Tag: K-12 education

How the Republican agenda hurts rural Wisconsinites

I’m going to share something that Wisconsin State Rep. Dianne Hesselbein (D-Middleton), wrote for the Madison, Wisconsin-based newspaper The Cap Times a week and a half or so ago. In her op-ed, Hesselbein talked about how the Republicans’ state budget in Wisconsin hurts rural Wisconsinites especially hard:

  • On public schools, the Republican budget cuts $150/pupil from Wisconsin’s K-12 public school districts in the 2015-2016 school year and $135/pupil from Wisconsin’s K-12 public school districts over the biennium (the two-year period of the budget). Additionally, Republican Governor Scott Walker wants more charter schools, which get public funds that would otherwise go to public schools, in Wisconsin. Furthermore, the Republican budget cuts funding used to create homeschooling lessons and online educational materials, which are produced by Wisconsin MediaLab. These cuts could force some rural school districts in Wisconsin to consolidate, costing small towns jobs they need to survive.
  • On rural sanitation, Walker proposed, in the original state budget proposal, to eliminate a fund that helps low-income Wisconsinites replace failing septic systems, but it had its funds restored by the Republican-controlled Wisconsin State Legislature.
  • On rural roads, Walker proposed eliminating funding for removal of deer carcasses from rural roads in Wisconsin, which would have caused an even greater hazard to people driving in rural areas of Wisconsin. This also had its funding restored by the Joint Finance Committee (JFC) of the Wisconsin State Legislature.
  • On rural health, the Republican budget eliminates both Wisconsin’s Rural Physician Residency Assistance Program and a loan forgiveness program designed to encourage medics to work in rural areas of Wisconsin. The program also cuts $25 million in Medicaid funding to most of Wisconsin’s community health centers.
  • On local government property insurance, Walker proposed eliminating Wisconsin’s Local Government Property Insurance Fund, which insures street sweepers, salt sheds, and other things that local governments in Wisconsin own and use to carry out street maintenance and other duties of local governments in Wisconsin. The City of Middleton, the Village of Waunakee, and the Village of Cross Plains, three incorporated municipalities in Hesselbein’s state assembly district, currently pay a combined total of $120,419 ($51,342 for Middleton, $49,214 for Waunakee, and $19,863 for Cross Plains) in premiums for insurance provided by the state’s local government insurance fund. If this fund is eliminated, local governments all across Wisconsin would have to pay more for local government property insurance from the private sector, if that kind of insurance is obtainable from the private sector. In its review of Walker’s budget proposal, the Wisconsin State Legislature delayed the demise of the program by two years.
  • On higher education, the University of Wisconsin Extension (UW-Extension) maintains a presence in all 72 Wisconsin counties, providing assistance to Wisconsinites in areas such as agriculture, 4-H youth development programs, and family living. Walker’s proposed funding cuts to the entire University of Wisconsin System (UW-System), which includes the UW-Extension, could result in the loss of 65 to 80 county-level Cooperative Extension positions, making it harder for Wisconsin’s farmers to get help they need from the UW-Extension.

Pointing out how Republican policies hurt people who live in small communities and rural areas is something I wish Democrats in Wisconsin and other states did much more often. However, unlike some other states, reaching out to rural voters is a necessity for Democrats to win statewide in Wisconsin for two reasons: Hard-partisan voters and the urban Democratic strongholds of the state don’t provide Democrats with enough votes to win statewide in Wisconsin, and suburban areas, outside of the heavily-Democratic suburbs around Madison, are some of the most Republican areas in the entire country. This is something that isn’t a necessity in, for example, my home state of Illinois, since the Chicago suburbs aren’t as staunchly Republican as the Milwaukee suburbs in Wisconsin are, so Illinois Democrats can win statewide with either an urban-suburban coalition or an urban-rural coalition, with most Illinois Democrats preferring the former, which, sadly, leaves rural voters in Illinois mostly ignored by Democrats. However, the urban-suburban coalition can’t be formed in Wisconsin, because the Milwaukee suburbs are the strongest of the GOP strongholds in Wisconsin, so it would take an urban-rural coalition for Democrats to win statewide in Wisconsin.

