Cuts To Public Schools Loom Large At Milwaukee Budget Hearing

Members Of Public Also Testify On UW Cuts, Changes To Long-Term Care Programs

Chuck Quirmbach/WPR

Supporters of public education made a strong showing at the Legislature’s budget hearing in Milwaukee on Friday, joining others at an Alverno College auditorium who testified on University of Wisconsin System cuts, changes to long-term care programs and other budget proposals.

Several school district superintendents from the Milwaukee area asked lawmakers to drop the governor’s plan to trim per-pupil funding aid by about $150 per student.

At one point, Wauwatosa parent Karen Suarez-Flint asked “anyone in the audience who likes public education” to stand up. Despite efforts by the co-chairs of the Legislature’s budget committee to discourage demonstrations at the hearing, more than 100 people in the audience stood in a show of support.

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Suarez-Flint also asserted that when Gov. Scott Walker’s sons attended school in Wauwatosa, “state law provided a $250 increase each year.”

“Why are my daughters worth less than his sons? Why is it that we could afford to pay for his children, but he can’t afford to pay for ours?” she said.

Prior to the hearing, Joint Finance Chairwoman Alberta Darling, a Republican senator from River Hills, acknowledged concerns about education funding.

“We’d like to put more resources into K-12 education, if we have any more resources. We’ll find that out in April or May, and we’ll need to see where we go from there,” said Darling.

New state revenue figures are expected in the next two months.

Some Republican leaders are already suggesting another proposed education cut — the governor’s proposed $300 million cut for the University of Wisconsin System — should be softened. Several UW students testified in favor of protecting money for the university.

“UW-L alone needs to cut $12 million,” said UW-Lacrosse student body president Kaylee Otterbacher. “And I hear a few supporters of the budget — the $300 million cut — saying, ‘You can trim the fat … you can cut your inefficiencies.’ But I guarantee none of the people saying that are at the table watching us do this. It’s very difficult to cut those ineffiencies.”

One more Walker budget proposal that could be in for some changes is the governor’s plan to overhaul long-term care programs for the elderly and people with disabilities. While the Walker administration contends the changes would end fragmented delivery, one disabled care recipient, Reverend Gaynor Hunter, said she’s afraid she would lose services like transportation.

“I don’t drive anymore, so if I didn’t have the transportation, I would have to stay at home. I would be totally lost if I was not able to do the things I like to do,” said Hunter.

Several Republican committee members say they’re not clear on how the governor’s long-term care plan would work. Rep. Dale Kooyenga, R-Brookfield, said the public is short on details .

“They deserve some certainty on the fact of, ‘What is my care is going to look like going forward?’ And I think that we are in a position to look at what’s out there and put some parameters on there,” said Kooyenga.

Other parts of the Walker budget that drew comments included funding for drug and alcohol treatment, proposed cuts in scientist staffing at the Department of Natural Resources, and the governor’s plan to help build a new basketball arena in Milwaukee.

The Joint Finance Committee’s next budget hearing will be Monday in Rice Lake.