While the conflict over basic labor rights continues in Madison, sparking support from across the country, we shouldn’t lose sight of the other side of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s agenda: slashing investment in the state’s future.
Walker will literally break a covenant — the Covenant Program that promises financial aid for college for middle school students who pledge to get good grades and stay out of trouble. Reward for performance: One would have thought this a conservative program. But it does not survive the sledgehammer Walker would take to education at every level.
The most vulnerable take the greatest hit — and that means Milwaukee’s kids. Milwaukee isn’t Madison. The former industrial city ranked as the fourth most impoverished city, according to 2009 U.S. Census Bureau figures. Its poverty rate reached 27 percent. This poverty is concentrated among African Americans, almost half of whom live in highly impoverished, largely segregated areas of the city. In Milwaukee County, more than one-third of all young adults are unemployed.
For Milwaukee and other cities, Gov. Walker lowers the boom, calling for $1 billion in cuts, largely from public schools. The South Milwaukee School District summarized the damage: the pool would be closed, music instruction would be eliminated in grades 5-12, high school technical education and business education would be eliminated. Liaison services with the police would be reduced, eliminating drug-abuse resistance education. School breakfasts would cut by 10 percent, as would poverty aid and bilingual assistance. Aid from the state for nurses would also be zeroed out. Supplemental science and math, aid for advanced placement, all get cut.
Walker would cut aid by about $500 per student per class. Then he would prohibit localities from raising property taxes to make up for the shortfall. Then he would end limits on vouchers, enabling middle-class parents to remove their kids from schools that he has damaged. He says he’d give school districts the “tools they need to make up for the funds,” by which he means eliminating the right of teachers to bargain collectively. But the 7 percent cuts teachers have already conceded in their pay will surely drive many of the best teachers out of the profession.
Walker also would cut state support for cities and counties. He would cut $500 million from Medicaid spending, as well as support for the university system and for community colleges.
He’s also announced he’d reject $800 million in federal funds for high-speed rail, and $23 million to modernize broadband. He says he’s worried about the cost to the state. But that didn’t stop him from passing some $137 million in top-end tax cuts last year, and seeking $82 million over the next two years. The governor is using the state’s budget constraints to make cuts in programs vital to the state’s future.
The same dynamic is now going on in Washington. With 25 million people in need of full-time work, House Republicans are scorning both public opinion and economists’ advice to push for savage cuts of nearly a quarter of the spending on domestic programs for the remainder of this year. Every part of education funding — from pre-K, to K to 12, to college and training gets cut. Deep cuts are slated for basic security programs in food safety, in clean air and clean water and port security.
The result makes no sense. The cuts will literally cost lives. Goldman Sachs warns if enacted, they will cost 700,000 jobs. And yet, they won’t make up for the hole in the budget created by the top-end tax cuts Republicans insisted on last December. In Wisconsin and in Washington, budget deficits resulting from a recession caused by Wall Street’s excesses are being used as an excuse to attack the working families and the poor.
In Washington as in Wisconsin, the only question is whether the people will mobilize to limit the damage.