On Tuesday, thousands of union members and advocates descended upon the State Capital to oppose Governor Walker's budget-repair bill. The rather sizable demonstration had the effect of closing down schools as teachers and students crowded the State Capital.
Governor Walker's budget-repair bill requires state and local government employees to contribute 5.8% toward their pension plan and a 12.6% toward their annual health care premiums. According HCTrends - a market orientated forum for health care solutions - state employees would still pay less toward their family health insurance premiums than the employees of most Midwestern states.
The grand impetus for such austere measures from a new State Legislature is the 3.6 billion dollar deficit projected for the next budget cycle. Increased contributions by state and local workers - if implemented soon - will save $30 million by the end of this fiscal year in July.
Although union organizers had an impressive showing on Tuesday, the story getting more attention was a video by the MacIver Institute showing footage of students saying their teachers brought them to the protest.
El Conquistador contacted the principal of Madison-East High-School, who confirmed us that the "walk-out" was not coordinated by the teachers. This seems to be the same report that other media is receiving from the school. However, news reports indicate that more than 800 students had walked out on Tuesday to join the demonstration at the State Capital - an organizational feat not easily realized by non-professional organizers.
Travis Turnquist, a senor from Madison-East High-school, said that the protest at the Capital was the head topic in every one of his classes. He also said that teachers were clear with their students that they would not be marked absent if they were to walk out of their classes. This may be the reason why students abandoned their classrooms enmass. At UW Madison, coersion appeared to be more evident as one student at UW Madison had reported that students in her English class would be marked absent if they didn't attend the protest.
Adding to the mayhem, Madison schools were forced to close down for a second day as 40% of the teachers called in sick to protest. The announcement was made hours after "Madison Teachers Inc." told the media that their teachers would skip school in order to lobby Republican Legislators to oppose the bill. According to the State Journal, union representatives contacted 4,500 members to participate in the district-wide "sick-out." More then 24,000 students will be unable to attend classes until the teachers union decides it's time to reconvene.
On the following day - Thursday - 400 MPS teachers called in sick to protest in Madison, which could have been far worse if Superintendent Gregory Thornton hadn't preemptively threatened disciplinary action for unexcused absences. In Racine, some other schools closed due to absent teachers as well.
For far too long, the teachers unions have kept a choke-hold on education reform in the state. For the past two days, the teachers unions have demonstrated that they control our public school systems - controlling when the school doors open and close. And that's not the only thing they control. They control part of the Democrat Party as well.
On Thursday, all Senate Democrats filed on a bus and left the state in order to delay the passage of the budget-repair bill. Republicans need at least one Democrat to be present - by law - before a bill can pass the Senate. Governor Walker has dispatched the State Troopers, as is his right according to the State Constitution, to retrieve lawmakers neglecting their legislative duties.
It is not only apparent that teachers are closing down schools, but Democrat Lawmakers have chosen to close down the State Capital. If the Teachers Unions have enough power to close down schools and the State Capital, perhaps it's a good indication how too much power corrupts.
The reality is that employee salary and fringe benefits currently make up two-thirds of the state government's operating costs. With the exception of raising taxes, compelling state and local employees to make greater fiscal contributions is only a first step in stopping the state's downward fiscal spiral. As Representative Robin Vos pointed out in his Op-Ed, it's not the fault of state and local workers that previous legislatures have failed to reign in spending.
Madison and Milwaukee teachers are playing a dangerous game. It would be an unimaginable travesty if all our doctors and surgeons in Milwaukee were to call in sick tomorrow. The potential impact on our Emergency Rooms, the OB centers, and the Oncology floors would be monumental.
One thing is for certain, no private schools that participate in the Choice Program closed down today due to teacher absences. Perhaps this is a point to consider the next time expanding the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program comes to debate. Chalk this up to a learning experience about why Wisconsin's schools systems need serious education reform.