Friday, March 11, 2011

Controversial Wisconsin Bill Passes: What It Feels Like

So...what does it feel like? It's hard to describe as this past week has been one of the most trying and fascinating weeks I've experienced in a long time.

Trying, because on Monday, my husband (a public school teacher) had to vote, along with over a thousand other teachers in his district, on a rushed contract that the school board set before them. Some information had leaked that in the next few days, Gov. Walker's budget repair bill would pass. So the idea of this rushed contract was to get something voted and ratified before the bill took effect. To give an idea of what this new contract looks like, I'll use my husband as an example. Basically, his take home pay will be reduced by about $8000. For someone with a master's degree and nine years experience, he will be bringing home less than $40,000 next school year. Class size, stipends, planning time, number of sections, and more are "suspended." We're not sure exactly what that means. It's a dismal contract, for sure. However, teachers at that Monday night's meeting were told that this contract was bad, but once the bill passes, it will be worse. Should they vote yes to this already dismal contract or be firm and vote no? As one teacher said to me, it was like voting between "worse" and "worse." At the end of the night, fear won and the new contract was passed. I've heard that some of the teachers who voted yes felt "dirty." I understand that feeling, because when my husband came home and we sat down together to look at the contract, I couldn't help but feel that education was being raped. There were some teachers who voted no, as the new contract is really not that different from what Walker wants, but still, in the end, fear presided.

It was also a trying week for my husband and me due to some family quarrels over the budget bill. We have some family members who vehemently support Walker, and this week, it escalated a bit. I won't go into details as I'm sure they wouldn't appreciate it (although they most likely don't read my blog anyway). But hopefully, this will be the worst of it.

Trying also, because of Wednesday night's events at the capitol when the Republican senators took the original budget repair bill, split it, and passed what is apparently most of the bill anyway. And on Thursday, the assembly voted to pass it as well. Today, Walker is expected to sign it and make it law.

In the middle of all of these events Wednesday and Thursday, I felt outraged, disconcerted, and a bit afraid of what the future held. And then late last night, I climbed into bed, pulled the covers over me, and was just lying there. I listened to the quietness around me, and that's when I felt sadness. A deep sadness. This morning, I woke up with a heavy heart.

I value public education a great deal. I was once a poor, disadvantaged kid, the child of refugees who had nothing. But public education changed that for me. I would not have a masters degree and be teaching college right now if not for public education. It gave me an equal chance to succeed, just like other kids who were much better off than me. So I credit public education for everything I've accomplished and have yet to accomplish. The drastic changes to public education makes me very sad. And then of course, when the bill passed in the manner it did, it felt like democracy was raped also. matter how I feel today, tomorrow I will be back at the capitol to rally and to show my support and encouragement. You might be wondering why I chose to describe these times as trying but also fascinating. It's fascinating because it's so unbelievable that this is actually happening. I never in a million years would've thought that teachers and other public workers would be publicly denounced and declared the enemy, and that some people would actually buy into it and regard it as truth.

This whole nightmare might have already happened to us, but I refuse to believe that it will last. After all, nothing is lost until you give up. 

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