Sen. Kathleen Vinehout: “I Don’t Have a Clue” School Play Mirrors Confusion in Assembly Education Committee (UPDATED)

From my email inbox comes the latest newsletter from Democratic State Sen. Kathleen Vinehout.

“Edgar: All right, everybody; back to the scene of the crime.

“Ella: New clues?

“Carol: What clues?

“Bob: What’s the next clue?

“Carol: I don’t have a clue.

“Norman: (At the window box, dramatically.) Guys, the body’s gone!”

So goes the hilarious comedy written by Craig Sodaro and performed by Alma students. The play begins as a murder mystery dinner invitation and ends wrapped up in an international smuggling ring.

Students spent the last three and a half months practicing lines and preparing costumes. Play Director Tom Brakke coordinated a cast of roughly a quarter of Alma’s Middle and High Schoolers with precious few resources. He even directed students to buy up half-priced dresses and police uniforms at After-Halloween-Sales.

The work shows. The fast-paced comedy pulled in record crowds at the rural high school. Teens of all ages delivered their lines flawlessly and kept everyone entertained.

I took in the show on a brief break. I couldn’t help but see parallels between the confusion of the dinner guests and the lines delivered at a recent Assembly Education Committee hearing.

While the students were putting final touches on the performance, the Assembly Education Committee was considering how to turn local public schools into ‘independent charter’ schools.

In what was described as the “worst run hearing in Capitol history”, the author of the bill began by saying he was changing it but he didn’t know exactly how. The bill’s main component – an unelected, unaccountable, politically appointed board – would not be in the final version.

Nevertheless, the chair was committed to quickly passing the bill through the full Assembly. Committee members were incensed a bill that didn’t really exist was being rushed and asked if there would be another public airing before its final vote. The answer was ‘no’.

The bill was numbered Assembly Bill 1 to signify its importance. Proponents explained the bill would force schools to be ‘accountable’. Critics, and there were many, described the bill as ‘stripping powers from locally elected school boards’, using different tests for public and publically-funded private schools, reducing aid for every public school, and creating a board with power to decide if schools should be converted to privately run charter schools operated by a company headquartered in, say, Texas or California.

The Department of Public Instruction (DPI) testified there have been no fewer than 7 laws passed in the last 6 years requiring schools to test students and publically report performance. The DPI testified the bill would “trigger sanctions” on roughly one of every 8 state students and move about a sixth of state aid away from public schools.

A day before the “I Don’t Have A Clue” hearing, the Senate Education Reform Committee Chair released another version. This bill created 2 unelected, unaccountable boards to run schools – one housed in DPI; the other, for taxpayer funded private schools, housed in the Department of Administration (yes, they administer things, but schools aren’t yet on their list).

All this makes no sense unless you understand that private school interest groups, not good public policy, are driving the agenda. Some legislators try to appease the many private school groups. Instead, we should look at what research tells us about high-performing schools and how they got that way.

First, there is no consistent evidence that converting a public school to an independent charter school will produce superior results.

Second, top-performing schools got that way because of an investment. Across countries with well-performing schools, needy students and remote locations garnered more resources. Schools followed a rigorous curriculum; paid teachers and educated them well; tests were tied to the curriculum and measured critical thinking; and everyone – students, teachers and parents, took school seriously.

I spoke with a local school board member about the Assembly hearing. “I felt hopeful,” she told me. “There are so many grassroots groups all over the state and this [threat] could pull them together. We need community conversations about public schools. We need to start now and keep the conversation going.”

That’s good advice. We certainly don’t want our next generation waking up one day asking, “What happened to our local schools?” and hearing, “Guys, the body’s gone!”

I’d be remiss if I didn’t include this response to Sen. Vinehout’s latest newsletter, courtesy of longtime commenter Duane Dubey.

Senator Vinehout, I cry out to the Heavens, “Stop the meddling and educational abortion or abuse of our children by the Wisconsin legislators and a Governor Doe!”

I am sick and tired of ignorant and inept, politicians attempting to be “educators.” We have a constitutionally mandated DPI with a publically elected superintendent accountable to Wisconsin citizens; not the Koch brothers or any other profiteers, or outside political interests. The education of our children is too important to to be determined by political bullies; leave it to parents and concerned citizens on school boards at the local level and trained educational professionals in accordance with DPI standards and oversight for the education of our children guaranteed by our State Constitution. My deep concern includes that for my thirty grandchildren!

If not, we need some recalls and/or lawsuits to curb the abusive and intrusive behavior by political and incompetent meddlers. If they hurt my family members, they hurt me!

Sincerely, Grandpa Duane Dubey

State budget shortfall projected at $928 million over two years

But remember, Gov. Walker’s fiscally responsible!

