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Missed Opportunities

A tree falls on your house. Instead of using the insurance money to fix it, would you instead use that money to pay your regular operational expenses, like food, gas, rent/mortgage? Wisconsin Republican legislators think that would be the wise way to go. And heaven forbid you use the money to repair your house so that it’s even better than it was before. They’d think that’s whack.

In their proposed education budget, WI GOP legislators say we should use federal Build Back Better money to fund WI schools. Never mind that this federal funding is meant to cover additional expenses related to COVID, unexpected costs that were never in one single school operational budget to begin with. Never mind that the federal funding is a one-time-only offer. Never mind that by not maintaining our expected state investment in education, Wisconsin will be in jeopardy of losing this additional federal money, just like the monthly $70 million in federal funding for emergency food programs that Wisconsin nearly lost last April when the GOP fought the governor’s state of emergency order. Thank goodness Governor Evers stepped in to save that funding.

Never mind that Build Back Better funds could address some of the huge cracks in our educational system that COVID exposed—like overcrowded classrooms in aging buildings with antiquated mechanical systems that forced some schools to stay virtual in order to keep kids and staff safe. In fact, our GOP legislators want to punish those schools by giving them less BBB funds than schools that chose, or were able, to have in-school learning.

BBB funding is meant to provide mental health services for our kids who just went through one of the most challenging years of their lives. Our GOP says too bad, kids. Suck it up. And then there’s special education funding, where the state currently reimburses private schools for these services by nearly the full amount, but reimburses public schools for the same services at only 28%–and some people wonder why our urban public schools, where these services are in greatest need, need more funding?

The Republicans in our state legislature don’t trust that our schools know how to effectively use the BBB funds coming their way. Here’s what Robin Vos, a guy who rents apartments to college kids and sells popcorn for a living when he isn’t running the Wisconsin Assembly, has to say:

“The amount of federal money that is going to school districts is overwhelming. It’s really kind of obscene in many ways. It’s sad. It’s just too much money. Think of all the times people win the lottery. Do they spend that money smartly? Very rarely. … So I feel like school districts just won the lottery, and I am concerned that the money isn’t going to be spent in ways that is best.”

Really? Like winning a lottery? Obscene? The only thing that’s obscene are those comments. Tell that to the kid who is one of 35 in a classroom built in 1930 and designed to hold 20. Tell that to the kid who lives in a rural area where his family’s cows are faster than the speed of his internet. Tell that to our hardworking teachers who risked their lives and the lives of their family members this past year, lives that were sometimes lost, as they tried to reach kids, some nearly unreachable, through computer screens. Vos and his Republican colleagues know how to spend federal education funds better than our local school officials? What a slap in the face to those professionals who worked so hard and risked so much to support our kids during a worldwide pandemic.

Their “plug current budget holes with one-time federal money meant to plug holes exposed/created by COVID” approach isn’t just for education funding. The worry is that next up and coming to the city where you live, they’ll tell local governments to use federal COVID funding to replace operational funding that ordinarily comes from the state. Those extra expenses local governments had to bear when COVID hit? Find another way to cover them. The opportunity to fix longstanding problems faced by our cities and towns, to build back better? Forget about it.

The WI GOP also wants to reject $1.6 billion in federal funding that would come to Wisconsin if we expand Medicaid to provide health insurance to more poor people. Yes. You read that right. We’d get $1.6 billion more in federal funds AND have more poor people covered by health insurance. But the GOP here says no thanks, making Wisconsin one of only a few states in the country to take a pass. If we’re gonna be like them, maybe we should change our name to Wississippi. Or Walabama.

Last year, in an attempt to navigate the collective shitstorm raging all around us and try to find something positive in the experience, I wrote and shared a series of musings I called “Silver linings: our opportunity to rethink everything.” In it, I suggested we consider making lemonade out of the big, sour COVID lemon. In addition to killing and sickening millions, COVID exposed the cracks (and in some cases, the canyons) in our society that need fixing. So why waste a good crisis, when we could use it as an opportunity for growth and renewal?

Apparently, the Biden administration felt similarly, since their Build Back Better proposals are an attempt to come back from this worldwide tragedy better and stronger than ever. Build Back Better says: why go back to what was when we can reach for what should or could be?

The GOP-controlled Wisconsin legislature rejects that strategy, along with the funding to make it happen.

So. You know what comes next. Bitching feels good, but it doesn’t accomplish much more than that. Call, write, let your elected officials know how you feel. Attend a rally, make your voice heard. If you don’t think it does any good, my elected representatives will tell you that you’re just plain wrong on that score. Or, if any of that is just too much for you, then do this: vote them out. Share what they’re doing with your friends, neighbors and family members, who are too busy or too uninterested, and encourage them to vote them out, too.

We have a once in a lifetime opportunity to come back better and stronger than we’ve ever been, along with the federal funding to make many of these long-needed investments happen. Don’t we owe it to our kids and their kids to hand over a world that’s better than we found it? Isn’t that worth spending a few minutes to let our elected officials know that our kids and grandkids are worth it?

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

At least, that’s political philosopher Edmund Burke believed more than two hundred years ago. And when you add the word “women,” to his quote, I believe it, too.

Do you?

Message to your elected WI Senator/Representative:

  • As students, parents, grandparents and graduates of Wisconsin educational system, we believe in excellent public education—and our kids deserve it.  The budget committee vote on May 27 for $0 per pupil increase is reprehensible and unacceptable.
  • I reject and oppose the actions of the Joint Finance Committee, where every Republican voted to provide less than 10% of the K-12 education funding proposed by Gov. Evers.
  • I reject a $0 per pupil increase in funding. Factoring in inflation, this is a funding cut.
  • Federal pandemic relief dollars do not count as per pupil funding.  Using federal, one-time funding that is tied to the pandemic to fund long-term budgets is not only cruel and irresponsible, it is not sustainable. 

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Photo by Aaron Burden at


  1. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! Well said.

  2. Thank you, Jill, for laying it all out, and calling for action. You’re so good!

  3. What I have always appreciated about you, on this topic and many others, is not just your “spell it out” synopsis but also realistic solutions and tools to move forward. READ THE END AND REACT. I have not lived in WI for quite some time, but looking at all this malarkey from the sidelines now makes me wonder what the hell is going on in my beloved homeland? Has logic flown the coop. C’mon folks, step up to the plate, perhaps out of your comfort zone. Jill has done all the research and heavy lifting, take a few measly minutes and make the calls and write the letters and TALK to one another. Don’t waste this once in a lifetime opportunity for a do over. Put the bipartisan silliness, (and embarrassment), behind you and think BIG PICTURE- it’s a win-win. Make WI some place to brag about once again instead of the national example of WT???
    Forever a Cheesehead,

    • Your “just get it done, take no prisoners, quit it with the bullshit” approach to life must have rubbed off on me after all these years of hanging out with you! Yes, you would not recognize your homeland these days, thanks in large part to gerrymandering. There are simply no consequences anymore for bad behavior, lousy policy or even refusing to show up to work for nine months because their districts are safe. The Dems won all the statewide offices last time around, but lost a majority of legislative seats to Republicans because the maps are so rigged here. They have all the power, and they’re gonna do whatever it takes to keep it that way. So, we fight on–we’ll bend that friggin’ moral arc of the universe with our bare hands if we have to! I appreciate your comments and support, my friend!

  4. Jill, your ability to articulate the trauma that we live in today, has the power to move hearts and invite real action.
    Thank you. You inspire me. I will stay in.

    • I started this blog as a writing discipline. And, honestly, to blow off steam once and a while. That I’ve inspired you (especially you!) moves me beyond words. Thank you!!

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