• Stop the Takeover

The following is the January 14, 2015 testimony by Sheila Plotkin before the Wisconsin Assembly Education Committee in opposition to AB1, the so called “School Accountability Bill.”

Article X SECTION 3 of the WI Constitution says: “The legislature shall provide by law for the establishment of district schools, which shall be as nearly uniform as practicable; and such schools shall be free and without charge for tuition to all children between the ages of 4 and 20 years; and no sectarian instruction shall be allowed therein.” That’s education for all.

The LegislatureThe American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) issued a report on American education, posted by Americans for Prosperity. “The one-size-fits-all education system has not worked. States should… pass choice legislation like charter school bills and voucher systems ….” That’s education by exclusion. And, it’s most definitely partisan. It’s a different view of civic responsibility.

Rep. Thiesfeldt introduced AB1. He is a member of Americans for Prosperity, even using that sneering phrase “one size fits all” on his own website. He’s a religious school teacher, and received $1800 in campaign contributions from private and religious schools. Those who share his views have spent more than $30 million in the past decade to promote the privatization of education.

I retired from the Milwaukee Public Schools Deaf and Hard of Hearing Program after 28 years. From the inside, I saw daunting challenges overwhelm shrinking resources. I hold you accountable for that. I am a passionate advocate of public education. It is not one-size-fits-all. It is open to all. “All” are the children that Amy spoke so movingly about, they are the “input” that Scott Jensen dismissed so contemptuously. They are children, not input.

Last night, Gov. Walker said he trusts parents to choose their children’s schools. We’ve heard a lot about that today. Nearly all parents (96%) choose their public schools. You have already slashed their funding. Those chosen schools are dying by slow strangulation. You’ll now label them as failures. You’ll use the failures you engineered to justify an education-by-exclusion system at taxpayer expense. That is as transparent as it is dishonest.

I was going to talk about the Academic Review Board. None of us knows what will replace it. I’m worried about that. [AB1 usurps the constitutional authority of the Supt. of Public Instruction with an unelected Academic Review Board. 70% of its members will be either political appointees or employees of education-by-exclusion. The Board is empowered to establish or contract for independent schools.] But, I’ll quote Republican Sen. Dale Schultz: “I don’t think that the average citizen of Wisconsin realizes what we’re talking about is really eliminating completely the authority of local school boards and making them subject to a political board in Madison.” I want to say a word about DPI and the power that Rep. Knudson and others are chafing at. The Superintendent is an elected office, and that power comes from our Constitution and from the voters.

You want to give taxpayers’ money to schools where the many hundreds of deaf students I knew, now tax-payers themselves, would have been denied entry. Education-by-exclusion will either reject children with special needs or even worse, accept them without competent staff to teach them. That borders on the criminal.

As we have seen in Milwaukee, you intend to invest public funds in fly-by-night education-by-exclusion or private religious schools. The former is immoral, the latter is un-democratic.

You talk about helping public schools to improve, but you vote to gut their funding, demoralize and demean their teachers, and threaten to shut them down. Your definition of helping needs a lot of work.

You promise freedom and choice, but you eviscerate school funding, restricting both freedom and choice for the vast majority of our children and their parents. Your promise is a lie.

Public schools include everyone. They have nurtured the American Dream and taught us how to exercise both our choices and our freedoms. They are the heart of our communities and the foundation of our middle class. They symbolize our moral commitment to one another and to future generations.

AB1 is immoral. It shows contempt for local control. It betrays the parents who love their public schools and sent you here to represent them.

It is immoral to turn our children into cash cows for your campaign donors. Morality lies in the full funding our public schools. On behalf of the Constitution you swore to support, the parents who trusted you, and our vulnerable children who need your protection, I ask you to reject this bill and with it, reject public funding of education-by-exclusion.

Thank you.

See the video of Sheila Plotkin’s testimony below: