Governor Walker's budget will cause irreparable harm to our public schools and university system. Following upon the severe cuts to public education from his first budget, this budget proposal will further cut school funding to the bone, under the false guise of giving 'greater flexibility' to local schools. When property taxes are cut and revenue is capped, the only 'flexibility' we can see is to force school districts to make ever more severe cuts to staffing, programs, and resources. Further draining the public school system is Governor Walker's proposal to lift caps on the school voucher program, siphoning funding from public schools to pay for unaccountable private schools that have not been shown to provide any better, and in some cases much worse, education than our children receive in public school.Add to that the drastic cuts to the UW system, and Wisconsinites will no longer be able to point to our state with pride as being the locus of a world-class educational system.
The Governor's rationale for slashing funding to the UW is to help close the budget gap. Yet if he would only follow the express wishes of our citizens and accept the federal funding to expand BadgerCare, not only would he save the state almost the exact amount of money he proposes cutting from UW, he also will be able to provide Wisconsin citizens making between 100 - 138% of the federal poverty line with affordable health care. But Governor Walker refuses to take this common sense and humane step toward balancing the budget and helping low-income Wisconsin families.
Instead, Governor Walker's approach to low-income and poor Wisconsinites is to shame and stigmatize them. The Governor's speech last night painted a false picture of food stamp recipients as drug-addicted, lazy people who would rather live on government hand-outs than go to work. The reality is, the federal food stamp program is vital to reducing hunger for low-income and poor families. It is what they need to be able to make ends meet and put food on the table. Rather than imposing additional barriers to accessing needed services, we should be doing all we can to help raise families out of poverty.
As religious leaders of Wisconsin who are heirs to the prophetic tradition of social justice, we call upon our Legislature to find a better path toward a more equitable and prosperous future for us all. Raising the minimum wage, requiring paid sick leave and paid family leave, accepting federal funding to expand BadgerCare, building up our public schools into the high-quality institutions we want for all our children, regardless of race or economic status, and making quality community and four year college affordable to all, these are the things the people of Wisconsin value, and these are the priorities we should see in our state budget.