Monday June 18, 2018

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Blue Ribbon Commission Explores School Funding Inequity

Posted by Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout of Alma is an educator, business woman, and farmer who is now
User is currently offline
on Wednesday, 04 April 2018
in Wisconsin

school-kidsAt a recent public hearing in De Pere, the Blue Ribbon Commission on School Funding heard from school districts in that area, including Green Bay, about the challenges they face, which are exacerbated by funding issues.


DE PERE, WI - Linda Brown recently passed away in Topeka, Kansas. Ms. Brown was the student at the center of the landmark Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education that struck down school segregation. Ms. Brown’s father, Oliver Brown, tried to enroll his nine-year old daughter in the all-white Sumner School.

The day after Ms. Brown’s passing, I joined other members of the Blue Ribbon Commission on School Funding to explore inequities in Wisconsin’s public schools at a public hearing in De Pere.

The stories we heard wove a tale of struggle, innovation, inequity and challenge.

Major changes are happening in our state’s public schools. Compared to twenty years ago, we have more minority students, students who are English Language Learners, and students whose families are experiencing poverty.

kathleen-vinehoutIn Brown County, four of 10 students live in poverty. The district has three times as many homeless students as it did in 2003. Children come to school hungry. They carry the burden of family conflict to their seat in the classroom.

Todays’ students have more mental health needs, including depression, anxiety and suicide. “Nearly 50% of girls and 30% of boys report anxiety,” said Christine Gingle, Social Work Coordinator at the Green Bay Area Public School District. “Almost 50% is a staggering number, but not overly surprising given the immense pressures students encounter during their school career… Many have suffered losses…are concerned about safety, or are experiencing grief. Safety concerns have a significant ripple effect on our community.”

Commission Member and UW Professor Julie Underwood asked, “What happens when you don’t have the resources to serve students?” Ms. Gingle answered, “The work falls back on the classroom teacher.”

“Students bring their problems to the classroom,” shared Dr. Michelle Langenfeld, Green Bay Area School Superintendent and a fellow member of the Blue Ribbon Commission.

“Teachers say to me, ‘I can’t do this anymore. When I close my eyes at night, I can’t sleep because I see all the children I cannot serve’,” Dr. Langenfeld continued. “We are blessed to be in a community that does help us. But every superintendent can share the same stories. We are all working the best we can. We also need to care for our caregivers.”

green-bay-schools-washIn the Green Bay Area School District, students speak 31 different languages. Minority students make up the majority of English Language Learners (ELL). The Green Bay Area School District has 600 Somali students who face not only language challenges. Many are orphaned. Some watched as family members were executed. Most have no formal education.

“In 1990, the reimbursement rate for ELL was 63%.” said Julie Seefeldt, Director of the English Learners Program at Green Bay. “The current reimbursement rate…is at approximately 7.9%.”

“This story is not unique to Green Bay,” Dr. Langenfeld told our Commission. “Somali families are grateful for the educational opportunities. They want their children to work hard and become American citizens.” In response to questions about the resulting challenges facing the district and teachers, Dr. Langenfeld replied, “Necessity is the Mother of Invention.”

Justin Millfox, a teacher at West High School in Green Bay and President of the Green Bay Education Association, told us about the necessity for invention. “West High School is the home of the Wildcats,” Mr Millfox said. “We have a Cat Closet for school supplies and clothes for kids who do without.” The struggles of students are very hard on teachers as they try, with few resources, to address the significant needs of children with big gaps in their learning.

Many folks testified about problems in the way the state pays for schools. Our Commission heard: Providing EQUAL dollars does not solve the problem because not all student needs are equal.

“Providing equal dollar amounts of per-student increases in funding does not provide the necessary equality to provide our low income and English Learner students the support necessary for success,” noted Brenda Warren, Green Bay School Board President.

The legacy of Linda Brown and her father’s fight for equality continues to challenge us today. Their bravery and courage opened doors for children across our nation. Today, these doors and the schools beyond them are in need of repair. Dr. Langenfeld acknowledged that challenge as the public hearing adjourned stating, “We have no time to lose. It’s Go time!”

