Thursday March 23, 2017

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'ARCTIC Zone' Visit Prompts New Thinking About Education

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, 17 January 2017
in Wisconsin

northstar-students-ecThe Authentic Real-world Curriculum & Technology-infused Classroom (ARCTIC) at Northstar Middle School in Eau Claire provides an innovative way to teach sixth graders and allows students to prepare for the 21st century workforce in a reimagined classroom.

EAU CLAIRE, WI - Two six-graders recently showed me around their classrooms. Desks were not in straight rows. Students were not waiting their turn with raised hands. I looked around the room. There actually were no desks at all, but tables and different types of chairs.

One student was actually writing on a table with a red marker. I must have looked aghast. The table was designed to be written on, teacher Ali McMahon told me. “We use the table as a way to think out complex ideas,” she said. With a white board tabletop everyone sees the ideas and adds to them.

I recently visited Northstar Middle School in Eau Claire.

My first contact with students and teacher at the school was in the hallway. They were sitting on the floor with a globe and a basketball.

“Our basketball is an awfully small sun,” the teacher told me.

The lesson was about the solar system. The students in a darkened classroom were a-buzz with activity, learning by doing with lights, with balls and with IPads.

The excitement in the room was palpable. Students were eager to share what they learned. How they saw the full moon the night before and, using a light and a Styrofoam ball, showed me the phases of the moon. “Imagine me as the earth,” one youngster joked.

The Northstar students are known as the Polars – their mascot is the polar bear. Therefore, it was only fitting the teacher and the students are part of the ARCTIC Zone.

ARCTIC (Authentic Real-world Curriculum & Technology-Infused Classroom) is part of an inventive approach to education in the Eau Claire School District.

The approach, Principal Timothy Skutley explained to me, is an innovative way to teach sixth graders. Originating with the school board’s Learning Environments and Partnerships Committee (LEAP) and begun this fall, the ARCTIC Zone breaks down barriers for learning. Math, science and reading comprehension might all be learned in the same lesson.

The “soft” skills – collaboration, self-motivation, problem solving, critical thinking, creativity, communication – are learned in an environment where students set goals, learn at their own pace, and work with others to achieve.

Students stay on track with many different methods of assessment built into their school day. For example, “must-dos” are tasks that must be accomplished. Short assessments follow on-line “lessons”. Each student keeps track of his or her progress in an on-line system.

“We seek to balance innovation and accountability,” Dr. Mary Ann Hardebeck, Eau Claire’s Superintendent, explained.

Innovation is happening in more than just the ARCTIC zone. I visited the Career and Technical Education Lab. What was called “shop” in my school days has evolved into a laboratory of discovery. Students were learning physics, applied mathematics, materials science and engineering all at the same time. Best yet, they were working with their hands to create something new. I had heard about a 3-D printer. Now I saw two in action.

Students and teachers, school leaders and community members are reimagining public education. And they are bringing legislators along to see what a reimagined, reengineered learning environment looks like.

Lawmakers were invited by Mike Haynes of CESA 10 to view Most Likely to Succeed a documentary encouraging innovation in education.

Our education system is a product of history. Much of what us “oldsters” learned came about in an effort to train 20th-century workers for 20th-century jobs.

However, the world has changed. “Just Google it” has become part of our vernacular when we need to search for answers to questions. Technology dominates much of our activities.

What a 21st century world needs is people who can think critically, evaluate and communicate, who can work together to create something new. We need outside-the-box doers to tackle increasingly complex problems and to be intrinsically motivated to persist in problem solving. And we need life-long learners who view education as fun and worthwhile.

I’m enthusiastic about reimagining education. Rep. Kathy Bernier and I are planning to bring Most Likely to Succeed to the Capitol to view with our legislative colleagues.

Wisconsin needs a vision of what a reimagined education system might look like and how we might take steps to achieve it. Let’s begin such a discussion.

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Wisc Democracy Campaign 'Judges for Sale'

Posted by Matt Rothschild, Wisconsin Democracy Campaign
Matt Rothschild, Wisconsin Democracy Campaign
Matt Rothschild is the Executive Director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, a
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on Friday, 13 January 2017
in Wisconsin

judgementJudges weigh in on Supreme Court recural rules, judicial raises, ALEC bill to protect special interests, and GOP efforts to repeal state’s mining moratorium.

