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Rural Leaders Report Schools in Wisconsin are Unequal

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 Wednesday, 25 April 2018
in Wisconsin

school-kidsAt a recent public hearing of the Blue Ribbon Commission on School Funding, the message coming through loud and clear was that rural schools are struggling and the current funding formula exacerbates the problem. This situation must be changed.


MADISON - “Where kids live should not determine their education,” rural school administrators told members of the Blue Ribbon Commission on School Funding Reform.

Recently the Commission traveled to Southwestern Wisconsin. We heard from representatives of 20 rural school districts. Administrators, board members, teachers, parents and community members all testified about the struggles rural schools face and the need for change in the way Wisconsin pays for schools.

For decades state policies created hardships for rural schools. Superintendent Nancy Hendrickson of Highland School District explained that spending caps in the 1980s locked in low spending districts. A need for new buildings led to borrowing and increased property taxes in the ‘90s. In 1993, revenue caps locked schools into unequal spending. With school aid tied to the number of students and, with a declining rural population, aid is dropping faster than the cost to educate children.

Administrator Jill Underly of Pecatonica School District affirmed that school segregation still exists. “It may not be based on race necessarily, but it is still to an extent based on income inequality… Public schools, a cornerstone of our democracy, were supposed to equalize opportunity. It shouldn’t matter where you go to school, but in Wisconsin, let’s be honest, it DOES matter.”

Superintendent Doug Olsen of Kickapoo Area School District explained some of the challenges. “We are a consolidated school district of three communities in one building. … Our district consistently serves an economically disadvantaged population that comprises over half of the student body.”

Olsen noted that with poverty come needs. “… only 48% of poor students are ready for school at age 5, compared to 75% of students from moderate to high income families. From vocabulary and pre-literacy skills, to numeracy, emotional regulation, and trauma, kids in poverty are more at risk to come to school less prepared.”

In addition to increases in student poverty, there are more students with Special Education needs, English Language Learners, and students grappling with mental health challenges. All these students need help – provided by staff that must take on many other tasks.

school-meeting-crowd“Cut, cut, cut,” said Superintendent Hendrickson. “We had to cut so many things.”

Rural schools did not recover from deep cuts made in Governor Walker’s first budgets. Across the state, school funding, in real dollars, for this school year is less than a decade ago.

Without resources, buildings and systems maintenance is deferred. School districts see fewer applicants for vacant teaching jobs, a shortage of substitute teachers and problems with a flattening pay scale for teachers making it hard to keep veteran teachers.

Because rural schools struggle with fewer teachers, administrators and support staff, everyone is forced to do multiple jobs. Jamie Nutter of Cooperative Educational Service Agency (CESA) 3 said much sharing of services already exists across districts. “We share hearing, vision, school nursing, curriculum, education development all through the CESA.” Cost for basic services, i.e. transportation, utilities, electricity are increasing.

New costs are added including technology, school safety, testing.

Legislative leaders decided if schools need more funding, voters should decide through referendum.

Administrator Olsen pointed out that rural Wisconsin has many farmers who are struggling financially. “As you have heard, Western Wisconsin leads the nation in lost farms due to bankruptcy and farmer suicide. In which community does a referendum to override the revenue limit have a better chance of passing?”

kathleen-vinehoutHow does the current funding system keep things unequal? To summarize Superintendent Olsen’s testimony: money for schools comes primarily from the state and property tax. State aid is supposed to make things more equal, but the current school funding formula uses real estate (including land values) as a measure of wealth. Thus, the formula often overestimates a rural community’s ability to pay. The situation is made worse when GOP leaders bypassed the funding formula and gave wealthy suburban districts the same money as cash-strapped rural and urban districts.

“Add to this,” said Administrator Olsen, “the rural crisis going on in our farming communities. … Should we be enacting policies that exacerbate inequality?”

“If we value rural people, you will find a way to fund rural schools.” challenged community member Kriss Marion.

