By Ruth Conniff
On Tuesday, in a phone call with reporters four days after the first debate in the Wisconsin governor’s race, Mary Burke pushed back against Scott Walker’s record on jobs and schools.
Burke called for what she described as a “fair shot” economy for Wisconsin workers and students.
“Because of our lagging economy and dismal job numbers we face a $1.8 billion—and growing—structural deficit going into the next budget,” Burke said on the call. “All while Governor Walker made the biggest cuts to our public schools in Wisconsin’s history.”
A paid online ad, released on Monday, underscored Burke’s point. The ad features a clip of Walker in the debate, saying, “We don’t have a jobs problem in this state.”
“In August Wisconsin lost another 4300 jobs,” the voice-over intones. “Wage growth is dead last in the Midwest. Job growth: Dead last in the Midwest. Scott Walker is not working for you.”
Wisconsin’s struggling economy—and the state’s poor jobs performance compared with the nation and surrounding states—has been a campaign theme from the start.
But Burke connected those facts to Walker’s controversial budget cuts for schools, and the expansion of the school voucher program in Wisconsin.
Walker, Burke noted, “pushed through the highest per pupil education cuts in the nation, wants to undo years of work to increase standards, and wants to further expand state spending on unaccountable voucher schools that drain millions of dollars from neighborhood schools.”
“Just this week,” Burke said, “We’ve seen that at least $139 million has been wasted on failed voucher schools. That doesn’t make sense for students, or our budget.”
Burke was referring to an October 12 report by the Wisconsin State Journal that showed over the past ten years, Wisconsin taxpayers paid about $139 million to private schools that were later barred from the state’s voucher system for failing to meet basic academic, finanacial, and safety requirements:
Despite problems with accountability, as well as poor test results, Walker has pushed legislation that expanded Milwaukee’s voucher program to other cities in the state.
Another area where Burke attacked Walker, and called for a “fair shot” for Wisconsin was on higher education.
In addition to making historic cuts to K-12 public schools, Walker dramatically reduced funding for Wisconsin’s technical college system, and cut state funds for the University of Wisconsin by close to $300 million.
Burke has proposed increasing financial aid, allowing student loans to be refinanced at lower interest rates, and increasing tax deductions for tuition and fees.
Walker, in a nod to the growing constituency of voters for whom student debt is a top concern, has called for a tuition freeze at the University of Wisconsin.
“A tuition freeze doesn’t go far enough,” Burke said. “Right now 41,000 students are on a wait list for financial aid, and Governor Walker has failed to fully address this core pocketbook concern for Wisconsin’s middle class.”
Overall, Burke said, Walker has failed as a steward of the state’s economy.
“It’s clear that Governor Walker’s fiscal irresponsibility has weakened the state,” she said. “In the private sector, if a CEO made a decision as fiscally irresponsible as turning down the hundreds of millions of dollars in Medicaid money the Governor did, they’d be fired.”
The choice facing voters over the next three weeks, Burke said, is a choice between Walker’s Wisconsin, with its lagging job growth , where “powerful, special interests and those at the top have a bigger say than individuals do,” or her “fair shot” plan, “where good paying jobs are available; where higher education is affordable, health care is accessible and your neighborhood school is one of the best in the country.”