Apr 21

‘My students deserve a quality education,’ special education teacher tells legislators

Supporters of public education packed into the auditorium of Marinette High School for a Joint Finance Committee state budget hearing.

Kandace Larsen, a special education teacher at Marinette High School, stood up for her students Friday in testimony before the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee.

“I am here to speak as an educator in support of public education, but more importantly, I am here to speak for my students – many of whom are not able to speak for themselves,” she said at a state budget public hearing at Marinette High School.

“Public education has seen many cuts in funding in recent years and Special Education funding has been frozen for a decade. What does this mean for my students? It means less staffing for those students who need it the most, because districts can’t afford the personnel needed to provide the support for those students who need the most,” Larsen said.

“It means larger class sizes, and less classroom materials. Many of my students come from low income families, families in which budget cuts affect the most. I have purchased pencils, notebooks, food, clothing, laundry soap, bar soap, shampoo, etc., out of my own pocket for students in my classroom who are in need, because these are some of the basic items they need in order to be successful at school.

“My students deserve a quality education – one that will prepare them for the future. They all hope to obtain jobs once they graduate from high school, a goal that can be difficult to achieve with a disability. Freezes and cuts in funding make it difficult for public schools to prepare students for the workforce, leaving the future for these students uncertain.”

Larsen asked the committee to restore funding to public schools through a $300 per-pupil increase to the revenue limit and by increasing state special education funding, which has been frozen for ten years, to 30% of costs.

She was one of many educators, parents and concerned citizens to express support for better education funding. Her husband, Brian Larsen, an Oconto special education teacher, said school districts, including his, “have been in a perpetual ‘cut the budget’ mode” since 2011, still resulting in deficit budgets year after year.

“What does this mean for our children? What does this mean for their future? It means students will have less access to a quality public education,” he said. “It means our children have fewer opportunities to learn. It means students will be unprepared for college, as well as the workplace.

“This puts the future of our children in jeopardy, and sets them up for failure. As an educator, I work hard to set my students up for success, and the state budget should also promote my students’ success.

“My students want to go to college. They want to obtain jobs, have families and own a home. They want to be members of their communities,” he said. “They need a quality public education to make their dreams happen.”

The Joint Finance Committee wrapped up its hearings Friday. It is expected to begin voting on budget provisions about May 1.

Read/watch more on the Wisconsin Public Education Network Facebook page.