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Why I am Voting “No” on Eliminating the State Treasurer

Posted by Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout of Alma is an educator, business woman, and farmer who is now
User is currently offline
on Wednesday, 28 March 2018
in Wisconsin

state-treasurer-logoThe referendum question on next Tuesday’s ballot asks voters if they wish to amend Wisconsin’s Constitution to eliminate the Office of the State Treasurer. Sen. Vinehout shares some information about the functions of the office which should be helpful to voters.


MADISON - Spring Elections are here. Voters are going to the polls to elect a new Supreme Court Justice and many local officials, from county board to school board. Voters will also make a decision to change our Wisconsin Constitution. On the ballot will be a referendum question to eliminate the Office of State Treasurer.

From the time Wisconsin became a state, we had a Constitutional Officer to oversee finances – the State Treasurer. The purpose of this office can be summed up in the words of the nonpartisan Council of State Government, “Treasurers act as the watchdog of the people’s money and, in most states, are elected by their own constituents. This check and balance in the executive branch of government provides an effective oversight mechanism and increased transparency.”

Some believe, including the current State Treasurer, the office is outdated and a waste of money. However, far more is behind this vote.

kathleen-vinehoutOver the past twenty years, the Legislature at the request of the Governor, removed the duties of the Treasurer. Many of the duties were taken over by the Department of Administration (DOA). The last budget increased the size of this sprawling agency by nearly fifty percent, or just shy of 1,500 employees. The Governor and his appointee, the Secretary of Administration, control the agency.

Eliminating the Office of the State Treasurer consolidates more power in one agency; the greater the power, the greater the opportunity for corruption, and less transparency for citizens of the state.

Think of the way a civic organization or a company is organized. The person who buys things – procurement – is not the person who writes the checks – the treasurer nor the one who audits the books.

In advising all types of organizations, from local nonprofits to large multinational corporations, auditors tell their clients when it comes to handling money there must be a “segregation of duties.” In other words, the same person (or department in a large company) should not collect the money, deposit the money, spend the money, approve the contracts and keep the books.

The principle of segregation of duties disperses the critical functions of overseeing procurement, contracting, vendor payments, cash management and auditing. Following this principle is a basic building block of risk management and, what auditors call, internal controls. These are the systems that help prevent and identify fraud, mismanagement and errors. Segregation of duties also assures transparency and accountability in state government.

According to the Wisconsin Taxpayer, our State Treasurer is the only treasurer in the nation that does not oversee cash management. We are only one of two states that do not allow the State Treasurer to be responsible for the state’s bank accounts.

Over the years, Wisconsin has marched toward a consolidation of power in DOA. We do not have a separately elected Controller, like many other states. Our Secretary of State, like the Treasurer, has lost many duties. It is no wonder folks nicknamed DOA the “Department of All.”

Our state’s finances could use more oversight, not less. The most recently enacted state budget authorized the state to spend $76 billion over the two-year budget cycle. Misappropriation of just a small amount of this massive sum could involve millions of taxpayer dollars.

Elected officials serve as stewards of the taxpayers’ dollars. Our responsibility includes setting up systems that contain the “internal controls” which prevent and expose fraud and mismanagement.

I am voting “no” and I urge you not to eliminate the important function of the State Treasurer. Instead, I suggest we restore the duties of this Constitutional Office. This is why Representative Spreitzer (D-Beloit) and I wrote and introduced a bill to return the financial duties of the State Treasurer. Senate Bill 833 would restore many responsibilities of the State Treasurer including cash management functions that were removed in 2003.

Eliminating the State Treasurer is not a new idea. Over the past 100 years or so, three dozen such proposals were introduced. A constitutional change requires the Legislature to pass a resolution containing the exact same language in two consecutive sessions. The question then goes to voters for the final decision.

When you go to the polls, think of your local club, company or organization. Everyone wants the same or greater accountability and transparency over the massive $76 billion in state monies.

The vote next Tuesday is “no.”

