Thousands of teachers, nurses, firefighters and other public sector workers have camped out at the Wisconsin Capitol, protesting Republican Gov. Scott Walker's efforts to reduce their take-home pay -- by increasing their contribution to their pension plans and health care benefits -- and restrict their collective bargaining rights.
Republicans control the state Legislature, and initially it seemed certain that Walker's proposal would pass easily. But then the Democrats in the Legislature went into hiding, leaving that body one vote shy of a quorum. As of this writing, the Legislature was at a standstill as state police searched high and low for the missing lawmakers.
Like other conservative Republican governors, including Chris Christie of New Jersey, John Kasich of Ohio, Mitch Daniels of Indiana and Rick Scott of Florida, the Wisconsin governor wants to sap the power of public employee unions, especially the teachers' union, since public education is the single biggest expenditure for every state.
Public schools in Madison and a dozen other districts in Wisconsin closed as teachers joined the protest. Although Walker claims he was forced to impose cutbacks because the state is broke, teachers noticed that he offered generous tax breaks to businesses that were equivalent to the value of their givebacks.
The uprising in Madison is symptomatic of a simmering rage among the nation's teachers. They have grown angry and demoralized over the past two years as attacks on their profession escalated.
The much-publicized film "Waiting for Superman" made the specious claim that "bad teachers" caused low student test scores. A Newsweek cover last year proposed that the key to saving American education was firing bad teachers.
Teachers across the nation reacted with alarm when the leaders of the Central Falls district in Rhode Island threatened to fire the entire staff of the small town's only high school. What got their attention was that Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and President Obama thought this was a fine idea, even though no one at the high school had been evaluated.
The Obama administration's Race to the Top program intensified the demonizing of teachers, because it encouraged states to evaluate teachers in relation to student scores. There are many reasons why students do well or poorly on tests, and teachers felt they were being unfairly blamed when students got low scores, while the crucial role of families and the students themselves was overlooked.