Friday April 20, 2018

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It’s Time for a Hard Look at How We Pay for Schools

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, 20 December 2017
in Wisconsin

school-kidsSenator Vinehout writes about the Blue Ribbon Commission on School Funding, the problems we face with how Wisconsin pays for schools and ideas she’d like the Commission to consider.


MADISON - “It’s important, every so many years, we take a good look at how we fund schools,” said Senator Luther Olsen (R-Ripon). “How do we … make sure our schools have what they need for the next 20 to 50 years.”

Co-chairs Senator Olsen and Representative Kitchens (R-Sturgeon Bay) recently convened a Blue Ribbon Commission on School Funding. I serve as the only Senate Democrat on the new Commission.

Wisconsin has seen studies to change the way our schools are funded come and go throughout the years. The co-chairs emphasized they did not want the work of the Commission to sit “on a shelf and collect dust.” The impression that the Commission existed only as an election-year “talking point” was clearly on the minds of some members.

As I mentioned in the hearing, I’ve long been an advocate for changing Wisconsin’s approach to funding schools. We pay for schools, largely, with a combination of property tax and state aid. Schools are paid on a per-pupil basis.

Many school funding problems come from demographic changes happening in our state. Shifting patterns in our population affect schools. For example, Wisconsin has more children living in poverty today, than ten years ago. Rural areas have seen a decline in students.

Not all students have the same needs. Different school districts have different costs. These needs are not adequately reflected in the funding formula.

teaching-studentsTo add to problems, the fallout from Act 10 and the criticizing of public school teachers had a profound effect on our schools. Teachers left or retired. Fewer college students are going into education. School districts have trouble filling vacancies. Standards for teachers were lowered. Morale is low. Student opportunities were diminished. Cuts in state aid forced taxpayers to pass referenda and raise property taxes just to keep their schools running.

Of the two major problems with our school funding, the first is the level of state aid.

Despite increases in the recently-passed budget, schools haven’t recovered from the massive cuts to state aid in 2011. In real dollars, public schools will be getting less in the next two years than a decade ago.

The second problem with how we pay for schools, is the state aid formula itself.

At the heart of the problem is the economic disconnect between district revenues and district costs. Revenues assume education is a constant cost activity. In other words, you get so many dollars for every student.

Education, however, is not a constant cost activity. Schools have high fixed costs and low marginal costs. Fixed costs are those bills that are the same regardless of how many students attend the school. For example, keeping the building heated or the lights on are costs that don’t change much even as the number of students change. As time passes, this disconnect between the way the state pays for schools and the way the schools incur costs, causes a lot of problems. Difficulties are particularly acute for districts with declining enrollments.

We need to move toward an “adequacy formula” that takes into account fixed costs, recognizes that some students cost more to educate than others, and recognizes that school districts in different situations face different costs.

We also need to reduce our reliance on the property tax to fund schools. The cornerstone of school funding should be state aid.

We must address today’s school funding problems. But we must also plan for how we educate our children of tomorrow.

For too long, rules, regulations and testing requirements stifled the creativity, excitement and challenge of teaching. Our state spends so much time and money on testing and evaluating, that teachers don’t have the time to teach or the resources and energy to try innovative approaches. We need a different plan to meet the needs of tomorrow.

Our children and our schools are our future. A lost opportunity for a child is often forever lost.

Since the formula was first enacted, our demographics have changed and our economy has changed. Tinkering around edges is not enough.

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Emergency Medical Workers in New Community Role

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, 12 December 2017
in Wisconsin

emtThe new Community Emergency Medical Services (CEMS) Program will allow emergency medical personnel to perform basic health care for people in their homes, reducing costly readmissions to the hospital. Program requires additional training for EMS personnel working under direction of the hospital medical director.


ALMA, WI - “We had a patient who called us at least once a week,” a local Emergency Medical Director told me. “We took him to the hospital, but, what if we could take care of him at home.”

A new law makes it possible for emergency medical personnel to perform basic health care for people in their homes. This new approach to health care delivery may soon be in your neighborhood.

“We’ve seen a big increase in calls,” a Jackson County emergency medical professional said while visiting my Capitol office. He told me the patients they see at home are much sicker than years ago. People need care but want to stay at home. In Jackson County, ambulance personnel are working closely with the homecare workers to help people stay in their homes.

wisc-dairy-farmWe think of emergency medical personnel as helping us with acute problems: an auto accident or farm injury. Increasingly, the problems emergency workers see are related to chronic conditions. Diabetes, breathing problems and heart disease are common complaints.

Legislation recently signed into law created a new type of health professional through the new Community Emergency Medical Services (CEMS) program.

Gundersen Health System spokesperson Michael Richards testified in support of this legislation. He described a change in the way Medicare paid for hospital visits. Beginning in 2012, hospitals are penalized for patients who returned to the hospital if they were admitted less than a month prior. This “30-day readmission rule” encouraged hospitals and doctors to think hard about how to keep people healthier, in their homes, and not back in the hospital.

