Thanks to the Journal Sentinel’s Tom Kertscher for bringing a recent interview with Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker to light for all of us who do not regularly read (or do not read at all) the Washington Examiner. In this “exclusive interview” titled “Gov. Scott Walker’s limited government pragmatism”, we learn that Gov. Walker is fond of saying “Austerity is not the answer, reform is” because cutting spending and taxes in the state is not austerity if you can explain it in a more reform-minded, rather foreign way:
“So if I just did across the board cuts, I would have hurt schools as much as anything else and that would have been truly devastating. Instead, by changing collective bargaining, by reforming things there, we were able to reduce the amount of money that states send to schools, but in the end, still allowed schools to save enough to more than make up for that and in many cases to hire more teachers and put more money right in the classroom.”
“Reform” is wonderful, isn’t it? Unfortunately, the effects of Walker’s educational reform generally look a lot like plain old austerity, or the redistribution of public funds into private wealth. Some rural schools in Wisconsin, for instance, are now complaining of “unfunded mandates” and a recent report paints a less than wonderful public school picture, as described by the Wisconsin Budget Project:
“Cuts to education have consequences for students and classrooms. One effect of shrinking resources is a slow decline in the number of teachers who are educating Wisconsin’s future workforce. Between 2008 and 2013, the number of teachers in Wisconsin public schools fell by nearly 2,100 a reduction of 3.5% in the teacher workforce, according to the state Department of Public Instruction. The result: crowded classrooms and sub-optimal learning conditions for students.
State revenues have begun to recover from the beating they took during the recession, but Wisconsin has only reinvested a small fraction of the education funding that was cut during the downturn. Instead, policymakers have diverted revenues that could have been invested in education to implement an income tax cut that mainly benefits the highest earners.
At a time when the nation is trying to produce workers with the skills to master new technologies and adapt to the complexities of a global economy, Wisconsin should be investing more — not less — to ensure our kids get a strong education. These deep cuts to education have undermined our ability to educate Wisconsin’s children and there could be consequences for Wisconsin’s economy down the road.”
Wisconsin is now second only to Alabama in the amount of dollars cut from education spending since the economic recession, according to the Wisconsin Budget Project. What was once an educational and progressive leader among the states has been “reformed” into a state that is now a leader in anti-intellectual austerity.
Speaking of leaders and austerity, the Washington Examiner felt the need to ask Gov. Walker about foreign policy, perhaps because Wisconsin is so close to Canada. As the Journal Sentinel noted, Walker believes that former Pres. Ronald Reagan was a strong and respected leader across the globe (unlike Obama) because Reagan had the guts to fire the striking air traffic controllers and hire some less expensive and less experienced controllers. Reagan’s infamous act of pragmatic austerity, says Walker, put fear in the hearts of foreign evil-doers. And probably put some fear in American airline passengers as well. Awkwardly, a columnist for the Washington Examiner spoke with a pollster whose opinion is that Obama is no weaker than Reagan in terms of foreign policy. As for austerity, Reagan was a big spender compared to Pres. Obama, so Reagan is hardly a model for Walker’s brand of domestic “reform”, either. This is what comes of reforming history.
But as our governor says, speaking metaphorically about U.S. foreign policy, “I’m not necessarily encouraging that we draw red lines all over the place. My sense is just, you shouldn’t point a gun at somebody if you’re not prepared to shoot.” I’m sure the Canadians respect such straight talk out of Wisconsin.
Postscript: See also this Capital Times post by Steven Elbow on the same subject.