Our schools are unequal and this must change. The Blue Ribbon Commission on School Funding travels next to the Fox Valley and north central Wisconsin. I encourage folks to come and share their stories.

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Trump Should Have Consulted Congress Before Bombing Syria

Posted by Laura Kiefert, Green Bay Progressive
Laura Kiefert, Green Bay Progressive
Laura Kiefert lives in Howard and is a Partner in the Green Bay Progressive. Mem
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on Tuesday, 24 April 2018
in Wisconsin

donald-trump-goldenAssad’s actions were despicable, but we have a Constitution for a reason. Allowing the president to usurp the power of Congress defies the founders’ plan.


HOWARD, WI - The Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) was enacted by Congress in response to the terrorist attack on 9/11. Intended as a national security measure, the AUMF broadly permits a president to use military force against those who “planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons.”

army-syria-2018However, it does not grant the president the power to use military action for any other reason, such as President Donald Trump bombing Syria for President Bashar al-Assad’s presumed use of chemical weapons against his own people.

Although Assad’s actions were despicable and one might argue that bombing Syria was justified, they were clearly not a terrorist attack against the United States by organizations or persons associated with 9/11. Therefore, I believe Trump should have presented the facts to Congress before taking military action that could very well be considered an act of war.

laura-kiefertThe Constitution grants Congress, not the executive branch, the authority to declare war. If Congress continues renewing the AUMF, they are failing to hold the executive branch accountable. This check and balance was written in our Constitution to ensure that one branch of government does not have too much authority.

Allowing the president to usurp the power of Congress not only defies the founders’ mission by granting dictatorial authority to one person, but by allowing him to make this kind of vital decision without the consent of the legislative branch, is not only dangerous but could leave our country and its citizens vulnerable.

Laura Kiefert

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Protect Wisconsin’s Conservation Legacy

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
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on Saturday, 21 April 2018
in Wisconsin

clean-airSunday is Earth Day. For our children and grandchildren to enjoy the same opportunities we have, we need to safeguard access to clean water, land and air and prevent special interests from taking unfair advantage of our environment on every day.


LA CROSSE, WI - It is hard not to celebrate Earth Day without a sense of pride. It was, after all, founded by former Wisconsin Governor and U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson. Created as a day for Americans to recognize environmental issues and promote conservation, the first Earth Day was celebrated on April 22, 1970.

Nelson paved the way for some of the most important environmental protections in Wisconsin and ushered in a new era of progressive stewardship. At a time when few would listen, he knew that our environment was something to be treasured and not taken for granted.

After seeing public frustration over dilapidated state parks, the exploitation of public resources by private industry, and the unchecked pollution of waterways, Nelson took decisive action. As Governor, he created the Department of Natural Resources, established a Youth Conservation Corps, and funded the Outdoor Recreation Action Program to preserve land for public parks and wilderness areas.

gaylord-nelsonA visionary of his time, Nelson knew that economic prosperity didn’t have to come at the expense of our clean air, land and water. Unfortunately, a recent report revealed that Wisconsin has dropped as a leader in conservation and many fear our proud history of environmental stewardship is in jeopardy.

Years of Republican policies that roll back environmental protections are having a detrimental impact on our communities and creating an unfair balance between the rights of the public and special interests. Republicans have tipped the scale for corporations at the expense of local residents and communities. Nowhere is this imbalance more obvious than the Republican giveaway to Foxconn, which exempts the corporation from state environmental protections, increases air pollution, and diverts up to 7 million gallons of water a day from Lake Michigan.

Republicans also eliminated vital wetlands protections, increased flooding risks, and compromised water quality. After back-to-back summers of severe flooding across the state, communities need wetlands more than ever to absorb excess flood waters and protect public safety.

jennifer-shillingWith warmer temperatures and summer just around the corner, people from all over will travel to our state parks and beaches to enjoy the scenic outdoors. From hunting and fishing to tourism and recreation, Wisconsin’s unique natural beauty is a major driving force behind the success of local communities and sustainable economic opportunities for families. Simply put, clean water, land and air are essential to our way of life.

