Thursday March 23, 2017

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Increasing Funding for Voucher and Charter Schools Comes at a Big Cost

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
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on Tuesday, 07 February 2017
in Wisconsin

northstar-studentsVoucher and charter school advocates want over $100M more for parity. Taking $100 million away from 867,000 public school students for 42,000 private students makes no sense.

ALMA, WI - For many years, voucher and charter school advocates sought funding parity while rural schools struggle to stay open. Now a new analysis done by the Legislative Fiscal Bureau (LFB) puts the parity price tag at over $100M.

I cannot sit idly by while voucher and charter school advocates ask for more money when my rural public schools can barely afford the basics.

Taking $100 million away from 867,000 public school students for 42,000 private voucher and charter school students is foolish. For the last three budgets, Republicans have given handouts to private voucher and charter schools at the expense of public schools. Legislators must not continue this trend with the new budget.

According to a recent estimate by the non-partisan Wisconsin Legislative Fiscal Bureau, increasing payments for private voucher and charter schools would take over $100 million dollars away from public schools and property taxes would be allowed to increase.

Specifically the LFB memo estimated the total cost to the two-year state budget at $110.4 million and an additional cost to property taxpayers at $45.7 million for private school vouchers and $30.5 million for independent charter schools.

When determining state aid amounts, privately-owned voucher and charter schools get the first-draw for funding. The remaining funds go to public schools through an antiquated and broken funding formula.

Wisconsin elected leaders should focus on improving equal public school opportunities for all children, regardless of where they live.

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School Funding is about More than Money

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 Tuesday, 07 February 2017
in Wisconsin

studentsGov. Walker’s recently released plan on school funding falls short of providing children with a great education regardless of where they live or to fix the school funding formula. Stable funding through an improved equalization aid formula is needed to provide children with a great education across the state.

MADISON, WI - “Public education in Wisconsin should provide high quality learning for ALL children no matter who they are or where they live,” Eau Claire School Board President Chris Hambuch-Boyle recently told me.

Chris and education leaders across the state read with interest details of the Governor’s plan for our next state budget. Governor Walker gave money to a number of new initiatives and reaped the praise of some education leaders.

The plan picks and chooses among various proposals advanced over the last few years. Some new programs are funded and some existing programs get more money. The plan is a compromise.

However – as with any political compromise – we should know what is not included and what is not being done.

We fund schools primarily through a school aid formula. Its purpose is to “equalize” resources in school districts across Wisconsin so regardless of where a child lives in the state, the opportunities for learning will be relatively equal.

The equalized aid formula is broken. A number of plans were proposed to fix the formula including ideas I supported. But the Governor’s new plan does nothing to fix the formula.

Rather, most of the new money in the Governor’s plan gives the same dollars to property-rich districts as to property-poor districts.

This is a new direction for our state.

Since 1973, governors have supported sending money for schools through the equalized aid formula. The policy of both parties was to see that every Wisconsin child had the same benefit of equal opportunity for a sound education.

Board President Hambuch-Boyle expressed concerns that the Governor’s plan “Makes the inequity worse. Under the guise of ‘here’s some more money’ he extends the inequity.”

Consequently, children in property-rich schools have a better opportunity than children living in a property-poor district. School districts across state would be better served if the additional dollars recommended by the Governor were distributed through an improved equalized aid formula. Children would be better served if school leaders knew they could count on a steady partnership from the state.

President Hambuch-Boyle and many others across the state are working very hard to re-imagine public education for 21st Century students. Leaders in western Wisconsin encouraged legislators to learn about innovations. During a recent visit to an Eau Claire Middle School, I saw evidence of a new world in our public schools.

What do we want from our education system for our children? We want a place for our children to learn, to develop cognitive and social skills. We need our children to develop character and become responsible citizens. But we also want our children to find their passion and purpose.

Tony Wagner and Ted Dintersmith write in their book, Most Likely to Succeed, that students need to tackle the challenge of how to “leverage your passion and talents to make the world better.”

Most Likely to Succeed is both a book and a documentary. Local education leaders recently invited legislators to view the film and talk about changes in our classrooms. The film explores innovation in education and the possibilities for the 21st century school. After viewing the film and visiting the ARCTIC Zone classroom at Eau Claire’s Northstar Middle School, I am beginning to see the future of education.

“The world no longer cares how much you know, because Google knows everything. What the world cares about - what matters for learning, work and citizenship – is what you can do with what you know,” write Wagner & Dintersmith. Students need to learn in groups by practicing problem solving and navigating group dynamics.

Critical thinking, communication, and collaborative problem solving are skills actively taught and evaluated as part of the school day in pioneering programs. New ways of teaching and learning means many old ways must change. Resources are needed. Funding stability is critical.

Wisconsin schools can innovate. We can provide high quality opportunities for our children that live in Beloit, Black River Falls, Brookfield or Bruce.