In short, Scott Walker proposed a budget that either would or would have cut funding to rural school districts, septic tank replacement programs, rural road maintenance, rural health care, local government property insurance, and university extension programs in Wisconsin. This would result, or would have resulted, in a lower quality of education for rural children, rural Wisconsinites having a harder time paying for septic system replacement, lower-quality rural roads, rural Wisconsinites having a harder time getting the health care they need, taxpayers having to pay more for insurance of local government property, and Wisconsin farmers having a harder time getting help from the UW-Extension. While Rob Brooks, a Republican member of the Wisconsin State Assembly from Saukville, has outright admitted that Walker proposed a “crap budget”, the Republicans who run the Wisconsin State Legislature intend to keep some of Walker’s budget cuts that will make life for rural Wisconsinites harder.

Bruce Rauner thinks Illinois children are lab rats, threatens to veto opt-out bill

Later today, the Democratic-controlled Illinois House of Representatives is set to vote on legislation that would make it easier for Illinois parents to opt their school-age children out of state-mandated standardized testing.

However, Republican Governor Bruce Rauner has publicly threatened to veto the legislation if it hits his desk, claiming that Illinois would risk losing over a billion dollars in federal education funding if such a law were to be enacted. As Jim Vail, a Chicago Public Schools (CPS) teacher and the author of the progressive education blog Second City Teachers, pointed out, Rauner’s claim is absolutely false for several reasons:

  • Seven states, California, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wisconsin, already have laws on the books explicitly allowing for parents to opt-out their children from standardized testing, and efforts are underway in an eighth state, New Jersey, to enact a opt-out bill there.
  • The federal government has never withheld a state’s Title I education funding for low participation rates in standardized testing or for any other reason.
  • Illinois is currently operating under a federal waiver from portions of the federal No Child Left Behind law. The waiver exempts Illinois from the risk of facing federal penalties for low participation rates in standardized testing.
  • Congress is currently working on legislation that would completely eliminate the threat of states and school districts losing federal funding for having less than 95% of students participating in standardized testing.

It’s 100% clear to me that Rauner thinks that our state’s schoolchildren are laboratory rats who should be subjected to standardized testing and other neoliberal education policies that make education less interesting for our schoolchildren, shame teachers and students, and make a total mockery of K-12 education in this country. It’s time to end the plantation mentality in our education system by eliminating mandatory standardized testing altogether, ending the overemphasis on career preparation, and crafting strong education standards where teachers teach to the standards, not to standardized tests.

Scott Walker has yet another terrible, no good, very bad day

Scott Walker has had yet another terrible, no good, very bad day.

That’s because the new Marquette University Law School (MU Law) poll shows that 56% of Wisconsinites disapprove of the job that Walker is doing as Governor of Wisconsin an unofficial presidential candidate who spends very little time doing his actual job of Governor of Wisconsin. Two factors are primarily driving home-state opposition to Walker, both of which are part of Walker’s most recent state budget proposal. First, the Walker budget’s proposed cuts to education funding are very unpopular with Wisconsinites, with 78% opposing Walker’s cuts to K-12 education and 70% opposing Walker’s cuts to higher education. Second, the Walker budget’s proposed corporate welfare giveaway to the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks for a proposed new Milwaukee arena is wildly unpopular across the entire state, with 79% of all Wisconsinites, 67% of Wisconsinites who live in the Milwaukee local television market, and a whopping 88% of Wisconsinites who live outside of the Milwaukee local television market opposing corporate welfare for a proposed Bucks arena. In addition to those two items, many of Walker’s other policies, such as wage theft, state takeovers of Wisconsin public schools, and expanding unconstitutional school voucher programs, are also unpopular with Wisconsinites.

Walker can’t even get a majority of the Republicans in his home state to support his presidential bid. Walker is only at 40% among Republicans in a hypothetical Wisconsin Republican presidential primary poll that included Rand Paul, Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz, Chris Christie, Mike Huckabee, Ben Carson, Marco Rubio, Bobby Jindal, Rick Santorum, Rick Perry, and Carly Fiorina. For comparison’s sake, Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican presidential nominee, got 72% of the vote in the 2012 Republican presidential primary in his home state of Massachusetts.