MADISON - The corruption in the Wisconsin court system has gotten so bad that 54 former judges this week wrote the Wisconsin Supreme Court, urging the justices to change their permissive rule on recusal. Here’s what they said:

Dozens of retired judges ask Wisconsin Supreme Court for new campaign donor recusal rules

Ironically, the major political players in Wisconsin’s business community, having spent millions of dollars to elect conservative judges, now want you, the Wisconsin taxpayer, to give them a big raise. Talk about chutzpah! And remember, these bigwigs oppose raising the minimum wage for working people.

Here’s what we wrote on this:

Big money groups back pay raise for judges

Wisconsin GOP lawmakers, in hoc to these same bigwigs, have just proposed a new bill that would make it even more difficult to regulate businesses in Wisconsin. This bill is – surprise, surprise! – modeled after one by the American Legislative Exchange Council:

GOP lawmakers offer ALEC bill to protect special interests from regulations

And Senator Tom Tiffany, one of big business’s best friends in the legislature, is proposing a bill to lift the mining moratorium in Wisconsin:

GOP lawmaker wants to repeal state’s mining moratorium

Those in power in Wisconsin are moving fast to reward their campaign contributors and impose their ideology, which says, “Everything private is good, and everything public is bad.” And in Washington, Trump may do to the country what Walker has done to Wisconsin. (Walker has actually urged him to do exactly that!)

So for believers in democracy and clean government, like you and I, this is a trying time.

But I remain hopeful because I know history is not static, and I see so many good people, right here in Wisconsin, doing so much good work behind the scenes and in the streets.


Matt Rothschild
Executive Director
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P.S. Tomorrow I’ll be going to the Rally for Immigrant and Refugee Rights in Milwaukee, starting at 11:00 a.m. at 1027 S. 5th St. If you’re near there, I hope you can make it.

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Walker State of the State Out of Touch with Wisconsin Reality

Posted by Peter Barca, Assembly Democratic Leader, District 64
Peter Barca, Assembly Democratic Leader, District 64
Representative Peter Barca is a lifelong citizen of Kenosha and Somers. He curre
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on Wednesday, 11 January 2017
in Wisconsin

scott-walkerAs the Governor begins his seventh year and delivers his rosy State of the State, the majority of Wisconsin believes we are on the wrong track.

MADISON – Six years ago, Gov. Walker spoke before an audience in the Assembly chamber and made a lot of promises. He said Wisconsin would lead the economic recovery. He said we would stop kicking the can down the road on funding transportation. He said we can’t rely on short term fixes, and we can’t borrow excessively anymore.

Yet here we are, as the Governor begins his seventh year and delivers the State of the State, we have a $700 million budget deficit, an economy that is lagging significantly behind the rest of the nation, the 3rd worst roads and the most diminished middle class in the nation.

The primary driver for a better workforce would be supporting our world-class education system. K-12, technical colleges and the UW system are the pride of our state—despite relentless attacks and budget cuts administered by Gov. Walker and the Republican legislature. We need quality education and bold, vibrant worker training.

school-closedIt’s clear education is not a priority when the tech schools have lost $203 million in state aid, last session alone the UW system was gutted by a quarter of a billion dollars, and k-12 schools have lost $1 billion in state aid since 2011. The governor also discussed college affordability, how he froze tuition without properly funding the university, and yet there is no relief for the skyrocketing student loan debt most Wisconsin students graduate with, despite other states allowing for refinancing of debt, including Minnesota.

If we want to fill jobs and have skilled workers, funding education, worker training and making higher education accessible for all is the most basic thing we can do, and Democrats have drafted bills to take exactly those steps.

The governor indicated he will continue to kick the can down the pothole-filled road with no sustainable, long-term plan to fund transportation in sight. Instead, we continue to put more money on the credit card, delay projects that drive up costs, all the while commuters are paying the cost of deteriorating roads. Wisconsin drivers are now paying $6 billion a year due to congestion-related delays, crashes and vehicle repairs.