“To be proactive, Gundersen…diligently research[ed] the community paramedic program. …We envisioned the positive potential a comprehensive community paramedic program could provide to our patients and communities. …We aim to integrate the community paramedic program into the transitional care program as a ‘transition care coach.’”

Mr. Richards explained that a community paramedic would be trained in patient assessment, education and diagnostic testing, such as electrocardiograms (EKGs). The CEMS worker could help with review of medications, appointments and continue “strategies to reinforce compliance to [the] discharge plan of care and/or disease management. All this work will be done under the direction and guidance of the medical director.”

Making sure the patient received the proper care by a quality professional was the goal of the main authors of the new law – Representatives Loudenbeck and Shankland and Senators Moulton and Bewley.

The new law specifically forbids the emergency personnel from performing any services that require a license, certificate or other state credential. This requirement means the community emergency worker could not do the work of nurses or other health professionals. Under the new law, community emergency workers are forbidden from providing any services that are already being provided to a patient.

How will this new law work? Most emergency professionals will act as part of a hospital team. The Wisconsin Department of Health will approve both the ambulance provider’s plan for community care and the training programs. Hospitals will likely offer much of the training. The Department of Health or the medical director must establish care protocols – what the emergency responder does for the patient.

To work as a community emergency services practitioner, an individual must receive approval from the Department of Health, must have two years of experience and must complete required training.

The ambulance provider must have approval by the Department of Health for the type of care the emergency medical services professionals will deliver.

Mr. Richards summed up the new plan stating, “We believe community paramedicine best serves patients and community health. The extension of care beyond our walls is in line with the specific goal of reducing readmissions [and] is in the best interest of the patients and their families.”

This story is a fine example of how federal health policy – the “30-day readmission rule” – spurred innovation leading to a change that is both better for patients and helps lower health costs. And it’s a story of how a bipartisan group of lawmakers stepped up to the challenge to make innovation happen in Wisconsin.

*** Corrected version ***

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Trickle Down Policies

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
User is currently offline
on Friday, 08 December 2017
in Wisconsin

trump-ryanA guest column from Senate Jon Erpenbach on how Federal policies affect our lives and the state budget bottom line.


MADISON - For most of us, Washington DC and the politics of President Donald Trump and a Republican Congress seem a million miles away. But the reality is that our lives, and the lives of those we love, are impacted by the Federal government and decisions made in Washington DC every single day. Whether you drive to work on a road that gets Federal funds, receive or are building social security, qualify for Medicare, have a child in school, receive the child tax credit, eat food from a farm that is subsidized, take medication that is regulated; all of this and countless more daily operations of our lives are impacted by the decisions made in Washington DC.

taxes-The Federal tax bill, which will be reconciled soon between the Senate and the House, spends in deficit. That is an inarguable point because the bill enacts tax cuts that are not paid for. Because the bill has deficit spending, it is regulated by another Federal law that prohibits deficit spending. While tax breaks enacted for corporations and wealthy will remain in place, programs that benefit our elderly or low income individuals will be cut. It will be an automatic action unless Congress passes a bill to reverse their “Pay As You Go” 2010 law. The Medicare the cuts, although immediate, are capped yearly but will still be felt deeply simply because of the number of people that qualify for this Federal health care program for the elderly. For other Federal programs the cuts will simply come without regard for need.

According to the Associated Press, “The program that would be most affected by the automatic cuts is Medicare, whose budget would be slashed by more than $25 billion a year. Other programs that would experience deep cuts include vocational training for individuals with disabilities, block grants for foster care and Meals on Wheels and federal funding for historically black colleges and universities.”

jon-erpenbachThere are consequences for decisions made in Washington DC and sometimes they are not so obvious. If you are lucky enough to make an income three times the Wisconsin median income, the tax plan being decided in Washington DC will likely benefit you. But if you are like the rest of us who are the proven fuel in the US economy, those that spend all the income they receive on cost of living, it will be harder to find a benefit. If you are over 65, disabled, a foster child, a farmer, a construction worker, an addict in recovery, a Meals on Wheels recipient, or living on a fixed income, be ready for cuts to your income, health care and services; not only as the primary action of the tax plan but the mandatory secondary action of current Federal law.

Wisconsin will have lots of tough choices in the upcoming budgets because of less revenue from the Federal government and fewer block grants to support our state budget. I stand ready as a member of the Joint Committee on Finance to help navigate Federal cuts and to work to help make the best decisions we can for the people of the State of Wisconsin given this fiscal shortfall.

You can contact my office at 608-266-6670 or toll free 888-549-0027 or via email at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

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Free Tuition for Two-Year and Tech Colleges Means Freedom to Learn

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, 05 December 2017
in Wisconsin

matc-studentsResearch shows the need for people to work in middle skill jobs, the largest share of jobs in Wisconsin. Sen. Vinehout’s proposal will give residents the opportunity to get an education and give Wisconsin a pool of skilled workers.