To keep the state doing what it does now through mid-2017, Gov. Scott Walker and lawmakers have to come up with $928 million in spending cuts or tax increases, according to estimates released Friday by the Legislature’s budget office.

The nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau found that to continue current operations, state officials have to find $283 million this year plus another $648 million over the following two-year budget beginning July 1.

The shortfall in the state’s main account becomes even larger — more than $2 billion — in the unlikely event elected officials seek to provide all of the added spending requested by agencies through June 2017 and the additional tax cuts promised by Walker in his successful re-election campaign last year.

To put it in perspective, that adds up to a budget problem that’s roughly two-thirds the size of the more than $3 billion projected shortfall that Walker faced when he took office in January 2011.

Meanwhile, our part-time governor will be spending some time this weekend at a Republican presidential candidate forum in Iowa, because that’s seems to be what he thinks the taxpayers of Wisconsin are paying him to do.

Scott Walker rejects job & revenue creating Kenosha Hard Rock casino

In a move that seems to be all about his 2016 presidential aspirations and nothing else, Republican Gov. Scott Walker announced yesterday he will reject the Menominee tribe’s proposed Hard Rock Casino in Kenosha.

Walker, who is exploring a presidential campaign, put the kibosh on the casino one day before he heads to Iowa, an important state in the presidential sweepstakes. Some Iowa conservatives have urged the governor to veto the Kenosha casino.

Walker said his presidential aspirations had no bearing on his decision. Rather, he put the onus for killing the proposal on his Democratic predecessor, former Gov. Jim Doyle. Walker said that his administration had been working to strike a deal that would have potentially allowed a casino in both cities while protecting taxpayers.

As I noted earlier Gov. Walker’s decision to reject the proposed casino seems motivated entirely by his desire to be more palatable to conservatives who’ll decide on the next Republican presidential nominee, rather than being motivated by a genuine desire to act in the best interests of the citizens of Wisconsin.

After all, according to a consultant study of the Menominee tribe’s proposed Kenosha casino, while the Kenosha casino would siphon some business from casinos operated by the Potawatomi and Ho-Chunk tribes, it would have had a positive overall economic impact.

But the Nathan Associates report also noted the positive impact of a casino that would have been developed and managed by Hard Rock International, a firm owned by Florida’s Seminole tribe.

“The positive impacts of the proposed…casino in Kenosha and Menominee counties overwhelmingly outweigh the negative impacts in Milwaukee County and the Ho-Chunk Nation because the proposed Kenosha casino will create more new economic activity than it will cannibalize,” Huebsch wrote in the report summarizing the consultants’ reports.

Upon hearing word of Gov. Walker’s decision, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos was quick to voice his disagreement, saying that he believed Gov. Walker got this decision wrong. For once, I’m actually inclined to agree with Robin Vos, because the Kenosha casino would have created lots of good jobs and would have been a boost for Kenosha’s economy, but instead now that community will continue to have a large piece of vacant lab and no new jobs along with it.

Press Release About Alderman Dudzik from Milwaukee Common Council

If you haven’t heard about the cultural and societal obscenities spewed out by Milwaukee Alderman Joe Dudzik, you can follow the spoor trail here.

But the rest of the Milwaukee Common Council decided that Alderman Dudzik wasn’t going to have the last word…and it might be pertinent to note that both street car proponents and street car opponents signed the release:

Joint Statement from members of the Common Council

January 23, 2015—For Immediate Release

Well thought-out and well-chosen words can heal and enlighten. Unfortunately, not-so-well-chosen words can also spread fear and ignorance.

The hurtful and divisive comments Alderman Joe Dudzik made on a radio program yesterday regarding the streetcar project were baseless and do not warrant repeating. However, we must address them because we believe we cannot move Milwaukee forward by dismissing or avoiding the message they carry.

The message of fear and divisiveness at the heart of the comments is not what we stand for as members of the Common Council, nor does the message resonate in our community. We stand together and embrace our rich and diverse city, built by generations of good and hardworking people, and we celebrate our neighborhoods where people of all colors, religions, and ethnicities live, work and play together. We are united in our belief that our city’s best days lie ahead.

In addition, Alderman Dudzik’s reference to sexual assault — used as a scare tactic in a political debate about a transportation project — is disappointing and completely devoid of any factual basis. Rape and sexual assault should never be used to advance a political position or to stir fear in the hearts of our citizens.

Going forward, we will continue to focus the debate on the merits of the project, in hopes of cultivating an informative conversation about the streetcar. We fully expect our colleagues and others to do the same.


Ald. Michael J. Murphy
Ald. Ashanti Hamilton
Ald. Joe Davis, Sr.
Ald. Nik Kovac
Ald. Robert Bauman
Ald. Milele A. Coggs
Ald. Willie C. Wade
Ald. José G. Pérez
Ald. Terry L. Witkowski
Ald. Tony Zielinski
Ald. Russell W. Stamper, II
Ald. James A. Bohl, Jr.

