Supporters, opponents of Walker's budget speak up in suburban Milwaukee

Nearly 300 people spoke in first of four hearings

GREENDALE, Wis. - Gov. Scott Walker's budget proposals got mixed reviews at a marathon hearing Thursday in which people got to speak directly to the legislature's budget committee

The Joint Finance Committee held the first of four public hearings at Greendale High School, in a suburb southwest of Milwaukee.

Milwaukee and Racine residents clashed about the success of private school vouchers in those cities, and whether the program should be expanded to other cities. Walker has proposed adding nine new cities, including Madison and Beloit, where at least two schools are considering failing by state standards.

"Providing huge increases in funding for private voucher schools that have shown no better results than our public schools is a slap in the face of all kids who attend public schools," said Marlene Ott, who said she taught in South Milwaukee for 45 years.

But throughout the hearing, which lasted eight-and-a-half hours, others said they supported the vouchers, including a plan to allow parents of special-needs students to use them.

"Please allow me, the parent, to have my very important choice for my children," said Dani Rossa of Milwaukee, who has two autistic daughters. "We're applying for jobs that would require us to sell our home and move to a state where we have no family and no friends, all so our children can receive an appropriate education."

Rossa said her daughters' teachers weren't following proper guidelines to teach special needs students.

An estimated 250 to 300 people spoke at the hearing, with many more coming just to listen.

Afterward, Rep. John Nygren, the Republican co-chair of the committee, was asked whether anything said had changed his mind about budget initiatives.

"No, I don't think so," Nygren said. "We're still in the formulation part, of hearing more and listening to the people."

Supporters, opponents of Walker's budget speak up in suburban Milwaukee

There are three more hearings -- Monday at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wednesday at Kalahari Resort in Lake Delton, and April 18 in Baldwin. But for many in the Milwaukee area, this was the only one they could attend.

"I have epilepsy, and if it weren't for long-term health care, I would be physically dead," said Barry Kress of West Allis, who said he was in bad shape in the hospital just last month.

Others criticized Walker for not accepting federal funding for a Medicaid expansion, saying more people could have been insured.

Students lobbied members of the committee on everything from funding for tobacco addiction awareness programs to higher education funding.

"For me personally, tuition has played a big role in my college career so far," said Lamonte Moore, a University of Wisconsin-Fond du Lac student who advocated for a 3 to 4 percent tuition cap. "Last year, I had to take a semester off because I couldn't afford tuition."

UW System leaders have praised Walker's budget for restoring some of the money cut in recent years.

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