursement rate.
Thus, the 60-mile journey from Palmyra to the Capitol. Gathered in the Marshall High School commons for the short stop included one school board member, staff, teachers and some students.
Jen Connelly, a teacher, resident and parent, attended the march with her young daughter, Ella. They held banners encouraging funding for the future and investment in children.
Michael Thompson, deputy state superintendent of state Department of Public Instruction, said Gov. Tony Evers budget was an equity budget, not a dream budget. “It was a budget to create a stop,” he said. “It was built on what we heard from people like you. It is a people’s budget, what people want.”
He, too, thanked the marchers. “We have to continue this work. It is what people want.”
District Business Manager Bob Chady provided the numbers, noting that Marshall spent $1.962 million on special education in the 2017-18 budget. While special education costs are increasing, the funding is remaining flat. A 1 percent increase in special education spending would add $16,500 to the budget, while a 2 percent increase would be enough to cover the cost of an aide and a 3 percent increase would cover the cost of a teacher.
Middle school Spanish and bilingual services teacher Michael Jansen, who also serves as president of the education association, addressed the group. He said the lack of stability in funding from the state carries wage freezes for teachers and high teacher turnover in districts. It also forces districts to hold referendums to meet operating expenses. “We can’t keep asking communities for more funds every three to four years,” he said.
Parent Margarita Rubio said her 13-year-old child was diagnosed with attention deficit hyper-active disorder (ADHA) at age 5 and has been bullied in school. She said that one in four of the 860,000 students in state public schools have special needs. Rubio said funding at the 60 percent level is the first step toward funding fairness.
“Our budget fight is not about the money, but the kids,” DuBois Bourenane said. “We will not stop until we get to funding fairness,” she added.
Madeline Westberg, who covered the march in Cambridge and Deerfield for the Cambridge News & Deerfield Independent, contributed to this report.