MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Gov. Tony Evers called shootings a day apart at two Wisconsin high schools “breathtaking and tragic,” saying Wednesday that he is committed to working with Republicans who control the Legislature on increasing mental health funding for schools.
Evers said on WTMJ-Radio that he thinks Republicans will work with him on that, even though they did not provide as much funding for mental health programs as Evers requested in the state budget approved this summer. Republicans also refused to take up a pair of gun safety bills earlier this year that Evers said were part of the solution to combating violence in schools.
The shootings at high schools about 90 miles (145 kilometers) apart have shaken the state and caused a renewed debate over how to combat violence in schools. On Tuesday, an Oshkosh Police Department resource officer shot a 16-year-old student after the boy stabbed him at Oshkosh West High School. On Monday, a Waukesha police officer shot a 17-year-old Waukesha South High School student who pointed a pellet gun at another student’s head. Neither of the students who were shot suffered life-threatening injuries.
“It’s breathtaking and tragic,” Evers said of the events. “The trauma that happens because of this just ripples through the community. … It will take time for people to recover from this. Trauma is a significant issue. We have to be patient.”
Evers is a former state superintendent of schools who worked as a principal, school superintendent and administrator before he was elected governor in 2018. He said the issue is particularly striking for him, given his background and the fact that has three grown children and nine grandchildren. Two of his adult children attended the high school in OshKosh where the shooting occurred.
Evers said the answer to increasing school safety is multifaceted and includes addressing mental health concerns as well as making guns less available to young people. He called a special session of the Legislature for it to take up a universal background check bill and a “red flag” law that would allow judges to take guns away from people determined to be a threat to themselves and others, but Republicans refused to debate the measures.
Evers said he expects to propose more funding for mental health in his next budget and expects Republicans to be supportive.
“Our kids need help,” he said. “I’ve been around long enough to see how this has amplified over time. Some of this is I think there is more trauma in young people’s lives….For many years we didn’t think that was our job in schools so it just wasn’t done. … The time is now to take it on.”