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State Superintendent Participates in Student-led Joint Finance Committee Meeting

Tuesday, April 25, 2023
State Superintendent Dr. Jill Underly answers questions from students at Mount Horeb high school
State Superintendent of Public Instruction, Dr. Jill Underly, answers questions from high school students in a mock Joint Finance Committee hearing 

Dr. Jill Underly Fields Questions and Discusses Gov. Tony Evers' Proposed Biennial Budget with Mount Horeb High School Civics Students

It isn’t everyday high school juniors and seniors get to bend the ear of Wisconsin’s statewide head of public schools and libraries, but Mount Horeb High School students took it in stride as they held a mock Joint Finance Committee budget hearing on April 19. All 10 students selected were juniors and seniors in Beth Maglio’s American Political System classes, and they came prepared with big ideas and tough questions.

Maglio gave the students copies of Gov. Evers’ budget proposal and asked them to read critically, and ask questions: What are the priorities that are being set in this document? What do you see, and what don’t you see? What messages are being sent?

Student questions were diverse and stemmed often from their personal experiences and interests. They addressed:

  • The urgency of need for student and staff mental health resources and supports
  • Increased allocations for special education and English language learner services
  • Support for students interested in becoming educators
  • Access to no-cost school meals with an emphasis on lowering waste and local, sustainable sourcing
  • The need for an increase in teacher and staff pay

Students expressed anxiety about their safety at school. One student recounted how a few days prior, he heard a loud bang when someone dropped their food tray in the lunchroom. He said, “My heart skipped a beat. I thought, ‘is this it? Is this the day I die?’ I shouldn’t have to ask myself that question every day just when there’s a loud sound or a disturbance. The anxiety is overwhelming.” Another student added, “I don’t even want to go to pep rallies or big gatherings at school anymore.”

Other students agreed and said they wanted the Joint Finance Committee to take into consideration that “school is different for us than it was for you. We have so many things going on with students and in schools that just weren’t issues when you were kids. Please listen to us when we tell you what we’re worried about and listen to our ideas for how to fix them.”

As students reflected on the exercise, they expressed appreciation for the opportunity to study up on the budget and ask their own questions. “This is a real life learning experience, and I know lots of adults think this is about politics. But this isn’t about politics. It’s about public service. For democracy to function, we need to have civil discourse and opportunities for discussions. That’s what we did here today.”

One student said, “This was the greatest opportunity to talk to someone who can really make a difference in our schools.” Many students expressed concern that students are not explicitly invited to or informed about the education budget process and the Joint Finance Committee’s budget hearings. “I wish we knew when this stuff was going on so we could pay attention. I’d love to attend and speak. I think they need to hear from actual students.”

As for the teacher, Maglio couldn’t be prouder of her students.

“I love to bask in the sunshine of my students’ success," she said. "They did great, and they make me so proud every day with their interest in being a part of making their schools and our state a better place.”