Of course, with our roads and bridges suffering alongside our state’s middle class, the governor does have one solution—get rid of prevailing wage. The Fiscal Bureau has already said this wouldn’t save us money, and it would punish our road and bridge construction workers who are completing each mile of roadwork 43% more cost-effectively than the national average.

The governor has bragged about his tax policies, while neglecting to mention that his cuts have largely benefitted the wealthy of our state. Not to mention, many local schools have had to pass referendums to make up for state aid shortfall—this unfairly places the tax burden on the backs of Wisconsin families and small businesses who are struggling to make ends meet.

Democrats in the Assembly will continue to put forward bold ideas that have been proven effective in order to fund our schools, fix our roads and rebuild the middle class. This is why the majority of Wisconsin believes we are on the wrong track. They deserve better.

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Blue Jean Nation "A canary in the castle"

Posted by Mike McCabe, Blue Jean Nation
Mike McCabe, Blue Jean Nation
Mike McCabe is the founder and president of Blue Jean Nation and author of Blue
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on Wednesday, 11 January 2017
in Wisconsin

canary in coal mineWe have a new president who modeled his gold-plated New York City penthouse after Versailles. Wisconsin is a shadow of its former self. We’ve got so much more in us than we are showing today.

ALTOONA, WI - Heard it said the other day that America is about to have its 45th president and first king. What’s undeniable is a new Gilded Age has dawned. Literally. We have a new president who modeled his gold-plated New York City penthouse after the Palace of Versailles in France, making a mansion as grand as the White House a big step down in terms of luxury.

melania_trump_gold_trump_towerMeanwhile, large segments of the nation’s population are feeling left behind, struggling to make ends meet and watching their standard of living erode. Places like Wisconsin have more than their share of people in this predicament. Wisconsin is to the nation what canaries are to coal miners. What’s been happening to Wisconsin is a signal that there’s something toxic about current conditions in our country.

Wisconsin is a shadow of its former self. Once known as a beacon of clean and open government, that reputation is no longer deserved. Once an industrial powerhouse, the state now leads the nation in shrinkage of the middle class and is dead last in new business start-ups. Long known as “America’s Dairyland,” the state continues to lose farms at an alarming rate. Wisconsin ranks 49th in the nation in Internet speed and has crumbling roads, yet foolishly turned away well over a billion dollars in federal money that could have been used to modernize transportation in the state and expand access to everything from health care to 21st Century information and communications technologies.

Wisconsin proved crucial to Trump’s election, providing him with a narrow victory in a state that hasn’t gone for a Republican for president since 1984. Wisconsin voters didn’t choose Trump because they liked him. He is deeply unpopular in the state. People in these parts have a reputation for “Wisconsin nice.” Nobody is too big for their britches. Nobody acts the way Trump acts and nobody treats people the way Trump treats them.

People here know there is something the matter with the man, something seriously wrong with him. They voted for him anyway because they are desperate. They chose him because they intensely disliked their choices in the election and voted for the candidate they believed was most likely to violently shake up a system they feel is rigged against them. They are hoping against hope for change.

Wisconsin has lost a lot, and its people are starving for a vision of what it can become. The kind of vision that invokes rural traditions like barn raisings to make the point that we are all in this together and need to be there for each other. A vision that speaks to the need to create an economy that is of the people, by the people and for the people . . . an economy where if you work you won’t be poor. A vision that rejects failed feed-the-rich policies that make up what has been described as “trickle-down economics” but should rightly be called “golden shower economics.”

The times cry out for an unwavering commitment to creating living wages, making education as affordable and accessible for our kids and grandkids as past generations made it for us, and bringing high-speed Internet and mobile phone service to every doorstep in Wisconsin. A bright future for Wisconsin is one where no community should have to close a local school, where no small town should have to consider turning paved roads back into gravel because it can’t afford to maintain the pavement, where no one anywhere should turn on a water faucet and be afraid to drink what comes out.

Wisconsin needs to dream. Dream about how to become America’s renewable energy capital. Dream about being a laboratory of democracy again. Dream about how to be first in the nation, like we’ve been so many times before.

