Tuesday October 19, 2021

Moving Forward with Facts & Reason

FacebookTwitterYoutube
Newsletter
News Feeds:

Progressive Thinking

Discussion with education and reason.

What Does It Take to Fix a Problem?

Posted by Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, Senator District 31 (D - Eau Claire)
User is currently offline
on Wednesday, 13 October 2021
in Wisconsin

tutor-readingSen. Smith writes about the public hearing for Senate Bill 454, which aims to improve early childhood literacy, and how state lawmakers can better support parents and children with a reading disability.


MADISON - Constituents expect their legislators to solve problems. I know that’s what is expected of me and it’s what I enjoy doing. It’s truly satisfying coming up with new ideas that make a positive impact on people’s lives.

We hear concerns and suggestions from constituents for how to fix the problem. In fact, many bills we propose come directly from the minds of the people we’re elected to serve.

Public hearings happen nearly every day in the Capitol for legislators to hear about an issue and how a bill can help fix it. Last week was no different. I serve on the Senate Committee on Education and I attended the public hearing for Senate Bill 454, which aims to improve early childhood literacy. The bill authors introduced this legislation intending to help students with reading disabilities, like dyslexia. Improving early childhood literacy is an issue we can all support. However, I do have serious concerns about the unintended consequences of this bill and the failure to address the actual problem.

Currently, school boards and independent charter schools are required to assess students from four-year-old kindergarten to second grade on reading readiness. This bill overhauls the assessment practices Wisconsin has in place. Ultimately, this will impact the way students are taught by implementing more testing for all students, thus delaying the time needed to actually intervene and improve an individual student’s reading ability. Additionally, I found it problematic that there was little input from teachers and the bill specifics that schools must use private companies for this testing.

What may seem incredible to some is that the bill authors modeled this legislation after Mississippi. Before you jump to conclusions, you should know that Mississippi really has made strides in raising the level of reading competence over the last eight years. They’ve almost reached the same level that Wisconsin scores have been at for the last thirty years. They did this through reading assessments and by making the investments needed to provide teachers with training and schools with specialists.

Senate Bill 454 only focuses on discovery, not the investment in services. Undoubtedly, the sooner a parent or educator identifies a child’s reading difficulties, the better. But, also the sooner we invest in the services that child will need, the better. Mississippi also implemented a strict retention policy to hold students back a year, which raises some concerns about how they raised their scores.

We are well aware there is a problem with reading proficiency in Wisconsin, especially for students of color, but it doesn’t make sense for us to implement more testing to identify a problem we already know exists.

jeff-smithSome of my committee colleagues and I attempted to raise concerns, but the committee chair dismissed them and made the decision to not allow any more questions. There just seems to be no appetite to actually fix these problems.

We then heard testimony after testimony from parents who have experience taking their child to a clinic to be “evaluated by a private neuropsychologist.” This might cost them anywhere between one to two thousand dollars. After their diagnosis they then might spend $600 per month for private tutoring.

Throughout this six-hour hearing, all I could think about was how disingenuous we were being to these desperate parents who seemed to believe this bill would fix everything. But we wouldn’t be funding a neuropsychologist for school districts who already can’t afford one more staff person. Nor would we fund more specialists trained to tutor students with reading disabilities. All the legislature is willing to do is mandate more class time on assessments, so the teacher might be able to tell parents that they will need to find private tutoring to help their child.

Wisconsinites expect their legislators to fix problems, not push the problem onto someone else. This bill is telling parents, “We want to assess your child’s reading skills, but you’re on your own for helping them.” If the Legislature is serious about closing Wisconsin’s achievement gap, we need to put our money where our mouth is and move bills forward that will truly make a difference.

Tags: Untagged
Rate this blog entry
0 votes

Helping Students Reach their Dreams

Posted by Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, Senator District 31 (D - Eau Claire)
User is currently offline
on Wednesday, 06 October 2021
in Wisconsin

hospital-icuSen. Jeff Smith writes about the “Reaching Higher for Higher Education” package he introduced with legislative colleagues to invest in Wisconsin’s higher educational institutions and make college more affordable for students and families around our state.


MADISON - If you ever asked a kid what they want to be when they grow up, I’m sure you heard a good answer. Kids dream of being an astronaut, firefighter, teacher or doctor. With all the confidence in the world, a kid can assert they want to grow up to be the President of the United States. Kids have big dreams and see endless opportunities in their future.

Unfortunately, kids can lose some of this ambition as they get older and learn about the expensive costs that come when pursuing a higher education. In Wisconsin, the median student loan debt is $17,323. In 2016, Wisconsin ranked 14th among states based on average student debt, and 7th overall for the proportion of graduates with debt, according to the Institute for College Access and Success. These statistics are a reality check for many students as they’re planning their future. This information can deter students from achieving their dreams, but it doesn’t have to be like this.

jeff-smithLast week, I introduced the “Reaching Higher for Higher Education” legislative package, with my colleagues Rep. Katrina Shankland (D-Stevens Point), Rep. Kristina Shelton (D-Green Bay) and Rep. Jodi Emerson (D-Eau Claire). These seven bills invest in Wisconsin’s higher educational institutions and make college more affordable for students and working families around our state. This package sends a strong signal that Wisconsin values students pursuing their dreams.