MADISON - “Every Wisconsinite should have access to education or training past high school… To be pursued at whatever point and pace makes sense for individual workers and industries,” wrote researchers at the Center on Wisconsin Strategy (COWS) eight years ago.

Long before the current shortage of skilled workers, COWS anticipated the need for additional training. In 2009, the Center teamed up with the Workforce Development Board, Skills2Compete and others to study “Wisconsin’s Forgotten Middle-Skill Jobs.”

Middle skill jobs are those jobs that require more than a high school diploma but less than a four-year degree. The study I quoted above, found “Middle skill jobs still represent the largest share of jobs in Wisconsin – some 54 percent – and the largest share of job openings into the next decade.”

Georgetown University just released a study that found similar conclusions. “Across the nation, good jobs have shifted toward Associate Degree holders and away from workers with a high school diploma or less.”

In response to the demonstrated need, I am proposing free tuition for Wisconsin residents at our Technical Colleges and University of Wisconsin two-year campuses.

Expanding our skilled workforce is the surest way to grow our economy and raise wages. Raising wages in Wisconsin should be a top priority. We are ranked 18th worst in the nation in average wages and salaries.

My proposal, Freedom to Learn, allows students to learn at their own pace and choose their own course of study.

Long ago, I worried about how to pay for college. My only option was a two-year campus. I know firsthand what it’s like to not know how to make ends meet and also go to college. Many see tuition as an insurmountable obstacle. I want to eliminate any hesitation someone might have in pursuing his or her opportunities and dreams.

I want to make it possible for someone who is already working or has family obligations, doesn’t have the cash and can’t afford to take time off, to get the education and training they want. Freedom to Learn, in allowing students to attend school part-time, and learn at their own pace, goes further than tuition programs in other states.

In 2014, Tennessee became the national leader in eliminating tuition and fees for incoming full-time students. Since then, several states followed including most recently, California.

Like other states, my proposal uses state tax dollars as the last dollar scholarship. This means students apply for financial aid. Free tuition grants kick in after all other federal and state aid are used. Wisconsin already has a similar last dollar free tuition program for our veterans.

My program is modeled after Tennessee. Republican Governor Bill Haslam showed the nation what works. As Tennessee added dollars for tuition, the number of students applying for student loans dropped by 17%. In addition, the number of students enrolled in two-year and tech colleges increased by 30%.

Under the proposal I recently released, the cost of free tuition at two-year and tech colleges is funded by repealing the manufacturing portion of the Manufacturing and Agriculture Tax Credit. This tax credit is one of 43 different tax credits claimed by businesses in the past year. The effect of this specific tax credit is to reduce state taxes owed to near zero.

Corporate profits and corporate cash reserves are at an all-time high, while wages are stagnant. Companies have the money. They don’t have the workers. Trading one manufacturers’ tax break for a pool of skilled workers is a good exchange.

Freedom to Learn is a great opportunity to invest in the potential of our own Wisconsin workers and grow our economy from the inside out. It makes more sense than trying to lure workers from other states or giving billions to one foreign corporation.

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Wis Democracy Campaign "Kochs, WMC Behind Bills"

Posted by Matt Rothschild, Wisconsin Democracy Campaign
Matt Rothschild, Wisconsin Democracy Campaign
Matt Rothschild is the Executive Director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, a
User is currently offline
on Sunday, 03 December 2017
in Wisconsin

koch-brothersMADISON - Over the last couple weeks, the influence of the Koch Brothers and Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce (WMC) has been on display, if you were looking.

And we were looking!

First, we discovered that two senior officials at the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity suddenly resigned to do campaign work for Michael Screnock, the Walker ally who is running for Wisconsin Supreme Court:

Court candidate hires former Koch group executives as campaign advisors

Then we saw that Koch groups were the only ones that registered in favor of another bill that Walker just signed which will deregulate several occupations:

Walker approves Koch bills to loosen licensing

WMC and the Kochs were behind yet another bill Walker just signed that’ll let landowners do just about anything with their property, even if it wasn’t zoned for such a purpose:

Walker signs lax land-use bill backed by big boys

And WMC, along with a veritable polluters’ lobby, is backing a bill to do away with Wisconsin’s regulations that protect our clean air:

WMC behind Republican bill to repeal state air pollution rules

This is why I say that the Koch Brothers and WMC are the folks that really run Wisconsin – not Walker or Fitzgerald or Vos. They’re just the hired help.

You can count on us to keep showing you who the real powers are in Wisconsin – and what effect they are having on all of our lives!

Best,

Matt Rothschild
Executive Director
This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

P.S. If you appreciate our urgent work, please send us a tax-deductible gift today. It’s simple: Just click here. Or mail it in the old-fashioned way to the address below. Thanks!

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