SHELL LAKE -- Today, Thursday, April 27, Governor Walker made an early morning visit to the Shell Lake 3-12 School in order to talk about his 2017-19 budget, the one originally presented at the State Capitol to the legislators this past February stating unequivocally that “Our state is strong, and the state of our budget is outstanding.”
He calls it Working and Winning for Wisconsin, and emphasized the additional money that was going into “public education, making college even more affordable, caring for the truly needy, building a stronger infrastructure, rewarding work and cutting taxes to the lowest point in decades.”
While at the school he met first with the staff and then toured several classrooms talking to the tech students who showed him their projects and he discussed at length each project.
He was then greeted enthusiastically by the school body while the band did quite an excellent job playing On Wisconsin. The mood was high as he launched into his reason for the visit.
In his recent budget talks to many of Wisconsin’s 424 schools districts, he pointed out that Wisconsin has a current rate of only 3.4 percent unemployment and his proposed budget would include putting $11.5 billion of state support into K-12 education. “Specifically,” he said, “this budget includes a more than half-a-billion dollar increase in per pupil aid for public education. We are investing more money into public education that ever before.”
Starting last November the state Department of Public Instruction requested an increase of $200 per student in the first year and a $204 increase per student in the second year of the budget. “Our budget, however, is not about the past; it is about looking forward to addressing the workforce needs of the future.”
Walker also included funding for the charter and choice schools saying, “I want every student to succeed and I trust parents to make the right decision for their children.
He added information on making our public institution even more affordable which includes the UW system as well as the technical college tuitions.
Also included in the proposed budget is expanding the broadband internet services to every part of the state. “It means helping family farmers improve their operations and it’s about improving staffing and facilities at our state veteran’s homes.” He also emphasized with expanding broadband services, opportunities increase for people to move to Wisconsin’s rural areas who work and run their businesses through the internet, thereby allowing them a more rural lifestyle while earning top wages.
In some of his school talks, Walker cites former Governor Tommy Thompson and his Wisconsin Works (W2) program for people who are able to work to actually enter the workforce. “That means that able-bodied adults will need to be employed at least eighty hours a month to receive things like food stamps. If not, they will need to be enrolled in the state's job training program.
“On top of that,” he states, “we are working with the new administration and Congress to get approval to expand drug testing for people seeking public assistance. If they fail the test, we provide treatment to get them healthy and back into the workforce.
“Let me be clear: Wisconsin Works for Everyone goes beyond traditional welfare reform. Here in Wisconsin, public assistance should be a trampoline, not a hammock.”
There has been mixed reaction from the schools on the new budget money, $649 million, available to individual school districts; this being the largest increase since the 2005-2007 bienniums. But the cost to the school employees is to fully embrace Act 10, which was signed by Walker in 2011.
Act 10 requires districts to fully comply with the vestiges of the plan before receiving any of the per-pupil money. Complying meaning school employees would contribute up to twelve percent of their health care plan for their student to receive aid boosts.
The Act and other recent legislation aims to move decision-making power away from the state to local government and curtails collective bargaining for public unions and requires state workers to contribute to more of their health insurance and pension benefits. According to Walker, “It's consistent with what other taxpayers experience in their workplaces and that there’s nothing to stop school districts from crafting economic incentives that reward employees in another way. Most people working in this state contribute something for their health insurance.”
There is no clear deadline for the haggling between the states' governing bodies and the governor regarding his budget proposal, but Walker is very optimistic the budget will pass as is, or with very few changes.
He is visiting many of the Wisconsin school districts to present his budget to the very people that will be affected by it, “Not arm twisting, but persuading” voters to read the bill and see its benefits.
Law enforcement personnel outnumbered the sizeable numbers of the press and when his brief visit was over it was as though all the energy had drained out of the room. There will be more than a few students who will remember his visit for the rest of their lives; the day the Governor visited the Shell Lake School.
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