To get there, school leaders must be confident they don’t have to worry about deep cuts in the next budget and we must fix the current school funding formula. This commitment is necessary to provide an equal opportunity education to every child.

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DeVos Has Spent Millions On Politicians

Posted by Buzz Davis, Stoughton
Buzz Davis, Stoughton
Buzz Davis, now of Tucson, AZ, a member of Better With Bernie Gone Green and Tre
User is currently offline
on Friday, 03 February 2017
in Wisconsin

money-behind-politicsBetsy DeVos and her family invested $3.2 million to help elect 21 US senators who will now vote. Will Monday’s Vote on Senate Floor Be Payback time? Will Sen. Johnson Pay Her Back or Recuse Himself?

TUCSON, AZ - In this last election cycle billionaire Betsy DeVos and her family invested $3.2 million to help elect 21 US senators who will now vote on whether she becomes Pres. Trump’s Secretary of Education.

The DeVos’ have given WI Senator Ron Johnson nearly $49,000.

betsy-devosMr. Trump proposes spending $20 billion for vouchers and chartered schools for inner city youth. In fact, DeVos and her family have spent $47 million since 2000 supporting politicians who advocate privatizing American public education.

How did DeVos get so rich? She earned her money the hard way: A. She was born in the wealthy Prince family. B. She married into the super-wealthy DeVos family (owns Amway).

She never went to public schools, does not know a lot about educational policy and laws but really wants to be Secretary. If confirmed she’ll certainly advocate to implement Pres. Trump’s effort to further privatize public schools.

Why do people who hate government want to work for government so much?

In our nation, schools for young children and colleges for older children have always been private and mostly church schools for those who had the money to pay for schooling. But in the 1800’s Americans advocated free, public, good educations for all. Over the last 200 years public schools have played a major role in the development of the middle class. Poor kids and all others have a chance to succeed.

This Monday the Senate may take its final vote on DeVos. The DeVos family has given 21 senators who are scheduled to vote on her nomination nearly $1 million with Sen. Johnson getting that $49,000.

Does it look like Pay to Play to you? Does the highest earner in your family even make $49,000 in a year? Does your whole family even make that in a year? Nearly half the families in WI do not even earn $49,000 a year.

And she gives Ron $49,000 for his 2016 re-election effort saying, “Please remember me, Ron.”

Sen. Ron Johnson should recuse himself from voting on her nomination. She did NOT give him the money because of his good looks. She and her family invested that money to get a payback. Will Sen. Johnson payback by voting for her this Monday?

All the 21 senators who received the $1 million in total donations should recuse themselves and abstain from voting on DeVos’ nomination.

You probably cannot stop all the senators from voting.  But you may be able to stop Sen. Johnson from voting.  Call Sen. Johnson’s offices in WI (920) 230-7250 and (414) 276-7282 and email him at:

Calls/email to Sen. Johnson need to be made before Monday. Just tell him to recuse himself because of the DeVos money and because she wants to privatize public education.

At this point 50 senators have said they will vote NO (48 Dems, two independents and two Republicans) while 50 Republicans are being pushed to all vote YES. If a tie happens, VP Pence will then vote YES breaking the tie - DeVos becomes Sec. of Education.

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Wisconsin Roads Desperate for Leadership

Posted by Jon Erpenbach. State Senator 27th District
Jon Erpenbach. State Senator 27th District
State Senator Jon Erpenbach (D-Madison) - A former radio personality and legisla
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on Friday, 03 February 2017
in Wisconsin

road-closed-delayState highway Projects have cost $3 billion more than projected, and the quality of Wisconsin roads have deteriorated in just five years. What's wrong, and what can we do better?

MADISON - The Department of Transportation audit announcement felt like a sucker punch to the gut. Projects in the works for our state roads have cost $3 billion more than projected. $3 billion more than the Legislature planned for. This is simply unbelievable. Wisconsin roads have gone from 53% “good” to 41% “good” in just five years.

How do our roads deteriorate that much in just five years? Complete lack of adequate funding. The 2011 state budget cut road funding by delaying projects, postponing large projects and cutting funds to rural roads in Wisconsin. Each and every budget since then has done the same thing. The Transportation Fund has been in crisis mode since the Legislature repealed the indexing of the gas tax and there have been no true solutions put forth by the majority party.

Before the last biennial budget, this crisis was truly recognized statewide by all Legislators and the Governor. Governor Walker even asked his Transportation Secretary to come up with possible solutions to this economic crisis. A group of experts met and they came up with many different options for ensuring that our immediate road needs and our long term funding crisis could be addressed. Governor Walker and the Republican majority rejected each and every idea this group of experts put forth. Instead, they chose to borrow once again for our roads and delayed projects, postponed large projects, and cut funding to rural roads. It is like ground hogs day with an increasingly bumpy road.

