GREEN BAY — Both candidates running for governor in Wisconsin say they genuinely have the best interest of today's students in mind. Republican Gov. Scott Walker and his Democratic challenger, Tom Barrett, just have different ways of helping our students excel.
Walker cut state aid to education by a record $800 million, but education - he says - didn't lose a dime. The difference is where the money is now coming from.
Teacher contributions to health care and pension plans replenished a good portion of the cuts in state aid. And Walker says reforms in scheduling, service contracts and more gave districts more financial control with the elimination of collective bargaining.
"These are the kinds of reforms we needed, far beyond just a budget. And unlike states all across America making cuts in education, we're the only state that gave those schools more than enough reforms to make up for and do even better in the future," said Walker.
Walker says while teachers and the teachers' unions have criticized his actions, he has received overwhelming support from those in charge of school budgets.
"Many of our school districts, particularly in Northeast Wisconsin, have used our reforms to balance their budgets. Many of them have hired more teachers, lowered classroom size and (are) setting aside money for merit pay," said Walker.
Barrett says education is not better. He contends it has been made worse. He points to state Department of Public Instruction numbers that show 73 percent of school districts across the state cut teachers this year.
As for teacher contributions, Barrett says, under his administration, those payments would stay.
"They will continue to pay into their health care and pension plans. I think that debate is over. And their leadership has said their members will pay," said Barrett.
Barrett would like to see more money directed toward education. Funding, though, will be dependent on dollars generated by economic development around the state. That's what he says he would have focused on instead of what he calls Walker's efforts to divide and conquer unions.
"We're going to need some growth to start replenishing the cuts to education and it's going to have to come through economic growth, and the fact you have a governor who wasn't focusing on that meant we're a whole year behind," said Barrett.
Barrett says he would seek to restore collective bargaining. He says, working together, districts and workers can save money.
"I think it would be devastating. Nearly every school board member across the state would tell you if that were to go back it would kill our schools," said Walker.
Walker points to the $3 million savings the Appleton Area School District came up with in renegotiating its health insurance plan. That's money the district wasn't able to save under the old collective bargaining deal.
"The collective bargaining issue, the right to organize, right to bargain, really doesn't have the fiscal implications that those other matters do. That's really more ideological," said Barrett.
There are two candidates with two different approaches to improving education. Voters head to the polls Tuesday.
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