Walker-driven public-education deform: Do more for my business, and do it for less! | Wis.Community

Walker-driven public-education deform: Do more for my business, and do it for less!


[img_assist|nid=55033|title=Too true|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=145|height=181]Juxtaposed this week are two far-reaching, Republican-backed efforts affecting public education that are almost entirely contradictory and wholly destructive.

The first effort was highlighted in a Sunday Milwaukee Journal Sentinel story on the business pages. It concerned Bucyrus International Inc. chief executive officer Tim Sullivan, who has been toying with running for US Senate on the Republican ticket. According to the story, Sullivan told the Milwaukee 7 economic development council recently that his firm has had great difficulty finding qualified welders in Milwaukee. His solution, backed by Gov. Walker: Wholesale reform of Wisconsin's job training and education system. Sullivan believes "radical action is needed," the newspaper reported.

Meanwhile, Republicans are expected to schedule a legislative vote this week on a measure to roll back the state's long-held child labor laws, making it much easier for teens to work many hours even when schools are in session. You see, restaurants and grocery stores and other businesses just can't seem to find enough adults out of work yet willing to put in long hours for minimum wages. We've got to jump-start this economy, dammit, but we don't want to pay fair wages!

Trouble is, these new efforts are happening even as the Walker-led GOP is also busy whacking a billion dollars in state aids to public schools while tying school board hands on replacing that lost revenue in other ways. All but ensuring that there will be fewer teachers, who will asked to work harder by teaching more kids with fewer class resources and for less pay. A sure-fire formula for success, don't you think?

It all adds up to another perfect Walker storm: We need better education and training in this state to retain and improve our workforce and produce good new jobs, so the GOP intends to do that by:

1. Forcing business-friendly cirrculum changes on public schools

2. Letting students work many more hours during the school term and on school days.

3. Cutting drastically the number of dollars that flow to those schools.

Yes, Republicans apparently believe that less money for schools + frewer, less well-paid teachers + larger classroom populations + more job hours before and after school = better educated and trained kids. Unlikely, you say? But, hey, somehow -- with a huge dose of magical fairy dust -- the party of wishful thinking insists this is all going to turn out just great. 

Sullivan is chairman of the Governor's Council on Workforce Investment. He wants Walker to change how the state spends hundreds of millions of dollars each year in federal job training funds. He would do that in part by tying the funds to local education reform. Regional groups applying for the federal funs would have to justify their proposals by offering commitments to reform public education from kindergarten through twelfth grade at every pubilc school in the their region, along with changes at all the region's public technical colleges. Does the region need more highly skilled welders, as Sullivan reports? Well, then, if your area wants to grab federal dollars to train more pupils for work, then you had better have a plan to train welders.

Of course, one could argue that training welders isn't really about the fundamentals. Arguably, a school kid can't turn into a good welder, much less a reliable employee, if he can't read or write well, or doesn't learn social skills or basic math, all things schools are required to teach. Nor can that school kid learn well if he's tired from working a job during the school year. Or if he's undernourished, and from a dangerous neighborhood or a broken home.

Why do business interests think they have the wholesale right to expect that public schools should be transformed into mere worker training facilities, especially at the kindergarten through twelfth grade levels? A better case can be made for insisting upon that in our technical colleges. But wouldn't it make more sense for businesses to donate more dollars to schools, or even just pay those schools so they can offer more targeted courses? Rather than re-rig the schools so they can "properly" compete for federal dollars that Gov. Walker has often declined to accept? Some of that is already being done, but business interests now seem to think the main purpose of public education is to teach kids how to do specific jobs. Critical thinking skills? Knowing how to appreciate art or keep their bodies fit? Or understand history and civics? Not so much.

Organized grocers and restaurant owners backed the changes to the child labor laws. The Legislative Fiscal Bureau reported the new law would allow 16- and 17-year-olds to work an unlimited number of hours per week. The current law limits work hours to 32 hours in a partial school week; 26 hours during a full school week; and 50 hours during non-school weeks. The measure would also allow 16- and 17-year-olds to work unlimited hours per day, except for school hours in that same day. 

Hey, after five or six hours of school, not counting extracirricular activities they won't have time to attend, won't most kids simply be refreshed and raring to get back to classes next day, where they will learn so very much after working until 9 p.m. and then doing their homework?

Meanwhile, in another Walker-inspired zero-sum game, those school kids working more hours in minimum-wage jobs will take more work from heads of households who have had trouble finding jobs. This will help working families short of jobs exactly how? Merchants will favor teenagers over adults because they can pay them less and boss them around more easily. And there's an endless supply of them.

Welcome back to the '80s -- the 1880s, that is. Maybe Sullivan's ideas are well-intentioned, if not entirely well thought out, but the rest of what the GOP is about to impose on Wisconsin's heretofore excellent primary, secondary and adult education system is going to cause havoc and not create very many more jobs, if any.




June 12, 2011 - 1:19pm