In Context: Comparing school funding cuts to child rape

Wisconsin state Rep. Lena Taylor, D-Milwaukee, addressed her colleagues on the legislative floor in this file photo from February 2015.
Wisconsin state Rep. Lena Taylor, D-Milwaukee, addressed her colleagues on the legislative floor in this file photo from February 2015.

One Republican state lawmaker called for state Sen. Lena Taylor to issue an apology and another called Taylor’s comments "sick" after she equated state reductions in public school funding to raping children.

The Milwaukee Democrat’s comments, made during a May 19, 2015 hearing at the Capitol on Gov. Scott Walker's 2015-’17 state budget proposal, also drew fire from conservative media.

"For her to equate a level of funding to raping kids -- it's unconscionable," state Rep. Jim Steineke, R-Kaukauna, told WKOW-TV of Madison in demanding the apology.

Given the nature of Taylor's comments and the reaction to them, we're examining them through In Context, a periodic feature that gives context to sound bites that make news.

Taylor is a member of the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee, a 16-member panel of Senate and Assembly members that is reviewing and making changes to Walker’s budget.

During a hearing the May 19 hearing, there was lengthy discussion about school funding and Taylor was complaining that GOP efforts to direct more state funds to private voucher schools was being done at the expense of Milwaukee Public Schools.

Shortly after 10 p.m., about six hours into the hearing, Taylor asked questions of state budget staff about funding in past years, then directed remarks at state Rep. Dale Kooyenga, R-Brookfield, saying:

"So, just for clarity -- Rep. Kooyenga, so that you know -- the reason that poverty aid and sparsity (a type of state school aid) and the percentage was changed is because that was an effort to begin to move the process forward to address the issue. And the percentage changes, as a matter of fact -- those things cost me a little something with the leader in the Senate at the time. But it was necessary for my school district. So, that’s number one. So, no, I’ve not sat on this committee and not spoke to this issue. But just like you, and just like others -- for years, individuals who sit on this committee and in this building have known that they have been raping the children of MPS."

Taylor continued a couple more minutes with comments about funding.

Then Kooyenga responded, saying: "This is the second time in the conversation we’ve had on these issues -- one publicly and at UWM and now here where you used the word ‘rape.’ I mean I just find that sick. Exceptionally sick. I just find it sick."

Taylor then made reference to $89 million per year in additional state funding that she thinks MPS should get.

"I just wanted everyone to be able to hear the amount of money that Milwaukee Public Schools doesn't get. It doesn't go to the charters, it's not going to the vouchers. It's allegedly savings that the state has created, except it's savings on the back of the kids. So, I get it. The word rape sounds offensive. But when you consider the fact that 15 out of 100 kids can read on grade level while $89 million have been skimmed from the education of kids, and that you don't invest it in even the crisis areas? Who are you fooling?

"That’s what is disgusting and despicable. That you know that kids are failing. You know there is a need. You watch it, you see it, you see what it breeds, because hopelessness breeds what you see, that is the violence. Connect the dots. You’re making the pipeline to prison. $89 million. Constitutionally we have an obligation we’ve been skimming it and nobody has put it out there. $89 million."