Scott Walker’s Victory Means Better Education Funding

Back to July 2012 Ed Reporter

Scott Walker’s Victory
Means Better Education Funding

While Wisconsin Democrats were busy trying to recall Governor Scott Walker earlier this year, Walker was working to reform and improve the state’s education system. The Democrats failed in their recall attempt, but Walker’s reforms have already succeeded. There is still work to do — Wisconsin has, for example, committed to implementing the Obama administration’s problematic Common Core State Standards — but there is also room for Walker’s successful reforms to serve as a model for other states.

Walker’s fight with union officials turned into a literal stake out last year, when hundreds of protestors camped on the statehouse floor, but that didn’t keep him from making some positive changes to Wisconsin education funding. Walker has limited collective bargaining, let schools bid competitively on health insurance, asked school employees to contribute to health and pension plans, and introduced merit pay for teachers. These changes will save districts hundreds of millions of dollars; competitive health insurance bids already save schools $220 per student per year, and the Legislative Fiscal Bureau estimates that the change to pension plans will save school $600 million over just two years.

The Wall Street Journal’s Kimberly Strassel argued in a June 7 article that Walker’s reforms are unique because they succeeded in broadening the debate over education reform:

The Walker breakthrough was to integrate education into the broader fiscal and structural dispute. His argument: Wisconsin is broke. We can continue to pour money into the public-union monopoly, forcing us to cut further from priorities (namely, education). Or we can enact broad structural changes, the saving from which we can use to better our state (notably, schools) . . . Mr. Walker’s budget victory has shown that structural government reform is the surest way to put more dollars into kids.

Walker is not the first governor to use broad fiscal reforms to improve state education, but his recall victory makes his efforts doubly important. Senator Mitch McConnell told National Review,

[Wisconsin] was the second biggest election in America this year. It sent an extraordinary message to elected officials: that you can tackle the single biggest problem confronting our country, which is the massive unfunded liabilities coming our way. At the federal level, it’s entitlements, but you see the same thing at the state and local levels. There were promises made by today’s politicians to today’s union leaders that cannot possibly be met, so what happened in Wisconsin was incredibly consequential.