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Homeowners shouldn’t be left footing the bill

Posted by Jennifer Shilling, State Senator Dist 32 (B)
Jennifer Shilling, State Senator Dist 32 (B)
Jennifer Shilling lives in La Crosse with her husband and two children. She curr
User is currently offline
on Friday, 23 March 2018
in Wisconsin

menards-wiCan you pay lower property taxes by simply saying no one lives in your neighbor’s house? Under Wisconsin’s “Dark Store” loophole, large corporate retailers can.


LA CROSSE, WI - Imagine if you could pay lower property taxes by simply saying no one lives in your neighbor’s house. It sounds ridiculous but the sad reality is that large corporations are increasingly taking advantage of a legal loophole to avoid paying their fair share of local property taxes. As a result of this loophole, their tax burden is shifted onto main street businesses and local homeowners.

All across Wisconsin, large corporate retailers have challenged their property taxes by arguing that the value of their new property is the same as an abandoned, or “dark” property, in a different location. In many cases, the dark property being used to exploit this loophole is property that the corporation recently abandoned to move to a new location.

Wisconsin’s “Dark Store” loophole is becoming a growing problem in municipalities of all sizes across the state. Wealthy corporations have rigged the system and taxpayers are left footing the bill.

In an effort to ensure tax fairness for working families and seniors, Democrats have introduced legislation to close this loophole and prevent corporations from using vacant, abandoned or dark properties as a comparison for determining the value of a fully operational and occupied building.

jen-shillingGiven the overwhelming public support for this proposal, Democrats were hopeful that the legislature would approve this commonsense fix. Unfortunately, Republican lawmakers in Madison sided with special interest groups that have opposed tax fairness for homeowners and local businesses, thus killing the bill. Their failure to lead on this issue will result in homeowners paying millions more in property taxes for years to come.

The opportunity to achieve the American Dream is out of reach for many families in Wisconsin as Republicans continue to rig tax policies in favor of corporations and the wealthy while shifting more of the tax burden onto working families and seniors.

It is disappointing and frustrating that Republicans have adjourned for the session without addressing long-term solutions for tax fairness. Rather than throwing in the towel and calling it quits, we should work together to achieve Wisconsin’s full potential.

Despite these challenges, families know they can trust Democratic leaders to fight for commonsense solutions that promote fairness, expand opportunities and invest in our communities. Closing the “Dark Store” loophole is going to be a top priority for Democrats as we continue fighting to make Wisconsin a place where the next generation wants to live, work and raise a family.

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Court Decision Calls For Special Election in NE WI Senate District

Posted by Bob Kiefert, Green Bay Progressive
Bob Kiefert, Green Bay Progressive
Bob Kiefert is a Founding Partner and Publisher of the N.E. Wisconsin - Green Ba
User is currently offline
on Friday, 23 March 2018
in Wisconsin

kewaunee-harbor-familyJudge in Madison orders Governor to hold special elections to fill seats vacated in December. Sen. Dave Hansen and fellow Democrats had pushed for the elections.


GREEN BAY - For months, Sen. Dave Hansen of Green Bay has been calling on the Governor to hold special elections to fill seats vacated in December by Republicans Frank Lasee of De Pere in the 1st Senate District and Rep. Keith Ripp, of Lodi. On Thursday, Hansen and fellow Democrats who have pushed for the elections saw their efforts rewarded.

A judge in Madison Thursday ordered Gov. Scott Walker to call special elections to fill both of legislative seats.

Both Lasee and Ripp had resigned to take jobs in Gov. Walker’s administration. The Senate seat, which covers the Door County peninsula northeast of Green Bay, had been under Republican control for nearly 40 years.

eric-holderA national Democratic group led by former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder filed the lawsuit on behalf of voters who argued they were disenfranchised by Walker’s decision not to call elections to fill the vacancies.

dave-hansen“The decision by Judge Reynolds that Governor Walker should immediately call special elections in the 1st Senate District and 42nd Assembly District is a victory for anyone who still believe in democracy and that the people deserve to have their concerns represented in the Legislature," said Hansen in a statement released Thursday. “Unfortunately, for the parents of the approximately 26,000 students that go to school in the 1st Senate District, Governor Walker and Senate Republicans successfully denied them their voice in the school safety debate on Tuesday."