Why is funding for roads so important? First and foremost is the safety of all of us going where we need to go. Hazardous roads equal unsafe roads for our families. Second is the economy. How can we expect our lagging economy to improve if we don’t have the infrastructure to support the businesses that work here? How can we expect new businesses to move into a state that has 41% “poor” roads? From farms to factories, road travel is still the cheapest and fastest way for businesses to move products and supplies. We will never catch up to our neighboring states if we do not invest in our roads.

Delaying and bonding and backfilling have been used time and time again to fund our roads and it simply is not working. Over 20 cents on every dollar we are spending now to build our roads is going to financing of yesterday’s projects. This credit card, funding scheme has to stop.

I stand ready, as I have for the last six years, willing to work with any Legislator with the strength to find a short term and long term solution for transportation funding. Governor Walker and Legislative Republicans need to put their money where their mouths are and help this state. No more excuses.


For more information on the Legislative Audit of the Department of Transportation or the Transportation Financing crisis contact my office at 608-266-6670 or 888-549-0027 or This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

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Who Has Been Watching Spending at DOT?

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 Tuesday, 31 January 2017
in Wisconsin

highway-const-zooThe recent Legislative Audit Bureau audit of State Highway Program showed the estimated costs at the time of a highway project approval were much less than costs at completion. The LAB makes many recommendations to DOT to improve their practices.

ALMA, WI - “Let me see how much you spent,” my mother said when I returned from the store. As the oldest of five children, I was often sent to the store to buy groceries. When I returned home, my mother checked the grocery bag, the receipt and counted the change.

I knew I could buy no more than exactly what was on her list. She knew how much everything should cost. I needed to answer for every penny I spent. Everything needed to add up.

This simple accountability seems to be completely missing at our Department of transportation (DOT).

My mother has now gone to live with the angels. However, she would be appalled at the findings in a recent audit released by the nonpartisan Legislative Audit Bureau (LAB).

Auditors looked at spending on highways and found actual spending on individual projects much greater than the cost estimates provided to the Legislature at enumeration, which means legislative approval of the project. In some cases, actual costs for highways were four times more than the approved estimates.

Auditors examined highway projects completed from January 2006 to December 2015. At enumeration, cost estimates for none of the 19 completed projects took into account the increases in inflation during the life of the project. In every completed major highway project reviewed, actual costs were more than the cost estimates provided at enumeration. Over half of the projects had actual costs that were more than DOUBLE the cost estimates at enumeration. Two projects – including I-94 to Chippewa Falls were more than FOUR TIMES the cost estimates provided at enumeration.

The I-94 to Chippewa Falls project was enumerated in 1991 and the last bills were paid in 2011. Why did this information not become part of a public discussion before now?

Part of the answer lies in a lack of transparency and oversight.

This audit, just as prior audits, illuminated problems with missing paperwork and poor oversight. Because of prior audit findings, legislators changed the law to require DOT to report clear information on actual compared to budgeted costs.

Despite the new law, DOT did not provide complete information to the oversight body - the Transportation Projects Commission, which is made up of political appointees. The law required regular reporting by DOT to the Commission.

Auditors also examined current DOT highway projects and found similar problems. In every project reviewed, cost estimates in August 2016 were higher than the cost estimates at enumeration. Of the sixteen major ongoing highway projects, eight are more than double the cost estimates at enumeration, with one – Highway 10 from Marshfield to Appleton – over four times greater.

Why have project cost estimates increased so much?

Auditors mention two reasons: unexpected costs and inflation. DOT did not sufficiently consider the effects of inflation. They also made major errors (my words, not the auditors) in their cost estimates due to unexpected cost increases.

An example may help explain these unexpected cost increases.

In planning construction on I-39/90 from Madison to the Stateline, DOT used five-year-old traffic counts. They updated the project with new counts in 2012. DOT then decided to increase pavement thickness and add two more additional lanes near Janesville. DOT bought additional real estate, moved power lines they had not anticipated, increased the shoulder width and provided alternate routes to avoid delays and accidents. These changes explained about three-quarters of the nearly half a billion of the increase in the project’s cost estimate.

All of these changes may appear reasonable. However, serious problems exist in the system when cost estimates increase from about $700 million to over $1.2 billion with no public accountability or legislative authority.

Auditors recommend legislators and the public are kept better informed. In its report, the LAB makes 45 separate recommendations. In response to the audit, Speaker Robin Vos called on DOT to provide details related to all DOT projects and actual cost.

But how is it the Department of Transportation has paid more –sometimes four times more – on projects than cost estimates provided at enumeration?

There are more details in the audit, which provide insight into the current budget problems facing the state as we contemplate the next budget. I will be reporting on these details and the activities of the audit committee. This is our opportunity as thoughtful citizens to say, “Let me see how much you spent.”

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