Wisconsin’s largest public education advocacy group will be leading a four-day march from Palmyra to Madison starting Saturday to protest cuts from Wisconsin’s schools budget.
Heather DuBois Bourenane, executive director of the Wisconsin Public Education Network, and Milwaukee Public Schools Board director Megan O’Halloran are inviting the public to join the 60-mile Stand Up for Public Schools March on June 22-25.
“We are marching 60 miles — from Palmyra to Madison — with parents, board members, school leaders and others to demand restoration of the $900 million cut from the proposed education budget,” they said. “Wisconsin children will continue to suffer if the state once again lets them down with insufficient funding.”
Noting that the are “marching to demand the budget our children deserve,” O’Halloran and Bourenane said persons may walk whatever distance they wish, from 60 miles to 60 steps.
“Our goal is to send a strong message that Wisconsin stands with its children, and our march is a symbolic journey toward funding fairness,” they explained. “Our March to Madison will be complemented by local actions in various communities around the state and we encourage everyone to stand up where they live for the budget that’s best for kids.”
The public is invited to join the marchers for as little or as long as they wish throughout the journey, and to cheer them on at the whistlestops that will be held daily along the route. The march will end with a rally at the State Capitol at 2:30 p.m. Tuesday, June 25, following a final 2-mile walk from East High School, with an estimated departure time of 1:30 p.m.
Parking and return shuttles will be available at all of the stop/start points along the route.
Opportunities to participate are available at every stop, and there is no expectation that individuals will march for the full duration.
“We’re marching to demand lawmakers stop playing politics with our kids,” they said. “Join us; 860,000 kids are counting on us.”
The march organizers said lawmakers must seriously adress the crisis they themselves created by chronically underfunding public schools. They are demanding restoration of funds in the following areas:
• Special Education: Restore the reimbursement to 30 percent in year one and 60 percent in year two.
“Special education funding has been frozen for a decade, creating an annual funding gap of $1 billion,” Bourenane and O’Halloran said. “Districts fill this gap by using money from their general funds, and all students suffer. The plan on the table (2 percent in year one, 30 percent in year two) is an insult to our children and confirms the message heard loud and clear in previous budget cycles: Wisconsin lawmakers do not value children with disabilities.
• Mental Health: Provide aid at the full level proposed by Governor Tony Evers.
“This amount was itself insufficient and only funded applications that were rejected in the last round of insufficiently funded competitive mental health grants,” the organizers said.
• Bilingual/bicultural aid: Restore the funding proposed by Governor Evers.
“Wisconsin’s funding for English Language Learners was called ‘pitiful’ by an expert who testified before the Blue Ribbon Commission on School Funding, and our reimbursement rate is the lowest in the nation,” said Bourenane and O’Halloran.
They reported that the Joint Finance Committee rejected all new aid for this category from the budget.
“We expect lawmakers to come together across party differences to pass a budget, on time, that meets the immediate needs of our children and puts Wisconsin on a path toward fairness, and a future where all of our children have equal opportunity to succeed,” they said.
“We call on everyone who cares about kids to stand up for the budget our children deserve, wherever you are in Wisconsin,” Bourenane and O’Halloran added. “If you cannot join the march or rallies, you can participate by holding an event in your own district or simply by contacting your own lawmakers to make sure they hear this message statewide.”
The Stand Up for Public Schools March will follow this itinerary, with arrival times approximate:
• Saturday, June 22: Palmyra to Fort Atkinson High School, a trip of 18 miles.
The march will start at 9 a.m. at Palmyra-Eagle High School, with a whistlestop in Hebron at 12:30 p.m. in Hebron and arrival at Fort Atkinson at 5 p.m.
• Sunday, June 23: Fort Atkinson to Deerfield, a trip of 16.5 miles.
The march will depart Fort Atkinson at 9 a.m., with a whistlestop at 12:30 p.m. at Cambridge High School and arrival in Deerfield at 5 p.m.
• Monday, June 24: Deerfield to Sun Prairie, a walk of 18.5 miles.
Marchers will depart Deerfield at 8:30 a.m., with a whistlestop in Marshall at 12:30 p.m. and arrival at Patrick Marsh Middle School in Sun Prairie at 5 p.m.
• Tuesday, June 25: Sun Prairie to State Capitol, a walk of 14 miles.
Participants will depart Sun Prairie at 8:30 a.m., with a 12:30 p.m. whistlestop at Madison East High School and then departing at 1:30 p.m. on the final march up to the state Capitol, where the rally will be held at 2:30 p.m.
“A common-sense, fully-funded, bipartisan-supported plan that could have set Wisconsin on a path toward school funding fairness is in the garbage, and the plan on the table — which doesn’t even keep pace with inflation — is being touted as a ‘historic investment,’” Bourenane and O’Halloran said.
They remarked that “$900 million has been gutted from the governor’s budget proposal, and the bare-bones version we see now willfully ignores the critical concerns heard by lawmakers at public hearings over the past two years.”
The Stand Up for Public Schools March organizers said the budget that lawmakers will vote on in the last week of June does not even attempt to close Wisconsin’s funding gaps.
“This budget put forward by the Joint Finance Committee is an investment in widening those gaps and preserving the status quo, deepening the divide between ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ in and across our communities and schools,” Bourenane and O’Halloran said. “Worse, legislative leadership is signaling a willingness to hold our children hostage in a budget standoff should the governor reject a budget that clearly underfunds and undervalues our kids — yet again.”
For route specifics, registration or to support the effort with a donation, visit: http://www.wisconsinnetwork.org/blog/march.