As many of you know, there are several proposals before the legislature right now that threaten both public school funding equity and our most vulnerable students. As in previous terms, advocates for students with special needs and public education have been standing up in force to these bills, and this opposition has dominated the public hearings. Legislators are listening, and there is hope that these measures will be defeated – so now is the time to make sure our voice is heard loud and clear.
The anti-public education “school choice” lobby that has written and promoted this legislation, however, is a powerful influence at the Capitol and has poured huge investments into the campaigns of many of these legislators. Due to their persistence and influence, these measures, which were defeated in past sessions, have once again been introduced. These parties are often given the spotlight at the hearings, where they use discredited evidence and misleading appeals to “choice” and “small government” to promote bills that limit local control and promise lucrative contracts to their own financiers.
In spite of this, there are proven ways we can take action to ensure that the voices of the taxpayers, parents, and all who care about the future of our state and our children, are heard above the sound of those cash registers.
Here are 7 things you can do to stand up for public education in our community:
- Contact your legislators.
It is time to call on them to do what is right for Wisconsin children and to reject any proposals that would hurt special needs children (as targeted by LRB 2515/6 – the Special Needs Vouchers act) or further remove local control from the chartering process (as AB 549 – the charter school expansion bill – would do). Another key bill is the “School Accountability Act” (SB 286) headed to the Senate Executive Session on Thurs. Jan 30, with amendments that seem slated to appease the leading anti-public education lobby American Federation for Children. I urge you to write your legislators and the bills’ sponsors and committee chairs and ask them to stand with Wisconsin parents and taxpayers. Your letter need not be long: just saying you oppose this legislation sends the message.
Key legislators to contact:
- Sen. Luther Olson, Sen.email@example.com (Chair, Senate Education Committee)
- Sen. Mike Ellis, firstname.lastname@example.org
- Sen. Leah Vukmir, Sen.email@example.com
- Sen. Scott Fitzgerald, firstname.lastname@example.org
- Rep. Steve Kestell, Rep.Kestell@legis.wisconsin.gov (Chair, Assembly Education Committee)
- Rep. Robin Vos, email@example.com
Be sure to cc your own elected representatives as well:
- Sen. Mark Miller, Sen.Miller@legis.wisconsin.gov
- Rep. Gary Hebl, Rep.Hebl@legis.wisconsin.gov
- Click here to find your representatives if you don’t live in the City of Sun Prairie
- Write letters to the local papers. You can submit a letter (350 words or less) to the Sun Prairie Star at firstname.lastname@example.org. Capital Times: email@example.com, Wisconsin State Journal (200 words or less): firstname.lastname@example.org . Be sure to include your name and address for verification. Effective letters focus on one topic, provide clear reasons or examples, and are short and to the point.
- Hold the Department of Public Instruction accountable for enforcing anti-discrimination policy against students with special needs at voucher schools, and to improve the process for reporting complaints against voucher schools which do not comply with these policies. Public pressure on this issue might speed up action for these students, while DPI continues to drag its feet despite a lawsuit from the ACLU and Disability Rights Wisconsin and a directive from the Department of Justice to put an end to this tax-payer funded discrimination. To take action on this issue, you can call Jeff Pertl, Senior Policy Advisor at DPI (608-267-9232), or write to Mr. Pertl and cc State Superintendent Tony Evers and DPI Chief Legal Council Janet Jenkins (email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com).
- Stay informed, and trust your sources. In this effort, you may also find these resources especially valuable:
- The excellent group Stop Special Needs Vouchers has templates for letters and regular updates on Capitol legislative efforts and actions. This group is led by parents of special needs students and other well-informed advocates and educators.
- The Institute for Wisconsin’s Future and the Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools also follow this news very closely, and you can find updates and action alerts on their websites. SPARC is a member of the Wisconsin Public Education Network, a statewide coalition of educators, advocates, grassroots teams and individuals connected and committed to public education.
- Public School Shakedown is a new feature of the Progressive magazine which tracks and reports the national assault on public education. Editor Ruth Conniff and her team do a fantastic job staying on top of state and national education here. Their Wisconsin Capitol reporter, Rebecca Kemble, also does an amazing job of live reporting and covering how special interests groups connect to education policy and legislation in Wisconsin. Click here for her most recent report.
- Get involved locally. Attend events (like the upcoming lecture by Diane Ravitch) supporting our children and our schools. Connect with local schools, and attend school board meetings to share your concerns and ideas. Citizens have a great deal of local control over what happens in our schools, and attending meetings where curriculum and policy are being planned is the best way to have a voice in these things! Never underestimate the power of citizens at these meetings, which are often very poorly attended.
LOCAL ACTION OPPORTUNITY! Show your support for Sun Prairie schools by attending the SPASD Strategic Planning session for the public on
Tuesday, Jan. 28 , 2014at the high school. This is a critical moment in looking forward and sharing input in how we, as a community, want to focus our priorities and improve our schools. Your voice matters very much here, so please contact the Board even if you can’t attend the meeting to let them know what issues you feel are most important as our district grows. UPDATE: Strategic Planning Meeting scheduled for 1/28 has been postponed in anticipation of frigid weather. We’ll keep you posted on the rescheduled date.
- Vote. The high-profile gubernatorial race is just around the corner, but the school board seats at stake in the spring election on April 1st are equally – if not more – important to local schools.
In Sun Prairie, we have three people vying for two seats on the school board – including SPARC member and retired SPASD educator Carol Albright, current citizen representative to the board’s Performance and Operations Committee Jessica Moehr, and incumbent SPASD board president Tom Weber. SPARC hopes to hold a public forum to learn more about the candidates, and will keep you informed as we near the April 1, 2014 election.
- Spread the word. Make your position known to your family and friends. Use social media and email to share news and events. Talk to other parents and neighbors about your concerns, and urge them to pay close attention to what’s being done with our tax dollars.The louder our voices, the stronger we stand.
In Sun Prairie, and statewide, we need to reinvest in and support of strong public schools that serve ALL students, and stand up against measures that line the pockets of special interests at the expense of our kids.
Thank you for your support of SPARC and the excellent public schools in Sun Prairie and Wisconsin!
Heather DuBois Bourenane
SPARC member and proud SPASD parent