Rep. Kathy Bernier will not stand for hate speech. That's why Bernier, a third-term Republican representing the Chippewa Falls area in Wisconsin, stormed right out of a meeting on Monday after telling a speaker that "vile, hateful, political speech is not helpful."
Had someone quoted from the new edition of Mein Kampf? Not quite.
A school board representative had the audacity to point out that Minnesota's economy, and its budget, are hands-down in better shape than Wisconsin's, and our education system is all the better because of it.
The incident, detailed in the Eau Claire Leader-Telegram, is a case of a group of educators — Bernier's constituents — getting on the Republican's last nerve. She's heard the same rhetoric from them before, she complains, and says their arguments are better suited for a debate stage than a nice little breakfast meeting.
The dust-up started when Eau Claire school board representative Wendy Sue Johnson said Wisconsin simply wasn't spending enough money on educating its kids. On three occasions, Wisconsin's education commissioner — an appointee of Gov. Scott Walker, hardly a commie — has proposed spending increases that would have added nearly $700 million to the education budget. In each case, Republican-controlled legislatures shut those proposals down.
Johnson said Wisconsin's funding system is "broken, 100 percent broken," and laid the problem at the feet of Bernier and her colleagues.
“Minnesota is beating us," Johnson told Bernier, "and I wonder if that ever causes you to step back and say, ‘What am I fundamentally missing?’"
Apparently what Bernier was missing was peace of mind. She observed that "with this particular group [of school board members], it seems always that nothing is right."
As Bernier walked out, Johnson said the representative was "walking away from the conversation." Bernier shot back, issuing her "vile" and "hateful" complaint.
"It is not helpful to compare Wisconsin and Minnesota," Bernier said.
And yet, Bernier did just that in a follow-up press release. She cited statistics indicating Wisconsin allocates roughly as much on per-pupil spending ($11,071 per kid) as Minnesota ($11,089).
"Let’s get the facts first and remove partisan politics from the topic of educating our children," says Bernier.
You're right, Kathy. Let's get the facts. Those per-student spending numbers are from 2013. This past year, Minnesota's budget included a 2 percent annual increase to its general education formula.
Wisconsin, meanwhile, was one of 12 states that imposed new spending cuts this past year, according to a recent analysis from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. "Some of these states," reads the CBPP report, "including Oklahoma, Arizona, and Wisconsin, were already among the deepest-cutting states since the recession hit."
Wisconsin has dropped its per student spending by about 13 percent since 2008, ranking it fourth-worst among states on that trend line. Of the five states that have cut the most, four, including Wisconsin, have also cut income taxes during that time. Because what third-graders need most is lower income taxes.