If this trend continues, it could be game over for Scott Walker’s political career.

The Progressive Response to the Illinois State Budget Address

In his budget address today, Republican Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner proposed a draconian budget that, among other things, includes deep cuts to Medicaid, higher education, and other important government services that many Illinoisans rely on and help make our economy strong. While our state’s current fiscal situation is unsustainable, Rauner’s budget proposal would actually make Illinois even worse off than it is now.

In his budget, Rauner proposed deep cuts to Medicaid, which thousands of Illinoisans who are not well off rely on in order to make health care more affordable for them. While any actual waste in the Medicaid program (Medicaid payouts to deceased people, etc.) should be eliminated, taking away health care benefits from people who rely on them would bankrupt thousands of Illinois families. Additionally, Rauner proposed taking money from higher education and giving it to K-12 schools in our state. While our state’s K-12 system needs more funding, to cut funding from our state’s public universities and community colleges in order to do so is the wrong way to do so. Additionally, Rauner proposed freezing property taxes and cutting state funding to local governments around the state. This would force many municipalities to cut police departments, street maintenance crews, and other important services, if not outright eliminate local government altogether.

In his budget speech, Rauner proposed gutting pensions, workers’ compensation, and unemployment insurance, as well as making it harder for Illinoisans to sue those who have wronged them in a significant way and make the Illinois tax code even more tilted toward the wealthiest people in our state than it currently is. To put that another way, Rauner wants to screw Illinoisans over and get away with it, as well as make it easier for businesses and other people and groups to screw Illinoisans over and get away with it.

Additionally, Rauner used his budget speech to advocate for items that do not belong in a state budget or budget speech, such as a proposed state constitutional amendment to enact term limits for many of our state’s elected officials. If it’s not a fiscal item, it doesn’t belong in a state budget or budget speech, and bringing up non-fiscal items in a budget speech is purely political grandstanding.

In his speech, Rauner compared himself to Abraham Lincoln and claimed that his budget would make Illinois a more prosperous state. First off, Rauner is no Lincoln. Lincoln believed that “labor is the superior of capital”. Rauner believes that capital is the superior of labor. It’s clear to me that Rauner has a completely different political philosophy than that of Lincoln. Also, while the bottom line of Rauner’s budget proposal may look good, what is inside Rauner’s budget is what really matters, and Rauner’s budget would make millions of Illinoisans far worse off than they currently are and lead to even worse fiscal crises in the future.

The Progressive Response to the State of the State of Illinois Address

Earlier today, Bruce Rauner, the Republican governor of our state that we instinctively know as Illinois, outlined his plan to drive down wages, infringe on the rights of Illinois workers, and destroy an already weak Illinois economy.

Prior to giving his State of the State address, Rauner went around the state using PowerPoint slides to publicly bash our state’s public employees, whine about public employees being, in his view, overpaid, spread lies about worker’s rights and public employee pay, and blame public employees for our state’s fiscal problems. Additionally, it was reported yesterday that Rauner strongly hinted that he wants to eliminate collective bargaining rights for our state’s public employees. Given that Rauner has given his top administration officials pay raises and appointed a $100,000/year chief of staff to his wife despite the fact that his wife has no official duties whatsoever, for Rauner to give his cronies pay raises while wanting to drive down public employee salaries is blatantly hypocritical.

In his State of the State address, Rauner called for gutting our state’s workers’ compensation system, lowering property taxes while our state and local governments have billions of dollars in unpaid bills, allowing local governments and/or voters to bust unions at the local level, prohibiting project labor agreements, eliminating prevailing wage laws, and privatizing public education to benefit his political cronies. Rauner did have a few good ideas that he talked about in his address to the people of Illinois, such as banning trial lawyer donations to judicial campaigns, merging the offices of state comptroller and state treasurer, and increasing funding for early childhood education.

