Saturday, June 23, 2018

Scott Walker, Education Governor?!

Scott Walker has signaled his intention to run for re-election as governor of Wisconsin by running on his record as an "education governor," because up is down and ignorance is strength and we have always been at war with Oceana.

This branding choice may seem counter-intuitive, but Walker has decided to run in the slipstream of Donald Trump, where reality dances to the beat of a distant drunken dj. It was Walker this last week, virtually alone among prominent Republicans (unless you count Maine's LePage, who is like Trump with none of the polish or charm) in standing by Trump's Kidnap Kids for a Wall program.

This frickin' guy
Walker's signature achievement in the realm of education is Act 10. Walker likes to call the 2011 proposal of this bill "dropping the bomb," and that's a fair characterization. The bill shifted pension and health insurance costs to teachers. It took a shot at undermining Wisconsin's flagship university. And most notably, it stripped public employees of the right to collectively bargain, while also doing away with any sort of job protections-- teachers would only be contracted one year at a time. Then in 2012 he took a machete to school funding, only so that five years later he could offer some money back to school districts-- but only if they could prove that they had used Act 10 to cut teacher pay. It was a clever way to force the hand of districts that were still trying to do the right thing, what we might call "a dick move." Meanwhile, his legislature has been working hard to stop throwing money at public schools and start throwing it at vouchers and charters.

Act 10 was supposed to make the Wisconsin economy boom. It didn't-- Wisconsin's growth was low for the region. It was supposed to beat down the union. It did do that a bit. It was supposed to turn teaching into a buyer's market, where no job was secure and the cost of labor was kept low. It did that, too. And it was meant to transform the teacher "workforce" into a group of young temps who would not stick around long enough to rock the boat or threaten the piggy bank. That seems to be working. And while this may not have been an intended result, Wisconsin is also facing "historic teacher shortages." The pipeline is drying up. It's almost as if something has made teaching a far less appealing profession than it used to be.

Act 10 was also supposed to lay a foundation for Walker's national aspirations. But you may very well have already forgotten that he was one of the clown car full of Republicans routed by Donalt Trump-- he even said mean things about Trump as he slunk back home.

And somehow all that led us to this point:

“I’m affirming the fact that I’m a pro-education governor,” Walker said in an interview Monday. “I’m going to continue to be a pro-education governor and build off of that.”

Does that seem nuts? Well, remember that Walker easily survived a recall election in 2012, when unions and Democrats were determined to make him pay for Act 10. His support runs deep in the state, as witnessed by pieces like this fawning editorial in the Journal Sentinel by Christian Schneider.

Schneider claims that Walker has redefined the word "education," first by setting up the straw man that Democrats define "education" as spending a bunch of money on public schools. But using spending increases to "prop up lavish health and pension benefits for public school teachers" doesn't help educate. No, Walker allowed districts "more flexibility in hiring younger, more dynamic teachers" (who could be paid less and replaced with even younger teachers in just a few years). Also, Schneider reminds us, vouchers allow "low-income parents the option to choose how their children are best served." That's a lie, of course-- Wisconsin vouchers, like most voucher programs, allow public tax dollars to be funneled to private religious schools. Non-public options are awesome, Schneider asserts, because if they weren't, parents would leave them.

Schneider also telegraphs the Walker argument on funding, and this will be a test of voters' memories and math skills. Walker has spent record amounts on education! Which is possible because earlier in his term, Walker cut more money from education than any governor (and spends more on prisons than on higher education, some analysts point out). Now. just in time for election season, he pushed ed spending back up. Here are the caveats-- much of that spending is headed to charter schools and vouchers, and corrected for inflation, it's still less than a decade ago. In fact, Walker is spinning this partial restoration of funding schools used to have as a "reform dividend"-- Act 10 just saved so much money that now he can put some back in education, which is like cutting the family food budget by taking away your kids meat and potatoes, feeding them bread and water for a week and then announcing on Sunday, "We've saved so much money with our food reforms that you'll now get a huge increase of food-- today everyone gets a spoonful of ice cream with lunch!"

This pastiche of half-truths, non-truths, and cynical spin looks like a preview of the Walker re-election campaign. Are people going to buy this baloney? Go read that boot-licking editorial again. Remember that Walker didn't even break a sweat surviving recall. And note that there are ten (count 'em, ten) Democrats jostling for position. It would be nice to see Walker go down in flames-- calling himself an education governor is like calling a nuclear bomb a construction facilitator. If Walker is an education governor, then I am a fitness leader or a hairline advancer. But if Walker is going to go down in flames, it's going to take a lot of hard work and a big bunch of torches. Good luck to the teachers left in Wisconsin.

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