For our children and grandchildren to enjoy the same opportunities we have, we need to safeguard access to clean water, land and air and prevent special interests from taking unfair advantage of our environment. This Earth Day, Democrats want to continue Gaylord Nelson’s legacy. Together, we can protect our quality of life, stop the degradation of our environment and advance policies that ensure a better future for everyone.

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Republicans Bring Divisiveness, Democrats Need Unity

Posted by Laura Kiefert, Green Bay Progressive
Laura Kiefert, Green Bay Progressive
Laura Kiefert lives in Howard and is a Partner in the Green Bay Progressive. Mem
User is currently offline
on Saturday, 21 April 2018
in Wisconsin

dems-react-2016Democrats can win in 2018 and 2020, but only if we’re willing to take a hard look in the mirror, listen to everyone, and organize conversations that bring people together.


GREEN BAY, WI - Recent election victories may very well indicate the tides are turning, but if there is one lesson Democrats should have learned from 2016, it is that opposition to Trump, Walker and the Republican majority is not by itself enough to win elections. In order to successfully become the Republican Party’s worst nightmare in 2018, every person who values equality, fairness, and respect must come together to defeat them. But unity takes work and we must understand we are stronger when we fight together.

donald-trumpThe fight today cannot be about restoring the status quo before Trump and the GOP took over. We must find a way to convince voters Democrats are the voice of all Americans, that we have concrete plans for the future, and that we care about every worker and worker’s family from coast to coast.

Democrats must be for something visionary to capture and harness the extraordinary outpouring of energy we are witnessing across the country in the form of protests and aggressive resistance.

We should boldly embrace, by stating without fear or shame, that weapons of war should be taken away, that the environment is too precious to destroy, that a woman has an inalienable right to choose, that immigrants are welcome, that the wealthy and corporations should pay their share of taxes, that universal health care is a fundamental right, that all workers deserve a livable wage, and every student is entitled to a high-quality education.

Democrats must be the party that fights to make sure that taxpayer dollars are spent on public good, not private gain and demand an ethical, accountable, and transparent government at all levels. We must stand up against insider deals and the politicians who push them. When government makes sweetheart deals with big corporations, or wastes taxpayer money on programs that don’t work, Democrats must be the ones to say, “Enough!”

The party must propose an ambitious yet concrete economic plan because this is the way to restore the promise of the American Dream. The plan must deliver major reforms to our financial services industry, massive infrastructure projects for schools, roads and transit, historic investments in job training and education, major commitments to science, space exploration, and technology, and a complete overhaul of our health care system.

The serious problems our country faces won’t be fixed by sentiment, no matter how appealing the rhetoric. At a time when voters are so understandably angry, Democratic leaders must be much more visibly indignant, must speak plainly about what needs to be done, and then must act decisively.

laura-kiefertWe can win in 2018 and 2020, but only if we’re willing to take this hard look in the mirror. It may be hard to see right now, but if we put working families first, we can be powerful and effective enough to stand against the excesses of these troubling times. We can, in the most inspiring and change-making way, articulate a clear and credible vision of our future that is better, fairer, and stronger by far.

What we need is a Democratic Party that is willing to listen to everyone and organize conversations that bring people together. Because at the end of the day, we’re a team.

So when Republicans bring divisiveness, we have to bring unity.

It’s who we are. And it’s how we take our country back.

- Laura Kiefert

*****

Laura Kiefert lives in Howard and is a Partner in the Green Bay Progressive. Members of FaceBook can follow her at My Truth and Anti-Alternative Facts , @mytruthandantialternativefacts.

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What Can We Do to Protect Our Water?