While there is no disputing the fact that our state is in a fiscal mess for a large number of reasons, the primary reason why our state is in such a fiscal mess is because the wealthiest Illinoisans, such as Rauner himself, don’t pay enough state income taxes thanks to an ridiculous provision in the Illinois Constitution that prohibits the General Assembly from passing legislation to tax the incomes of wealthier Illinoisans at a higher rate than the incomes of poorer Illinoisans. The flat tax requirement in the Illinois Constitution prohibits our state from raising the revenues that would be needed to pay off our state’s unpaid bills and put our state on solid financial footing. I would strongly support a proposed amendment to the Illinois Constitution to allow the General Assembly to levy a progressive state income tax in order to raise income taxes on the wealthiest Illinoisans, cut income taxes for the poorest Illinoisans, and put our state’s finances back on track. Additionally, I would strongly support eliminating all tax breaks for businesses, such as the ridiculous tax break that Sears and CME Group received a few years ago, as this would also bring in more revenue to the state that can be used to pay off unpaid bills.

Regarding public employee pensions, another reason why our state is in a fiscal mess, I would strongly support a pension reform proposal that would phase out the current public employee pension systems in our state, but still allow public employees who have paid into the current pension systems to still receive the benefits they’ve earned once they retire, and require all new state and local elected officials, appointed officials, and hired public employees who receive a full-time salary but had not previously paid anything into the current public employee pension systems in our state to pay into a newly-created public employee pension system that is designed to be fully-funded and provide our state’s future elected officials, political appointees, and public employees with a steady retirement income once they retire. Make no mistake about it, I will strongly oppose any pension reform proposal that cuts benefits for those who have currently paid into the pension systems, creates a 401(k) system for public employees, and/or turns an existing pension system into a 401(k) system.

Regarding cutting spending, I would support an audit of the entire state government and every single county, township, city, town, village, and other type of local government entity in our state in order to find actual wasteful spending and propose common-sense solutions to cut actual wasteful spending and help save the state money in both the short term and the long term. Make no mistake about it, I will strongly oppose cuts to public education, social services, and other government services that reduce the quality of service by our state and local government agencies.

Regarding strengthening our state’s economy, I strongly support raising the state minimum wage here in Illinois to $15/hour and indexing automatic, annual minimum wage increases to productivity. Additionally, I strongly support creating a North Dakota-style economic development bank here in Illinois to issue and/our guarantee loans to factories, farms, small businesses, and other types of businesses that have to be repaid in full with interest. These two proposals would lift thousands of Illinoisans out of poverty, establish a minimum wage that values work, and help entrepreneurs start up new businesses and create jobs without pocketing government benefits to simply pad profits. Busting unions and driving down wages is something I strongly oppose because those policies would do absolutely nothing to strengthen our state’s economy or empower Illinoisans.

Regarding campaign finance, ethics, and government reform, while a federal constitutional amendment to repeal the Citizens United v. FEC U.S. Supreme Court decision that helped Rauner and his cronies buy the last gubernatorial election would be required to allow Illinois to enact meaningful campaign finance reform, I strongly support eliminating the conflicts of interest that are currently allowed by our state’s campaign finance system, such as a couple of conflicts of interest that Rauner mentioned, prohibiting unions from donating to candidates for public office that they’d have to collectively bargain with if said candidates are elected and prohibiting trial lawyers from donating to judicial candidates, and one that Rauner did not mention because he’s effectively opposed to it, prohibiting business owners and managers from donating to candidates for public office that could use the public office in question to directly benefit said business owners and managers if elected. Additionally, I would support setting the maximum campaign contribution for a statewide office here in Illinois at $250 and enacting even lower limits for state legislative and local offices. Additionally, I strongly support implementing a pair of public campaign finance systems, one for judicial elections and one for other non-federal elections. The judicial public campaign finance system would prohibit judicial candidates from receiving campaign contributions from other people and/or funding their own campaigns, require that all judicial candidates receive a set amount of campaign funds from the state, and require that judicial candidates receive the same amount of campaign funds from the state that their opponents receive. The public campaign finance system for other offices would allow candidates for those offices to receive $4 of state funding for every $1 they receive in contributions and/or self-fund their campaigns with. Additionally, I would support enacting what I like to call the Bruce Rauner Rule, which would outright prohibit candidates for statewide office here in Illinois from donating or loaning more than $100,000 of their own wealth to their campaign, and set even lower self-funding limits for other offices. On term limits, I would support limiting the offices of governor and lieutenant governor to one elected term, limiting the other state executive offices to two elected terms, limiting state senators to five elected terms, and limiting state representatives to eight elected terms, and anything stricter than that would receive my opposition. Some other government reform ideas I support include allowing Illinois voters to recall all non-federal elected officials, converting the Illinois General Assembly into an unicameral legislature with at least 177 members via a state constitutional amendment, and amending the Illinois Constitution to establish a truly non-partisan redistricting process for congressional and state legislative districts.