Wisconsin is a shadow of its former self. Becoming great again will require the pioneering spirit we used to be known for. That spirit has been missing for some time now. We’ve got so much more in us than we are showing today.

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Who Should Pay to Protect and Encourage Fish and Wildlife?

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 Monday, 09 January 2017
in Wisconsin

huntersWisconsin leans heavily on hunters and anglers to fund DNR wildlife management programs, but the fee revenue has not kept pace with demand. A new report outlines options the legislature can consider during upcoming budget deliberations to help address the funding shortfall.

MADISON - Wisconsin is number one in hunting! Don’t take it from me. The Department of Natural Resources has studies to back it up.

A new DNR report noted Wisconsin had the number one Boone and Crockett Trophy whitetail entries from 2005-2010 and the number one black beer harvest of all states.

Wisconsinites hunt deer at nearly three times the US rate and fist at twice the US rate. We lead the nation in world record musky caught and are the reigning world record holder of brown trout.

According to the DNR report, which included options to fund wildlife management, Wisconsin is number one in annual revenue from hunting - $2,833 per hunter or $2.5 billion.

Yet funds to manage Wisconsin’s fish, wildlife and habitat have not kept up with needs. In fact, revenue dropped by nearly four million dollars in the past five years. Officials estimate the gap between authorized expenses and revenue is $4 - $6 million a year. Anticipating less revenue, the DNR looked for ways to spend less, which resulted in staff reductions and cuts to programs.

For example, with a 15% vacancy in fisheries management, there are fewer fish surveys and less accurate information for anglers. There was a significant reduction in the stocking of larger walleye.

With a 12% vacancy in wildlife management, there is less assistance provided to landowners for habitat development. The DNR reduced collaboration with conservation groups on habitat development and reduced trout improvement work. Pheasant restocking was cut in half. Two thousand acres of wetland impoundments were left unmanaged.

With 10% fewer conservation wardens, there are fewer patrols and less enforcement of hunting and fishing rules.

Our state leans on hunters and anglers to fund wildlife programs. Wisconsin ranks in the top ten states for tapping license fees to fund wildlife management.

The DNR reports, “Nearly ninety percent of revenue to manage the state’s fish and wildlife resources comes from hunting, fishing and trapping license fees and the federal excise tax on the sale of hunting and fishing equipment including firearms and ammunition and a portion of the gas tax attributable to motor boats and small engines.”

There is no similar fee to protect non-hunted species. The report quotes federal sources describing funds needed to protect the 12,000 or so species in State Wildlife Action Plans that are “in greatest conservation need”.

The heavy reliance on license fees is concerning as the number of hunters and anglers decrease. For instance, gun deer hunting has dropped by 12% from its peak in 1999. Several efforts by lawmakers to increase the number of hunters and anglers failed and left bigger holes in the DNR budget.

For example, in 2011 lawmakers passed a bill that included a reduction in fees for first-time hunting and fishing license purchases. Surveys later found reduced fees had little impact on increasing the number of licenses sold. Eighty percent of first-time-license-buyers did not even know about the discount until they paid for the license and most did not continue buying in successive years.

The DNR report stated the need to sell “four times as many resident first-time-buyer licenses and two times as many nonresident first-time-buyer licenses to break even”.

The report details several options for lawmakers in the upcoming budget debate. Ideas include raising fees, standardizing license discounts, eliminating the failed “first-time-buyer” program. In addition, the report suggests new ways to encourage and better serve hunters and anglers with automatic license renewal, gift cards, loyalty discounts and increased flexibility for combination license buyers.

Does rehabbing a trout stream benefit you if you don’t fish? You bet it does. The report reviews a great deal of economic data related to our natural resources. The upshot? Businesses locate and new businesses start where people want to live and people value a high level of scenic and natural amenities.

The report documented that people want to share in the protection of our natural resources. Maybe it’s time to spread the cost of protection over more than just the hunters and anglers, as Minnesota did with their legacy fund to benefit natural resources.


Thank you to the authors of this well-written report. I encourage you to read it and let me know what action you would like to see taken. You can find the report at

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