RACINE — Although the Legislative session has not begun yet, some local elected officials are preparing their pitch to their constituents on what they will be pushing for in Madison.
State Rep. Greta Neubauer, D-Racine, and state Rep. Peter Barca, D-Kenosha, met with an ideologically friendly crowd on Tuesday at the Racine Family YMCA’s George Bray Neighborhood Branch, 924 Center St., to talk about some of the work they did last session and what they’re planning for this session.
Both Neubauer and Barca spent a considerable amount of time bashing Republican policies under Gov. Scott Walker. Republicans have had control of the state Assembly, Senate and the governor’s office since 2010, but Democrats are hopeful that 2018 will be their year and are challenging nearly every state legislative seat.
Education is poised to be a top priority with a focus on funding for voucher schools and the Opportunity Schools and Partnership Program.
OSPP and voucher schools
The OSPP is a measure reserved for larger school districts that would allow villages and towns to form their own school districts if the main district receives a failing grade from the state two years in a row. Recently the Racine Unified School District was nearly subjected to the OSPP and legislation was put in the 2017-19 biennial budget that would have allowed RUSD to have an additional year to improve its standing.
However, Unified did not end up failing two years in a row and was not subject to the OSPP.
Nonetheless, Neubauer said if the OSPP would have gone forward it’s possible the separation of RUSD schools would have segregated students, with one district being home to mostly minority students and another district being mostly white.
“This is the state mandating the takeover of schools,” Neubauer said.
Neubauer said Democrats are also looking to not add new funding to voucher schools.
“I think that’s a real problem that we have in Wisconsin,” Neubauer said. “We have two publicly funded school systems that are competing for limited funds.”
Barca said Democrats are considering some sort of increased accountability for private schools that accept voucher students.
“There’s no proposal that when the voucher schools fail, the public schools take over,” Barca said. “Why would you not have that kind of system?”
Legislation on guns
Last session, Democrats pushed for gun reform legislation but nothing made it to the governor’s desk.
In the wake of several high profile school shootings, the Legislature did approve $100 million for grants for schools to upgrade building security and created an Office of School Safety within the Wisconsin Department of Justice.
However, for Neubauer and Barca, the legislation did not go far enough.
Neubauer said for this coming session, Democrats are looking to propose legislation requiring universal background checks for all gun purchases; a ban on bump-stocks, which is an accessory that can be added to a semi-automatic gun to make it an automatic; and a 48-hour confiscation of guns in households where police have responded to calls about domestic violence or other domestic disturbances.
“This is just the beginning, but this is important work,” Neubauer said. “We need common sense legislation for gun safety. These are not radical proposals, I grew up shooting guns on my grandfather’s farm.”
Racine resident Daryl Carter attended the town hall and said this was his first time attending an event like this and he thought the event was interesting and informational.
“This gave me some in-depth information on what is going on with voucher schools,” Carter said. “It was well worth my time. There was a lot of information, a lot of useful information and it was an opportunity to build some connections with some likeminded people.”
Carter said he felt listened to by the elected officials and welcomed by all those that attended.
“It was an opportunity for me to voice my concerns,” Carter said. “I would come again. The only way to know what’s happening is to be at the table, so I’m trying to get closer to the table.”
Neubauer represents the 66th Assembly District, which encompasses most of the City of Racine, except for West Racine and far north and west parts of the city. Barca represents the 64th Assembly District, which includes the Village of Elmwood Park, most of the southeast part of Mount Pleasant (including Lakeside and Lake Park), and the Georgetown area of the City of Racine.
“I think that’s a real problem that we have in Wisconsin. We have two publicly funded school systems that are competing for limited funds.” Greta Neubauer, state representative