“It is clear, now more than ever, that in the case of Governor Walker and the Republican politicians in Madison absolute power corrupts absolutely as they chose to put their own political interests ahead of the concerns of the people in the 1st Senate District and 42nd Assembly district," Hansen concluded. “Fortunately, Judge Reynolds, appointed by Governor Walker himself no less, cried foul and ordered that special elections be held.”

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Giving a Voice to People Who Live with Disabilities

Posted by Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout of Alma is an educator, business woman, and farmer who is now
User is currently offline
on Wednesday, 21 March 2018
in Wisconsin

disability-studentsThe Senator's proposed Public Assistance Advisory Committee would give those most affected a seat at the table while changes to essential public assistance programs, such as FoodShare and Medicaid, are created and require input from policy experts at the UW.


MADISON - “Many people with disabilities depend on public programs so they can stay healthy and live, work and participate in the community,” Jason Endres wrote to me in favor of a bill I recently introduced.

My bill, Senate Bill 870, would create a Public Assistance Advisory Committee. I drafted this legislation in response to Special Session bills recently passed by the Legislature that modified public assistance programs.

People with disabilities, as well as those living in poverty, rely on key public assistance programs, such as FoodShare, Medicaid and public housing. It is important for those using the programs to have a voice at the table when legislation to change these essential programs is considered.

Jason and his wife Julie Endres traveled to the Capitol to join other citizen lobbyists participating in Disability Advocacy Day. They came to raise awareness about the critical programs designed to help those who live with disabilities.

kathleen-vinehoutIn recent years, upwards of 800 folks, their caregivers, families and friends came to the Capitol in an effort to stop the Governor’s plan to put the IRIS (Include, Respect, I Self-Direct) program under the administration of a single large for-profit insurance company. IRIS assists disabled persons in self-directing the services they need. Ultimately, these citizen lobbyists successfully fought to maintain administration of IRIS through a state/non-profit partnership.

People shared their personal stories about how state programs fund critical assistance, such as personal care workers. These people are angels on earth who make a big difference in the lives of our disabled neighbors and their family members. The personal care workers had not received a wage increase since 2008. Even then, they only received a one-and-one-half percent increase. Personal care workers make around nine or ten dollars an hour according to the Wisconsin Personal Services Association.

The package of Special Session bills also makes changes in eligibility for basic assistance, including Medicaid and Foodshare. People could be required to sell their home, small business or their cows to obtain temporary help when they hit hard times. Physically disabled persons would be required to sell their wheel-chair adaptive van if the value is greater than $10,000.

These new rules worried Jason and his wife Julie. “When changes to these programs occur, we need to be at the table as stakeholders to explain how we use the programs and how even small changes often can result in unintended consequences that really impact us,” wrote Jason.

At the public hearing on the Special Session bills, the advocacy group Survival Coalition testified, “there are not consistent exemptions for people with disabilities across the legislative package and no clear public input process.” The Coalition went on to explain that people with disabilities as well as caregivers, have difficulty getting special exemptions under current requirements.

During the hearing, we heard many people testify about how the bills could leave more folks without needed food or health care. The bills could hurt farmers struggling with low commodity prices, young parents who need healthcare, small business owners who hit hard times and those with “invisible disabilities” like autism spectrum disorders.

Many advocates, who work with those facing difficult hurdles, testified that they were not provided any opportunity for input as the Special Session bills were crafted. New administrative red tape for the poor and disabled will mean more people falling through the cracks.

The Special Session bills include provisions that are currently not allowed under federal law. This means the Walker Administration will be required to seek a “waiver” – which is special permission from the federal government to implement the new law.

My bill would bring this waiver writing out of the dark. It would allow those affected by changes to essential public assistance programs to have a seat at the table while new details on the programs are created. Senate Bill 870 would also require input from policy experts at the UW.

Too often research is not a part of the public policy process. The work of the Population Health Institute and the Wisconsin Institute for Research on Poverty is internationally recognized. We need the expertise of these social scientists at the table when crafting policy related to assistance for those who most need our help.

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