Those not signing: Ald. Bob Donovan, Ald. Robert Puente and Ald. Joe Dudzik!

PDF here: joint-0123-streetcardudzikrx

Can liberals learn how to have a spine from Bill de Blasio?

This is worth a read.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio is the liberal that all liberals should mimic. He is sticking to the liberal values that got him elected by an overwhelming 73% of the vote. He refuses to attenuate his stance on social justice even as sects within the New York City police department are attempting to force and coerce him to do so. He remains the stiff spine liberal that takes no crap.

Mayor Bill de Blasio was never going to be a hero to NYPD’s rank and file leadership. He campaigned in support of a more inclusive department and to reign in ‘stop and frisk’ policing. The NYPD rank and file leadership could not quite frame him as an anti-law and order liberal because he broke away and supported certain policing methods many liberals were apprehensive about. He did not want to end ‘stop and frisk’ or ‘broken windows’ policing outright. De Blasio wanted to use it as a tool when deemed necessary. This meant of course less racial profiling and much less harassment for the sake of showing police authority.

The NYPD rank and file leadership thought they got their moment with Mayor de Blasio’s comment after police officer Daniel Pantaleo choked Eric Garner to death. The Mayor said the following.

This is profoundly personal to me. I was at the White House the other day, and the president of the United States turned to me, and he met Dante a few months ago, and he said that Dante reminded him of what he looked like as a teenager. And he said I know you see this crisis through a very personal lens. And I said to him, I did.

Because Chirlane and I have had to talk to Dante for years about the dangers that he may face. A good young man, law-abiding young man who would never think to do anything wrong. And yet, because of a history that still hangs over us, the dangers he may face, we’ve had to literally train him—as families have all over this city for decades—in how to take special care in any encounter he has with the police officers who are there to protect him.

And that painful sense of contradiction that our young people see first, that our police are here to protect us, and we honor that, and at the same time, there’s a history we have to overcome, because for so many of our young people, there’s a fear. And for so many of our families, there’s a fear.

So I’ve had to worry over the years. Chirlane’s had to worry. Is Dante safe each night? There are so many families in this city who feel that each and every night. Is my child safe? And not just from some of the painful realities—crime and violence in some of our neighborhoods—but is safe from the very people they want to have faith in as their protectors.

To be honest, I think there are absolutely some lessons liberals can learn from Bill de Blasio, because I’m of the belief the nation (not to mention our state) could use more liberals with steel in their spines.

Why does Scott Walker want to dumb down Wisconsin’s teachers?

Apparently Gov. Scott Walker wants to dumb down the ranks of Wisconsin’s teachers by allowing those interested in becoming a teacher to be able to rely on “life experience” rather than mandating they get a standards-based license.

Those interested in becoming a teacher in Wisconsin could soon be able to rely more on their own life experiences, rather than going through the process the state currently requires to obtain a teaching license.

Part of a Workforce Readiness Imitative Governor Scott Walker announced Thursday morning includes a proposal that “Creates alternative pathways to allow a candidate with real life experience to pass a competency test to gain a teacher license.” A spokesperson for the governor said it would be up to the Department of Public Instruction to determine what that competency test would look like.

The concept is raising some concerns among state education officials. DPI spokesman Tom McCarthy said in a statement, “The critical need for Wisconsin educators at this very moment is an increase in respect and support for their profession. You need more than textbook knowledge to be the kind of teacher that connects with students and helps all kids learn. Like a skilled surgeon or a master electrician, high-quality teaching requires both skills and content knowledge.”

McCarthy also pointed out that finding qualified teachers is about more than just making it easier to become licensed in the state. “Increasing the number of licensed teachers only addresses one side of the equation when it comes to finding and retaining the best teachers. People with skills and training in areas of like CTE and STEM fetch competitive salaries in other employment sectors which our current teacher salaries cannot always match.”

The cold hard truth about Scott Walker and taxes: the richest Wisconsinites have lower taxes than the poorest Wisconsinites

Over at the Shepherd Express, Joel McNally has a great piece explaining how masterfully Gov. Scott Walker has played tax-cut politics to the benefit of the richest Wisconsinites at the expense of poor and middle class Wisconsinites who could really use some meaningful tax relief.

Every state takes a higher percentage of income in local and state taxes from middle class and poor taxpayers and redistributes it to the wealthy in lower taxes. (The report excludes taxpayers over 65 because of wild variations among the states in how Social Security and other retirement incomes are treated.)

Here are the numbers for Wisconsin when family income is divided in fifths:

The lowest 20% in income in Wisconsin pay 8.9% of their family income in state and local taxes. The second lowest 20% pay 10%. The mid 20% pay 10.2%. So does the fourth 20%. That’s 80% of taxpayers.

