Facing deep funding cuts, the Milwaukee public school district announced this week that it will lay off 519 employees, including 354 teachers.
The announcement comes after Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker signed a two-year budget into law on Sunday that sharply curtailed funding across the state and rolled back about $84 million in aid to Milwaukee schools.
In addition to the layoffs, Superintendent Gregory Thornton indicated that the district would eliminate vacant positions and cut back on spending for textbooks, summer school options and building maintenance.
“We find it a difficult scenario,” Thornton said in a statement. “This is just the second time in 30 years that the district has laid off teachers, and we are parting with many valuable and qualified educators.”
At a news conference on Wednesday, Thornton made clear he was unhappy that most of the layoffs are for teachers in elementary schools. “Children are being caught in the middle,” he said. “They deserve better.”
The cuts in Wisconsin arrive as many states and local governments across the country face looming budget gaps. According to CNN, state and local governments are expected to shed 110,000 jobs in the third quarter of this year, which begins on Friday.
Walker and Wisconsin's teachers have been at odds since February, when teachers left work to protest an anti-union law that would severely limit their collective bargaining rights. After weeks of bitter debate and large protests at the state capital, Walker signed the bill into law in mid-March.