Regarding reforming the criminal justice system, I strongly support legalizing, taxing, and regulating recreational marijuana, which would reduce the incarceration rate in our state and provide our state with much-needed tax revenue. Additionally, I’m open to various ideas to reform the criminal justice system in order to make our prison system more about rehabilitating convicted criminals instead of simply punishing them and make our criminal justice system more fair. For example, one idea that I strongly support would be requiring independent investigations of deaths that occur in the hands of state and local police here in Illinois.

Regarding education, I strongly oppose implementing school voucher programs here in Illinois, expanding charter schools, or any other school privatization scheme. I strongly support repealing Common Core State Standards and replacing them well-rounded, developmentally appropriate K-12 academic standards developed by the state and are held accountable by measures other than assessments and standardized tests. Additionally, I strongly support getting rid of the emphasis on career preparation in K-12 education, since I believe that career preparation should be the responsibility of higher education institutions, not the K-12 system. Also, I strongly support increasing funding for public schools in our state and making our state’s K-12 school funding system fairer to poorer school districts.

Illinoisans are worth more than speeches, political buzzwords, and PowerPoint presentations about driving down wages, busting unions, and making our state’s economy even weaker than it currently is, and Illinoisans are certainly worth more than Bruce Rauner’s far-right policies to drive down wages, bust unions, and destroy our state’s economy. It’s time for Illinoisans to push for progressive policies to protect workers’ rights, strengthen our state’s economy, put more money into the pockets of poor and working-class Illinoisans, provide a world-class education system for our state’s K-12 and college students, and provide for a more perfect Illinois.

Wisconsin public education takeover public hearing turns into total farce, Republicans in full damage control mode

The Wisconsin State Assembly education committee, chaired by Republican State Representative Jeremy Theisfeldt of Fond du Lac, held a public hearing today on 2015 Wisconsin Assembly Bill 1 (AB1), a proposed “school accountability” bill that isn’t actually a school accountability bill, but rather a bill to shame, takeover, and privatize public schools in Wisconsin.

The original bill that was brought to the public hearing was so atrocious, the public hearing turned into a total farce and the Republicans that control the committee have gone into full damage control mode. I’ll let the tweets from The Progressive magazine columnist and Madison Common Council candidate Rebecca Kemble and the author of the progressive blog Wisconsin Soapbox, who have been livetweeting today’s public hearing, speak for themselves:

…and that was just the first hour or so of the 11 1/2 hour public hearing.

To summarize all of that, Jeremy Theisfeldt and his fellow Republicans brought the bill to the public hearing and was quickly criticized by Democrats over horrible provisions in the bill and the bill not having a fiscal note despite the bill having a significant fiscal impact on local school districts in Wisconsin. That forced the Theisfeldt to remove a provision from the bill that would have authorized a state panel that would have had the power to take over public schools in Wisconsin and give them to millionaire charter school operators, as well as some of the other more atrocious provisions of the bill, without scheduling a second public hearing for the modified bill. That forced Theisfeldt to go into total damage control mode as he was attacked by both Republican (Dean Knudson of Hudson) and Democratic (Sondy Pope of Verona and Christine Sinicki of Milwaukee) state representatives, with Sinicki pointing out that the modified bill would still allow for public schools in Wisconsin to be taken over by the state and given to millionaire charter school operators. Theisfeldt comes across as a guy who is way over his head and is making a total fool of himself.

In my nearly four years as a political blogger, this public hearing on Wisconsin AB1 has been the single biggest farce I’ve read about.

