The Legislature finally finished its session, and here is what we got:
- $1.6 billion in cuts to our public schools and a $300 million increase for dubious, unaccountable voucher schools.
- The repeal of the Healthy Youth Act mandating accurate, age-appropriate sex education.
- A ban on private health insurers providing abortion coverage.
- The rollback of the state's pay-equity law for women.
- 23,000 low-income Wisconsinites losing their health insurance under BadgerCare, including 2,900 children.
Here is what we didn't get:
During Gov. Scott Walker's first year in office, Wisconsin posted the single worst record in the nation for job losses.
While the nation as a whole gained jobs for 17 straight months, and our neighboring states all participated in the economic recovery, posting job gains, Wisconsin was one of only five states to lose jobs. The 12,500 jobs we lost made our record three times worse than the second-worst state on the list, Missouri.
So much for Walker's supposed focus on jobs, jobs, jobs.
Turns out the legislative session was all about sex, sex, sex. Well, that plus massive cuts to education.
There were a couple of bright spots. Some of the worst ideas concocted by the infamous American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) - which cooks up right-wing boilerplate bills for all the states - went nowhere. One of these would have created a statewide charter school district, draining resources from every public school district in the state and siphoning the cash to a company that provides online courses. Moderate Republicans in the Senate, empowered by the recalls of some of their right-wing colleagues, put the bill on the backburner, where it is still cooling.
Another lousy bill that withered due to lack of enthusiasm from moderates in the Senate was special needs vouchers. Parents of disabled children could get a voucher worth $13,500 - in exchange for giving up their right to a free, appropriate education. Florida, which pioneered the idea, was the subject of a scathing exposé in the Miami New Times, which reported on kids housed in strip malls, taught by unqualified 20-year-old teachers, paddled, and parked in front of blaxploitation flicks.
As Donna Pahuski, the mother of a disabled child, testified before the education committee: "Maybe if you live in Florida or Texas or Mississippi, and you are bringing up the rear, you might want to try something really risky," like the special needs voucher bill. "But not Wisconsin!"
You'd never know it from listening to the school choice lobby, but we still have one of the top public school systems in the nation.
Even as Walker was declaring Wisconsin "Open for Business," proposing his budget cuts and more than $500 million in new tax breaks for corporations as part of his plan to attract business to the state, Forward Wisconsin, a nonprofit corporation established to market Wisconsin's assets to corporate executives, was touting high-quality schools as one of our major selling points. Among the "statistics and facts about Wisconsin's great schools" the group promotes on its website:
- Wisconsin ranks first in the nation for its percentage of teachers meeting the standard "highly qualified" under the revised Elementary and Secondary Education Act.
- Wisconsin leads the nation in public high school graduation rates.
- The state's public schools consistently rank in the top 10 for ACT, SAT and Advanced Placement scores, making Wisconsin one of the "eight smartest states."
Not only has Walker failed to attract jobs to Wisconsin, he has gutted one of our biggest assets.
Finally, there was that controversial mining law, drafted at the behest of a single out-of-state mining magnate, Bill Williams, CEO of Gogebic Taconite. Relaxing state environmental and public meetings laws, at the mining company's request, was supposedly going to land Wisconsinites a bunch of jobs.
But the price was too high for moderate Republican Sen. Dale Schultz and his Democratic colleague Sen. Bob Jauch, who voted against the bill. When they offered a compromise that would preserve environmental protections and public input, Walker and the Republican leadership refused to even entertain it.
Here is how Walker explained the no-compromise position to reporters in a conference call:
"Gov. Scott Walker said he spoke with the president of the mining company, Gogebic Taconite," Shawn Johnson, who was on the call, reported. "He says GTAC told him it felt it had already compromised enough and did not want to bend any more."
Speaking for the mining interest, Gov. Walker said, "The bottom line is, would they come to Wisconsin if we passed a bill? I believe the answer is yes. But it essentially would have to be either exactly that bill or something that made modest, modest technical changes to that."
As Sen. Jauch put it: "I thought the governor of the state of Wisconsin had the veto pen, not the owner of the Gogebic Taconite company."
Same outcome, though. No jobs.
Ruth Conniff is the political editor of The Progressive.