Governor Scott Walker visited Three Lakes High School Thursday to talk about the $639 million increase in school funding approved by the joint finance committee earlier this week and the need to properly train the workers of tomorrow.
Walker said he expects the Senate and Assembly to take up the 2017-19 biennial budget this week, with a goal of having it on his desk for signature shortly thereafter.
"Just as we predicted all summer, it will be done by the end of the summer, pretty close," he said. "If you look on your calendar, Sept. 22, the Friday of that week, is the fall and it will be done by then."
Walker said he came to Three Lakes because the increase in school aid includes additional funding for fabrication laboratories. Though a community of approximately 2,500 people, Three Lakes is a leader in the Fab Lab movement.
In 2014, it opened the first Fab Lab housed in a Wisconsin K-12 school. Since that time Fab Labs have gone viral in Wisconsin, with representatives from other school districts coming to Three Lakes to learn how to set up and operate the unique learning factories.
"For a lot of years, we've talked about the Fab Lab here. When it comes to Fab Labs in general, Wisconsin has become one of the leaders in the nation," Walker said. "But you, here, are one of the leaders in the state, and in turn, the nation, not only in terms of being ahead of the curve in the facility... but really its use and application and really opening the eyes to so many different students."
After a tour of the Fab Lab, the governor spoke to a group of Three Lakes school board members, district administrators and students in the school library. In addition to the increase in school funding in the new budget, he spoke about job growth in the state, the need to attract and train more workers and how the potential Foxconn plant in southeastern Wisconsin would benefit the entire state.
Having served in local government before being elected to his current office, Walker said he knows how important it is for county and local governments and school districts to know what the state budget is going to look like before setting their own levies.
A press release from Walker's office said the 2017-2019 budget will include more actual dollars for K-12 education than ever before in Wisconsin's history.
"The $639 million increase will support all the state's K-12 schools. Investments include career exploration programs, such as the Early College Credit Program, Career and Technical Education grants, Fabrication Laboratories, and other programs that help ensure every student succeeds," the release states.
Walker said it was promising that the increase he recommended in funding for Fab Labs made it through the joint finance committee intact.
"We were able to double the amount of dollars that are available in Fab Lab grants across the state," Walker said. "Yesterday, I saw a bunch of new ones, big and small, that are popping up across the state of Wisconsin."
Walker said Fab Labs not only give students who might be headed toward technical or vocational jobs a valuable head- start in reaching those goals, the skills the students learn are invaluable no matter what type of career they choose.
"The ability to think through and be able to solve problems, how to make things work will help you no matter what your career field is going forward," he said. "The students here are blessed, especially with a district your size, to be at the forefront of the Fab Lab (concept), to be a part of this and see the impact it has had and see how it helps fuel other things within the school."
At his Thursday stop, Walker stressed that the increase in education funding is key to training Wisconsin students for the new jobs that are starting to come to the state.
"Over the last year, we have had listening sessions here and all across the state in every other county, and one of the things we have heard consistently were employers telling us that they have jobs, they just don't have enough people to fill those jobs," he said, adding that this is a nice challenge to have compared to 10 years ago when the economy took a downturn and a lot of jobs were lost. As part of his presentation, Walker displayed a placard that said "#studentsuccess" which is exactly what he hopes the additional school aid will help fuel.
He then took a few questions from the audience, and the subject of the Foxconn deal was broached. Walker has proposed approximately $3 billion in subsidies for the Taiwanese company to build a plant in southeastern Wisconsin.
The company makes not only LCD screens for Apple iPhones but also big-screen displays, which is what would be built here.
"Those are currently they being manufactured in Asia, and for the first time those will be made in America. We're proud that they are going to make them right here in the state of Wisconsin," he said, adding that the supply chain for the mammoth manufacturing facility, which would encompass several buildings and would cover over 1,000 acres, will affect many industries across the state and create a demand that will lead to millions of new jobs.
The demand for construction workers alone will draw people from across the state because there are not enough of them in southeastern Wisconsin, he added.
A vote on the Foxconn deal is expected next week.
Walker also said state government is gearing up to launch a marketing plan to attract new workers to the state, patterned on the successful tourism campaign that has increased vacation visitors to the state.
"That ties in with some of the funding the Legislature put in for workforce development," he said.
It is hoped that the increase in technology-based jobs will help stem the "brain drain" the state has been suffering from for many years.
On the subject of school finance reform, Walker said the Legislature has a panel studying ways to make changes that would benefit all districts. He said he was content with this panel being the primary agent of any change that is proposed.
"The challenge is always like squeezing a water balloon. Unless you are adding massive new amounts (of funding), which we are doing this budget, but also looking ahead to the future, unless you can hold harmless, you might have a legislative district where there are 20 school districts, 15 could win and five could lose, believe me you're going to hear from the five that lose whether you're a Democrat or Republican," Walker said. "So that often becomes a challenge, but I think it is worth taking a shot at."
Jamie Taylor may be reached via email at email@example.com.