Scott Walker contradicts himself on education in State of the State of Wisconsin Address

In his State of the State address, Republican Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker railed against Common Core State Standards (CCSS), claiming that local school boards should have the authority to set academic standards for K-12 schools in Wisconsin, which they currently do.

However, as Rebecca Kemble, a columnist for The Progressive magazine and a candidate for the District 18 seat on the Madison (WI) Common Council, noted, Walker’s reasoning behind his opposition to Common Core State Standards in his State of the State address directly conflicts with his support for 2015 Wisconsin Assembly Bill 1 (AB1), an atrocious piece of proposed legislation that, among other things, would allow a newly-created state panel stacked with anti-public education bureaucrats and politicians to take poorly-performing schools away from the local school districts and give them to millionaire charter school operators.

While I’m opposed to Common Core State Standards like Walker is, my opposition to CCSS is for different reasons: I believe that CCSS overemphasizes career preparation in K-12 education, something that should be the responsibility of colleges, universities, and vocational schools, and is tied to a system of high-stakes teacher evaluations based on standardized testing, which does nothing more than shame teachers. I believe that states or, in states where local school districts determine curriculum and standards, local school districts should set their own K-12 academic standards that hold schools, administrators, and teachers accountable based on the curriculum that is taught in the classroom, is developmentally appropriate for each grade level, and prepare students for higher education.

Kemble also noted that, while he was talking about AB1, Walker said that he thinks that there’s no need for bureaucrats and politicians to make decisions on education. That also directly conflicts with Walker’s support AB1, since AB1 would put many important decisions about K-12 education in Wisconsin into the hands of a 13-member state panel of…you guessed it…bureaucrats and politicians.

Scott Walker’s remarks about education in his State of the State address and his support for the atrocious AB1 legislation that would destroy public education in Wisconsin proves that he is two-faced when it comes to K-12 education in Wisconsin.

Wisconsin Republicans propose school shaming legislation that would allow millionaire takeovers of schools in poor areas

The first bill to be introduced in the Wisconsin State Assembly for the 2015-2016 session is a school shaming bill by Republican Wisconsin State Assemblyman Jeremy Theisfeldt of Fond du Lac. Theisfeldt’s bill would allow millionaire charter school operators to take over “failing” K-12 schools in Wisconsin.

While Republicans and the corporate media in Wisconsin are referring to this legislation as “school accountability” legislation, in reality, it’s school shaming, takeover, and segregation legislation. This is because the legislation does absolutely nothing to fix the root causes of why some public schools perform worse than other public schools, allows millionaire charter school operators to take over “failing” Wisconsin public schools (which does nothing to improve the quality of education and makes them less accountable to the public), and, in effect, could leave poor areas and areas with large minority populations in Wisconsin without any service from public schools, effectively resulting in segregation of Wisconsin’s education system along both racial and economic class lines.

You’re not going to fix the poorly performing schools problem in Wisconsin until you fix the poverty problem in Wisconsin. If one were to compare the average household income of families who send at least one child to particular Wisconsin public schools to the performance of said Wisconsin public schools, you would probably find at least a rough correlation, if not a strong correlation, between household income and public school performance, with schools in wealthier areas of Wisconsin performing better than schools in poorer areas. Raising the minimum wage, restoring collective bargaining rights to public employees, and replacing the corrupt Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) by creating a state economic development bank to make it easier for people to start up new businesses and hire people would be a good start toward eliminating the poverty problem in Wisconsin. Sadly, Republicans in Wisconsin aren’t even remotely interested in fixing the poverty problem or improving public education, and Democrats in Wisconsin aren’t much better than the Republicans when it comes to education (Jennifer Shilling, the leader of the Democrats in the Wisconsin State Senate, wants more accountability for school voucher programs, which means that she effectively supports school vouchers because she’s not publicly supporting repealing school voucher programs in Wisconsin).

Wisconsin deserves legislation that values all public schools (such as legislation setting statewide K-12 academic standards in Wisconsin and using methods other than standardized testing to make sure that schools are teaching to the standards) and strengthens the state’s economy, not shames certain public schools.

The author of Wisconsin Soapbox and Heather DuBois Bourenane of Monologues of Dissent have written more about this subject.