Wisconsin Budget (copy)

Wisconsin Public Education Network leader Heather DuBois Bourenane, right, last month said at the Statehouse in Madison that a Republican K-12 education plan that increases funding by $500 million over two years isn't enough to meet needs of districts. 

Hundreds of people are expected to trek to the state Capitol over the course of the next four days in an effort to save landmark pieces of Gov. Tony Evers’ education budget, which was scaled back significantly by the Republican-led Joint Finance Committee last month.

The Stand Up for Schools March, organized by the Wisconsin Public Education Network, will start Saturday morning in Palmyra before making several stops in Hebron, Fort Atkinson, Deerfield, Marshfield and Sun Prairie before eventually making its way down East Washington Avenue toward the state Capitol on Tuesday with a stop at East High School.

The march, whose total distance spans 60 miles, was symbolic to represent Evers’ plan to increase reimbursement rates to districts for special education services to 60 percent.

The reimbursement rate is currently near 25 percent, and would increase to just about 30 percent under the package that passed through the Joint Finance Committee in May. The $500 million school spending increase the committee approved on a party-line vote was far below the $1.4 billion proposed by Evers earlier this year.

“Public education advocates need (legislators) to know we’re watching, we get it and we’re going to hold them accountable for their education votes,” Heather DuBois Bourenane, WPEN’s executive director, said in an interview. “Our schools cannot sustain another round of status quo funding that doesn’t even keep up with inflation. (The Republican plan) is just being packaged and promoted as a great investment, and we know it’s not. Our schools know it’s not, and we’re sick of our kids being used as pawns in these budget fights.”

Though organizers say some will walk the entire 60 miles of the march, anyone is welcome to walk part of it or participate in several rallies scheduled to be held along the way. DuBois Bourenane likened the march to a relay race, where families will be able to pass along various local stories about the impacts of the state budget on their school districts as they bring their voice to the state Capitol on Tuesday.

Those local stories can be particularly felt in the Palmyra-Eagle School District where the march will begin. Though the vast majority of school district referenda have passed in an effort to make up for a lack of funding, voters in the Palmyra-Eagle school district rejected a four-year, $11.5 million operating referendum aimed to keep the district open. The district has since considered dissolving due to a bleak financial outlook.

“If the state passed the budget that Gov. Evers proposed, Palmyra would not have to shut its doors,” DuBois Bourenane said. “We’re talking about the real lives of real kids here.”

Hundreds of people have already signed up for various parts of the march, which will also include meals, rides and other accommodations for people who want to participate in part of the march, according to organizers.Ultimately, DuBois Bourenane said the group hopes to bring more awareness to the importance of the state budget has on school districts’ outlooks across the state.  

“This budget cycle just feels like an especially bitter pill to swallow because this past year we had Democrats and Republicans alike going around the state together making these promises about really getting to the heart of Wisconsin’s funding issues and ‘We’re going to try to solve them.’” she said. “This budget ignores all those promises.”

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Negassi Tesfamichael is the local education reporter at The Cap Times. He joined the paper in 2018. He previously worked as an intern at WISC-TV/Channel3000.com and at POLITICO.