The school year has started for students across Wisconsin, but for Milwaukee students, the academic environment this year will be less welcoming, less supportive and less safe, as Milwaukee Public Schools prepare to place police officers back on campus.
Students in Milwaukee led the movement to increase school safety for all students – starting with removing police officers from our schools and making deeper investments in resources that support the safety and wellbeing of students. School safety is best achieved when decisions about what safety looks like reflect the needs, interests and voices of students.
Yet, Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers agreed to a shared revenue deal with Republicans that requires Milwaukee Public Schools to bring back at least 25 police officers (or school resource officers) inside schools by January. This is the latest example of Wisconsin’s elected officials and program administrators ignoring one of the state’s most powerful constituent groups: young people. Ignoring young voices is not just harmful to our democracy, it puts the future of young people in Wisconsin at risk — with issues like climate change, access to reproductive health and an affordable education impacting young people’s lives every day.
Recent trends show an influx of young folks showing up at the polls and advocating in their communities, particularly in Wisconsin, which led the nation in youth turnout numbers in the last presidential election and again in last year’s midterms. Although this trend is expected to continue, policymakers persist in ignoring young people. Youth voters played a pivotal role in securing Evers’ reelection because of his commitment to improving education. Now Evers has gone back on the promises he made to young people in Wisconsin. Youth support is meaningful in every election, and the consequences of this broken promise will be seen at the polls.
We are disappointed that Evers chose to sign a bill that so blatantly ignores the safety and voices of youth in Wisconsin and goes back on his campaign promises for a better and safer education in Wisconsin. Leaders Igniting Transformation led the campaign to remove school resource officers from Milwaukee Public Schools, with youth sharing their stories of being criminalized, inappropriately detained or suspended while on campus. These issues disproportionately harm students of color and students with disabilities.
Wisconsin legislators have also ignored young people’s state budget priorities. In April, LIT members attended Joint Committee on Finance hearings in four districts to advocate for equitable funding for K-12 public schools, accessible and affordable higher education. Young people also met with legislators at the Capitol to advocate for desperately needed funding for Wisconsin public schools. Despite these efforts, elected officials have willfully ignored youth voices in Wisconsin and approved a budget that does not invest in schools or youth safety.
Undermining young people’s voices and expertise is bad for Wisconsin — not just for the young people themselves but for their families, communities and the next generation.
If our elected officials truly want youth to thrive, they need to bring young people to the decision-making table. When legislators make decisions without listening to youth voices, they sign into effect policies and practices that have directly negative and dangerous impacts.
We urge elected officials across Wisconsin to change the direction of our state. Listen to your young constituents. Center our interests in the decisions that impact our lives. Invest in our freedom, not our failure.
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originally published at https%3A%2F%2Fwisconsinexaminer.com%2F2023%2F09%2F12%2Fwisconsin-officials-must-listen-to-young-people-our-health-and-well-being-depend-on-it%2F by Amanda Avalos