Luther Olsen on Education: Trying to Have His Cake and Eat It, Too

Sen. Luther Olsen Claims to Support Public Education, but on His Watch Local Schools Are Suffering

MADISON, Wis. — Sen. Luther Olsen claims to support education, but his track record tells a different story and local schools are paying the price. During just the last five years, Olsen has voted to expand taxpayer funded vouchers for private schools, cut hundreds of millions from public education funding, and recently voted to siphon taxpayer dollars from public schools to private voucher schools at a cost of $800 million over the next ten years.

“Luther Olsen professes to care about education but then turns arounds and consistently votes for bills that undermine public schools,” said Scot Ross, executive director of One Wisconsin Now. “Either Sen. Olsen has been lying when he tells them that he cares about public education, or he is completely incompetent in his one job as a legislator – voting for the issues he has said he supports.”

These anti-education party line votes by Olsen have had real consequences to the schools in his district, including:

  • In Portage, the district closed two rural schools and reduced teaching staff, even with the benefit of having a referendum that approved operating expenses above state levy caps. [Portage Daily Register, 9/23/15]
  • Lodi estimates that general state aid has decreased by $300,000 annually over the past three years and is asking voters to approve a referendum in November. If the referendum is not approved, the district will need to find ways to reduce costs, including cutting up to 30 staff positions, increasing class sizes, and/or reducing class offerings. [Portage Daily Register, 10/14/16]
  • In Pardeeville, the district cut spending for “teaching positions, field trips, textbooks, staff development opportunities, summer school, athletic equipment and the cheer and dance team,” according to a report by the Daily Register. [Portage Daily Register, 8/18/15] The cheer and dance team was later reinstated after raising funds from bake sales. [WKOW, 10/31/15]

“Olsen has voted repeatedly against the interests of public schools, putting them in the position of keeping programs running off the proceeds of bake sales. No matter how much Senator Olsen loves baked goods, bake sales are not the way to balance school budgets,” added Ross.

Education is not the only example of Olsen’s apparent obliviousness to the real life impacts of his decision to go along to get along. Despite voting for the largest cuts to shared revenue in at least a decade in the 2011 budget, the out-of-touch Senator Olsen later “expressed surprise” that local governments in his district were balancing their budgets by dipping into reserves, according to media reports. [Portage Daily Register, 4/18/16]

“Luther Olsen is the epitome of the idea of a politician who says one thing in his district and then goes to Madison and does another,” concluded Ross. “It is time for Senator Olsen to come clean and admit that he is simply a sure vote for the GOP agenda, regardless of whether that agenda hurts kids in his own district. His kind words for public education are worthless when at the end of the day he has voted for these bills that undermine Wisconsin’s kids.”

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