Rep. Tim Ramthun, addresses a crowd of election conspiracy theorists on Tuesday, Feb. 15. Assembly Democrats forced a committee vote on Thursday that unanimously kept Ramthun’s resolution to recall Wisconsin’s 2020 electors off of the floor of the Assembly this week. (Henry Redman | Wisconsin Examiner)
In his campaign to be re-elected to the Kewaskum School Board, Rep. Timothy Ramthun (R-Campbellsport) suggested that students are being forced into special education classes as a way for school districts to get more funding and control both students and parents.
Ramthun, who is also running a far-right campaign for governor, made the comments at a candidate forum last Friday hosted by Common Sense Citizens of Washington County. The comments came in response to a question about his views on “the use of critical race theory and social emotional learning principles in middle school and high school education.”
Critical race theory is a graduate-school level framework that views American history and institutions as being shaped by racism. Social emotional learning principles are a method of teaching that aims to help students better deal with their emotions and interact with others.
“We have to get back to the core elements of education with reading, writing, and arithmetic and those elements more so than the social behavioral issues,” Ramthun said. “I think we spend too much time qualifying who is deemed as special needs, whether it’s mental health or otherwise. And there seems to be a push for adding funding to those categories to enforce more participation. So it’s kind of a false sense of why we’re supporting these things. I think it has more to do with money and also to control the students at the educational level as well as perhaps their parents.”
Ramthun’s special education comments come after Republicans have consistently opposed the large increases in the state’s share of special education funding that advocates say are desperately needed. The Legislature’s bipartisan Blue Ribbon Commission on School Funding noted that, of all states with a special education reimbursement system, Wisconsin’s reimbursement is the lowest at 28.8%. The lack of state support for federally mandated special education programs has forced districts to spend down general budget funds, cutting spending on other programs.
During the administration of Republican Gov. Scott Walker, special education money remained mostly stagnant. Since Gov. Tony Evers took office in 2018, Republicans in control of the budget process have repeatedly undercut his attempts to increase funding.
“Students with disabilities are students first and foremost, and when Wisconsin gets proper funding in place for special education, our districts gain the flexibility they need to fully support students without disabilities as well,” Joanne Juhnke, advocacy specialist for special education at Disability Rights Wisconsin, told the Wisconsin Examiner in 2021 after Evers requested more than $700 million for special education in his 2021-23 budget proposal. “Between special education categorical aid and high cost special education aid, the investment that Gov. Evers proposes is welcome and overdue. And after the challenges of this pandemic year, many of our students are deeply in need of the assistance that the increases in student services aid and school-based mental health services would provide.”
Ramthun has often flirted with QAnon conspiracy theories and his comments at the forum echo subsets of the movement that allege public schools and prominent Democrats are systemically abusing children. These beliefs have inspired QAnon followers across the country to run for local school boards.
Chris Walloch, executive director of progressive advocacy group A Better Wisconsin Together, says Ramthun’s comments are harmful to public schools.
“Tim Ramthun isn’t just a politician trying to sabotage our elections, he’s also undermining our public schools,” Walloch says. “It’s bad enough that Ramthun, running for school board, actually believes that chronically underfunded special education and mental health services have too much money. Going on to suggest there’s something nefarious about providing these services to support our kids’ learning and health is just next level wrong-headed.”
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The Republican’s gubernatorial campaign has also been fueled by conspiracies. His main issue is his belief that the 2020 presidential election was fraudulently stolen from Donald Trump, even though lawsuits, recounts, audits and reviews have affirmed that President Joe Biden won the election in Wisconsin and the country as a whole.
Ramthun, who is in a three-way primary for the Republican nomination, has advocated for the debunked legal theory that Wisconsin can decertify its 2020 electoral college votes and has called for a “full forensic physical cyber audit” of the 2022 election no matter the results.
Messages to Ramthun and his campaign went unanswered.
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