Rural schools (copy) (copy)

A school bus drives along a rural road in La Crosse County in 2014. Republicans who ran in 2018 as supporters of rural schools and public education need to keep their campaign promises.

The Republicans who form the majority on the Legislature's Joint Finance Committee are moving to eliminate revenue streams that would pay for a proposal by Gov. Tony Evers to increase funding for K-12 schools statewide. This commitment to steer more state money toward rural and urban schools was a central premise of the campaign that Evers ran in 2018, when he defeated Republican Gov. Scott Walker.

It was also a central premise of campaigns run by a number of Republicans who sought to distance themselves from their party’s record of cutting education funding during the Walker years. At this critical point, it is vital for these Republicans, who campaigned as supporters of public education, to put the promises of their campaigns ahead of petty partisanship.

The Republicans on the Joint Finance Committee have made this pettiness their watchword. They have moved to scrap proposals by Evers to expand acceptance of federal Medicaid funding and to increases taxes on wealthy individuals and corporations. The nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau has determined that the Republican play would short the governor’s budget by $1.4 billion over the next two years.

That’s roughly the amount that Evers wants to spend to shore up schools that desperately need the money — especially rural schools.

This brings us to legislators such as state Sen. Howard Marklein, R-Spring Green, and Reps. Todd Novak, R-Dodgeville, and Travis Tranel, R-Cuba City. All three of these southwestern Wisconsin Republicans ran re-election campaigns last year in which they acknowledged the need for more support for rural schools.

They were right. And the emphasis they placed on support for public education helped Marklein and Novak win tough races in districts where Democrats were surging. Even as these Republicans were securing re-election, Evers swept southwestern Wisconsin. The Democrat carried every county in the region except Lafayette, and there he came within 200 votes of winning.

Now, Marklein, Novak, Tranel and other Republicans who ran in 2018 as supporters of rural schools and public education need to keep their campaign promises. They need to work with the governor, either in support of the responsible revenue proposals Evers has put forward, or in a sincere effort to identify alternative sources of funding. This is especially true of Marklein and Sen. Luther Olsen, R-Ripon, who both serve on the Joint Finance Committee.

Wisconsin is a divided state politically. But the 2018 election results sent a clear signal that voters want to support public education. For Republicans such as Marklein, Olsen, Novak and Tranel, this is the time to recognize and respect that signal. And to keep their campaign promises.

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