Now look what happens to the top 20% in family income. The lowest 15% of that wealthy group pay 9.2% in state and local taxes. The next 4% pay 7.8%. And the top 1% pays only 6.2% in state and local taxes.

There’s a simple explanation for the gross—in every sense of the word—disparity. Most state revenue everywhere is raised through sales and excise taxes hidden in the price of every purchase.

Middle class and poor taxpayers spend most of what they make from paycheck to paycheck, paying taxes on almost every expenditure. The wealthy don’t.

As wealth at the top in this country continues to break records, the wealthy can’t possibly spend it all. They invest it to make even more money on their money, which is taxed at a lower rate.

That low hanging fruit is always the easiest to pick

Yesterday’s BizJournal ran a story about the “potential GOP presidential candidate”, Scott Walker and some of the other WEDC executives (because he’s the CEO, don’t you know) going to London to talk up Wisconsin as a potential investment site for UK firms. They are planning to “highlight Wisconsin’s growth sectors: energy, aviation/aerospace, water technology, agriculture, biotech and food processing and equipment.” Walker stated that “Wisconsin companies already have great success exporting their goods and services overseas, and that success has helped grow the state’s economy. Attracting foreign investment is the logical next step of expanding on that international success.”

Call me skeptical, but I think he’s full of shit. First of all, Great Britain is already THE largest investor in the United States. By the end of 2012, the UK had invested more in the US than all of the countries in Asia combined (including Japan, which is the second largest direct investor). Most of the investment comes from Mergers & Acquisitions and as we all know, that type of growth can be highly volatile. The 2013 Congressional Research Service Report offers a concise and clear analysis of the impact of foreign investment, I urge you to read it. According to the Brookings Institute, foreign direct investment is “not a net source of direct job creation”. Most of the investment is in large metropolitan areas and about 5.6 million Americans are employed by foreign owned firms. Only 86,000 Wisconsinites are employed by foreign companies (3.7% of total private sector jobs) compared to 600,000 in California. Canada and China are the number one and two export destinations of WI goods and last time I checked, Canada wasn’t really “overseas”. If Walker really wanted to attract this type of investment, he would have to help Milwaukee and Madison with infrastructure, increase funding to education and provide very specific job training for the workforce. That’ll never happen. In truth, every single thing he has done as Governor will prevent this type of investment in our state from ever taking place.

So, what is really behind this trip? My guess is that he thinks he’ll have a good opportunity to look more “Presidential”–or maybe he found a buyer for those power plants.

MKE Ald. Dudzik isn’t a racist…

he just likes to play one on the radio:

“There’s going to be a couple of assaults, maybe a rape, or a shooting on one of these streetcars,” Dudzik told WTMJ’s Wisconsin’s Afternoon News.  “The [millennials] that claim they’re going to be riding this thing are going to be nowhere to be seen.”
“I don’t want to make it a racial thing but look what happened to Northridge and Grand Ave. Mall. I believe the same things will happen to the streetcar.”
In other words what hes saying is those savage brown people are going to make riding the streetcar dangerous.
Its a horribly racist thing for an elected official to say and at the very least he should apologize…if not resign.

This Is What Democracy Looks Like

How many media outlets in the United States reported that last month, December 2014, 12,000 Chilean Walmart workers went on strike? Yes, you read me correctly: twelve thousand of them. Did any of you hear about this from CNN, Fox, NBC, ABC, The New York Times, anywhere in the media?

Look, I get it that Howard Stern’s speech at Joan Rivers funeral was a truly compelling story, and I would never, ever dare to suggest that we all shouldn’t hear about it repeatedly across multiple media outlets for days on end, but given that something like 1.4 million Americans work at Walmart for poverty wages, unaffordable health insurance, and under sub-optimal working conditions like unpredictable scheduling and a restrictive sick leave policy that disproportionately punishes single mothers with sick children, one would think that the story of 12,000 Walmart workers on strike would be able to get some legs. I’m no newsroom editor, but, well, just sayin’.

Of further interest, I should think, is that Chilean Walmart workers are represented by 70 different unions. What?  Walmart workers in Chile are represented by unions? Wow, that’s news to me. And I bet it would be news to 1.4 million American Walmart workers and their families too.

Making Change at Walmart is a community allies campaign to support American Walmart workers demands for $15.00 an hour and full time work for employees who want it. They’re circulating an online petition calling for good people everywhere to sign on.

And given that the five members of the Walton family are collectively worth a truly staggering and absolutely mind blowing 152 billion, let me repeat that, ONE HUNDRED AND FIFTY TWO BILLION DOLLARS, a living wage at full time hours seems like an eminently more than reasonable demand.

So please sign the petition and then send it to everyone you know via email, facebook, twitter, etc. Spread the good news because, apparently, our media won’t.

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