Scott Walker Retreats from Replacing ‘Wisconsin Idea’ with ‘Workforce Development’ Language

AP Photo/Morry Gash
AP Photo/Morry Gash

In the face of tremendous backlash, on Wednesday, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker backed away from his proposal to eliminate language that is basic to the longstanding “Wisconsin Idea.”

According to the Wisconsin State Journal, the Republican governor–recently talked about as a popular potential 2016 presidential candidate–had proposed striking the words “truth” and “human condition” from the longstanding Wisconsin Idea. The utopian principle, developed in 1904, asserts the state’s public universities should exist to serve all the people of the state and to seek the truth. Instead, Walker wants the university system to focus on workforce development, a concept that has grown more popular among establishment Republicans such as Jeb Bush and Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, and is an idea reinforced by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Workforce development or “School-to-Work” (STW) is closely linked, as well, to the Common Core standards, which experts have said have “dumbed down” expectations with regards to English literature and advanced math–both considered unnecessary for basic workforce development.

Though on Wednesday Walker’s spokeswoman, Laurel Patrick, reportedly blamed the inclusion of the language changes in the proposed state budget on a “drafting error,” earlier the same day, Walker said he would change the “focus” of the University of Wisconsin System.

“The focus would be honed in, in particular to look at making sure that we prepare individuals in this state–be they fresh out of high school or coming back later in life–for the jobs and opportunities that are available in the state,” Governor Walker said.

The Journal observes:

The changes Walker had quietly proposed–he didn’t mention them in his budget address--would have gutted a mission formed more than a century earlier. It’s just one paragraph deep in state law but has proudly defined Wisconsin universities as anchored to the communities they serve statewide and has distinguished the University of Wisconsin System from competitors nationally.

Walker’s proposed changes to the Wisconsin Idea would have struck passages about state outreach, improving the human condition and pursuing truth, in favor of more narrowly defining state campuses as agents of workforce development.

Walker would have replaced longstanding language in the Wisconsin Idea with an addition to the opening sentence that identified the university’s responsibility to serve as drivers of the economy. He would have added the phrase “to meet the state’s workforce needs” to a sentence regarding the development of human resources.

In a statement Thursday, Walker said the notion of replacing existing language in the Wisconsin Idea was a “miscommunication” between his office and the budget staff.

“Unfortunately, when my office told the budget staff to keep it simple, they took that to mean that we only wanted workforce readiness language in the mission when we really wanted the language added to the existing mission statement,” Walker said in the statement. “They also responded to UW staff that this change was not open for discussion because they were told to keep it simple and only add in workforce readiness language.”

Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R) said–prior to Walker’s decision to retreat from the changes–he would not have supported them.

“If there’s going to be a rewrite of the mission statement of the University of Wisconsin, there must be a robust public discussion before any changes are made,” Vos said.

Similarly, Rep. Dave Murphy (R) said the University of Wisconsin System “is meant to train thinkers, not only workers. I do not support changing a long-held tradition such as the Wisconsin Idea without substantial public input and discourse.”

With the creation of the highly unpopular Common Core standards, Americans are now faced with a choice between schools and universities essentially run by progressive teachers’ unions and faculty, and infected with curricula reflecting leftist ideology, versus schools run by the Big Business model of “workforce development.”

On Wednesday, Gov. Pence testified before the House Education and the Workforce Committee, during which he touted that his state “offer[s] new pathways to success for all of Indiana’s students through enhanced career and technical education opportunities.”

Though Pence states that “at its heart, education in this country is, and should be, primarily a state and local function,” he also admits “Indiana is using federal, as well as state, resources in this endeavor, and we are grateful for the flexibilities provided in the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act that became law last year.”

Kirsten Lombard, editor of Common Ground on Common Core: Voices from across the Political Spectrum Expose the Realities of the Common Core State Standards (available at, said Pence’s “new pathways” to restore career technical education are not “new” at all, but have been around since the passage of the federal School-to-Work (STW) Opportunities Act of 1994.

“Where the true customers for education should be the parent and the child, STW programs have replaced them with government and business, increasingly making of the classroom a career-tracking and a labor-fulfillment center,” Lombard told Breitbart News. “As a result, where we used to talk about equipping children to determine their own futures through real and solid education, we now talk almost exclusively about strengthening the workforce through education and ensuring that our classrooms are producing students ready to work.”

Lombard explained that elected officials are often careful today to refer to job training in classroom settings as “education,” so as not to “ruffle the feathers of citizens who object to business using government schools to deliver future workers.”

“The bottom line is that, in a truly free society, business takes care of itself,” Lombard said. “Neither the state nor the federal government has any legitimate role in either facilitating or managing the job training of private enterprise.”

“Gov. Pence says the role of the federal government should be limited,” she stated, adding:

This from a man who pulled a bait-and-switch by handing the people of his state what amounts to a “rebrand” of the deeply coercive Common Core standards. It strikes me that the governor has a fundamental lack of understanding about how to keep government out of the lives of individuals.

Lombard observed Americans often allow themselves to be fooled by “workforce development” and “school-to-work” language because it has the sound of the private sector and business.

“The American people need to stop buying the rhetoric that such STW initiatives are free-market solutions,” she said. “They belong firmly in the realm of planned economy.”

“Until we as a people firmly reject the premise that government has a role in assisting business with the acquisition of workers, we will continue to be entrenched in policies and programs that unethically predetermine the pathways that will be open to our children,” Lombard added. “Don’t children have the right to choose their own unique course in life by making what they will of a full range of opportunities–not just the ones that suit Big Government and Big Business?”


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