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, 18 April 2018
in Wisconsin

clean-drinking-waterMany Wisconsinites are concerned about our natural resources and particularly water, and a recent audit that focused on DNR enforcement of water quality found we are not doing enough.


MADISON - “What can we do to protect our water?” This is a question I am often asked. Many Wisconsin residents are concerned about protecting our precious natural resources, and much of the concern is focused on water quality.

This week we celebrate Earth Day. Forty-eight years ago, Wisconsin’s own Gaylord Nelson first gathered with 20 million Americans in support of environmental issues. Celebrating the earth means being mindful stewards of all its natural resources, including water. Over 70% of the earth’s surface is covered in water. Less than 3% of this water is fresh; most fresh water is tied up in ice. Scientists estimate somewhere between a half and three-quarters percent of all water on earth is liquid fresh water.

In Wisconsin, we are blessed with many lakes, rivers, streams and aquifers. The Public Trust Doctrine contained in Wisconsin’s Constitution designates these waters as belonging to all of us. Our state and federal governments are charged with protecting waters.

At the heart of the state’s water quality program is a permitting and inspection system that allows water discharge into our lakes, streams and rivers. Inspections, reporting and enforcement actions impose the laws.

Two years ago, the Legislative Audit Bureau (LAB) found that 94% of the time the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) failed to take necessary action against industries and municipalities, which violates its own enforcement policies.

Auditors found ample evidence of inconsistencies, overlooked reports, and incomplete or missing inspections. For example, less than half of CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation) were inspected twice in five years. In a two-year period, only two out of ten industries were inspected as required.

dairy-cow-eatingCAFOs are required to send in annual reports that include any manure spills and required testing. Auditors found almost 98% of the required reports were not electronically recorded as being received. This lack of oversight meant DNR had no way of knowing or tracking problems. Staff said they were too busy to review reports.

While the former DNR Secretary acknowledged staffing was a problem, she made no promises to correct the situation. The most recent budget eliminated the Bureau of Science Services and eliminated 49 fulltime positions.

Wisconsin must invest in DNR staff and scientists to oversee water quality. We must hire back the scientists and inspectors, let them do their work, and allow them to speak freely about their findings.

kewaunee-countyKewaunee County provides a lesson to everyone on the effects of poorly regulated CAFOs. Private well testing showed a majority of Kewaunee wells sampled as contaminated with bacteria found in human and bovine waste. However, problems in water quality and quantity exist across the state. For example, animals died from exposure to toxic substances, likely from sand mine activity; lakes are drying up because of excess irrigation; surface water experienced dangerous algal bloom because of excess nutrients.

A recent study by the Wisconsin Land and Water Conservation Association provides direction on how to move forward. The study suggests many smart actions including increasing groundwater monitoring, protecting the public’s right to groundwater, providing assistance for well owners affected by contaminated water, and action to address acute problems with water contamination.

Improving water quality from agriculture contamination includes conservation easements, state support of diverse agriculture, better nutrient management and erosion control. These improvements work best if farmers have cost-share incentives. Right now, Wisconsin’s farmers, especially dairy farmers, are experiencing serious financial hardship. Now is a time when help must come from many sources.

kathleen-vinehoutCounty conservation officers provide our frontline for water protection. Unfortunately, these hard-working men and women must beg lawmakers to preserve their meager budgets. Too often, officials blame tight budgets for a lack of resources to protect our environment. There are many ways to rearrange budget priorities, and, if necessary, raise new revenue.

For example, ten years ago Minnesota passed the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment to their state constitution. Money from the sales tax increase is used in part to protect and enhance natural resources through projects as watershed restoration, on-farm pilot programs, farmer watershed certificate programs, water monitoring and pollution reduction.

It is this type of legacy former Senator Gaylord Nelson hoped for when he founded Earth Day. He said, “The ultimate test of man’s conscience may be his willingness to sacrifice something today for future generations whose words of thanks will not be heard.”

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