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Educators: Spare WI Juvenile Correctional Facilities

July 22, 2010

MADISON, Wisc. - The state's largest teachers union is hoping to convince the state not to close a juvenile corrections facility to save money. The state is considering shutting down either Lincoln Hills School or Ethan Allen School after the 11-member Governor's Juvenile Corrections Review Committee failed to agree on which to recommend closing. The Wisconsin Education Association Council (WEAC) opposes closing either one, arguing both are crucial to creating a safe environment where incarcerated youth can learn.

Sue Holt, who's been a teacher at Lincoln Hills for 22 years, says closing either of the schools just wouldn't make sense.

"If we send all the children to only one institution, we're going to see 12 to 15 kids in a classroom, and those kids couldn't make it in a regular school. To put them in a school with 12 to 15 kids is not a good idea."

Wisconsin's juvenile correctional facilities are changing and improving lives, says Holt.

"A student came up to me and he cried, and he said, 'Can I have a hug?" And I said, 'Okay.' He said, 'Thank you for teaching me how to read. I can now read to my daughter.'"

It takes time to reach these young people, she says, but it's rewarding, and the job of guiding them doesn't end when they leave the institution.

"I get kids calling and saying, 'Hey, Miss Holt, what's up? I just gotta tell you what I'm doing.' And I ask them how's school going, how's college going, how's tech school going, and they'll say, 'It's good, it's good, kinda got a little bump in the road but I'm doing OK.'"

WEAC claims both Lincoln Hills and Ethan Allen doing an excellent job of educating some of the state's most-challenging students. The union argues funding issues in the juvenile justice system can't be solved by budget cuts and cost reductions, and counties should not be forced to pay for juveniles sent to the statewide facilities.

For more information, visit www.weac.org.

Tim Morrissey, Public News Service - WI