Wisconsin lawmakers on Wednesday kicked off the first public hearing across the state on Gov. Walker’s proposed budget. At the forefront of concern were cuts to education and programs that serve seniors and people with disabilities.
The first public hearing on the proposed 2015-2017 state budget was held in Brillion--a small town in northeastern Wisconsin. For about seven hours straight, people filed up to one of two mics set up in the auditorium of the high school.
Education was topic on a lot of people’s minds. Besides major cuts to UW-System, Gov. Walker has also proposed $127 million in cuts to K-12 districts, leaving educators looking for ways to save money. The cuts are coupled with a plan to lift the cap on the voucher program. Michelle Langenfeld is superintendent of the Green Bay School District.
“How do I prepare a budget for next year with unlimited vouchers and plan for additional resources that will be needed for transportation? How do I staff for unlimited vouchers when I’m required to provide contracts to teachers this spring but I don’t know the number of students leaving the district?” Langenfeld says.
Public schools aren’t the only ones concerned about state funding for education. Private voucher institutions are also asking for more money. Doug Olig is principal of St. Mary’s Springs Academy in Fond du Lac.
“Continue the program, uncap it. But we also need to look at the funding formula. Currently, with what’s proposed we would not be able to meet the needs of all our students, especially those underserved. We are truly trying to promote our Hispanic community. ELL (ESL) programs to meet the needs of all our students. That’s just one example,” Olig says.
Another issue that got a lot of attention was cuts to the IRIS program. IRIS allows the elderly and people with disabilities to choose their caregivers. Donna Elenbecker works with that population. She says the proposal was tucked into the budget without consulting stakeholders.
“We need to take the elimination of IRIS out of the budget, we need to make sure that family care remains the way it is. If there are problems with long-term care then everyone needs to sit at the table and we need to find a solution,” Elenbecker says.
While the topics of education and care for those in need dominated the day, people did raise other budget items. For instance, some voiced concerns about transportation funding and efforts to fight domestic violence. The budget hearings come to the Milwaukee area on Friday at Alverno College.