The “Reaching Higher for Higher Education” package builds off of Governor Evers’ commitment to college affordability. The Majority Party made significant changes to the governor’s 2021-23 budget proposal, but there is still time to fix higher education by passing these bills.

One of our proposals freezes UW System tuition to keep costs low for students and it fully funds this freeze to ensure educators have the resources to keep teaching. Another one of our proposals takes a step further requiring that all future tuition freezes be funded to ensure UW System schools are supported and can properly teach students.

A third bill in the legislative package expands the Tuition Promise program to UW System institutions. In 2018, the UW-Madison created a program called Bucky’s Tuition Promise to provide resident low-income students with free tuition. The program provides four years of free tuition to students in a household with an adjusted gross income of $60,000 or less. Under our proposal, the Tuition Promise would be available to students at other UW System schools who fit the eligibility criteria.

matc-studentsIn addition to the Tuition Promise, another bill from the “Reaching Higher for Higher Education” package invests in need-based financial aid for UW System and technical college students to ensure more grants are available to those who qualify.

To support those studying to become educators, one of our proposals provides a one-semester tuition remission for student teachers. We hope this bill will alleviate the financial strain prospective teachers face and encourage more individuals to go into the profession.

Lastly, the other two bills provide the state support for the UW System and Wisconsin’s technical colleges needed to hold onto their outstanding education institutional reputations. We’ve proposed directing $50 million to Wisconsin technical colleges and district boards, and $16.6 million to the UW System.

The goal of introducing the “Reaching Higher for Higher Education” package wasn’t only to help Wisconsin students achieve their dreams of attending college, although that reason would be good enough. The investments we make today are critical to make sure students learn new skills and are prepared to enter the workforce. Supporting higher education investments today will address our current labor shortage and encourage business owners to grow our economy for tomorrow.

We want to support our kids to achieve their dreams, whatever they may be. Well, here’s our chance. Let’s move the “Reaching Higher for Higher Education” package forward to help the future generations of dreamers and doers.

Tags: Untagged
Rate this blog entry
0 votes

We Can Build Back Better

Posted by Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, Senator District 31 (D - Eau Claire)
User is currently offline
on Wednesday, 29 September 2021
in Wisconsin

business-small-openSen. Smith writes about the work to help communities across the state recover from the pandemic and build our state up for success. He shares an example from Jackson County to support childcare providers, working parents and local employers.


MADISON - The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted our lives in more ways than one. I think many of us, myself included, expected to pick up right where we left off, but it’s now very clear there’s a lot we need to do to help recover from the pandemic and address the challenges that existed long before this crisis.

In March, President Biden signed the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) into law, which directed relief to working families and small businesses. ARPA also included emergency funding for states and local governments to respond to the pandemic.

So, how should this relief be distributed to help our communities recover? How can our local municipalities best allocate these dollars to help Wisconsin move forward? These questions are currently being asked and studied throughout the country. Local leaders have formed committees and created websites in search of ideas that match the needs of their communities. There are opportunities for you, as citizens, to add your input to the mix.

And your input really can make a difference. In Jackson County, right here in western Wisconsin, the County Board listened to the needs of its residents and agreed to direct $105,500 toward improving childcare access. Marianne Torkelson, who leads the Jackson County Childcare Taskforce said, “These dollars will go directly to providers in Jackson County for retention bonuses and for new providers to help with start-up costs.”

The pandemic directly hit the childcare industry which, in turn, negatively affected businesses and the local economy. When parents lack reliable childcare, they’re less likely to be at work, putting a burden on their employer. Like many essential services, childcare access has often been overlooked and providers have been taken for granted. Even before the pandemic, many employers were concerned by the lack of childcare options. The Jackson County Childcare Taskforce was formed without knowing it would have such an important role in pandemic recovery efforts. Now it’s become abundantly clear that if businesses are to be successful, access to affordable and reliable childcare is essential.

Of course, other essential needs must also be met and the ARPA funding is vital in the success of our recovery efforts. Thus, decisions made now by elected officials will have a lasting effect on all aspects of our economic recovery.

If any municipality is going to help the community recover, they must prioritize the projects that have the greatest impact for all of its residents. Maybe it’s partnering with Internet Service Providers to lay fiber to every household and business. It could be using ARPA funds to improve aging and inadequate infrastructure or boost our Main Street businesses. Or, like Jackson County, elected officials can ensure essential workers, like childcare providers are paid properly and parents can hold a family supporting job.

jeff-smithBefore 2020 I’m not sure everyone recognized essential workers’ invaluable role in our lives. I doubt people thought twice of the work performed by a custodian, grocery store clerk, warehouse worker or childcare provider. Only when we missed them or saw that they worked right through the pandemic did it become more obvious how essential essential service workers really are in our lives.

Essential workers’ service was undervalued and unappreciated before the pandemic, and made worse by it. Many workers have been reluctant to return to the same job for the same pay now that they know how much their work is really worth. Some have made life changes like retraining for new jobs they hope will better support their family. Childcare, along with long term care services, are perfect examples of jobs that have become increasingly hard to fill. Employers, working with community stakeholders and local elected officials, have gotten creative to attract and retain workers; the Jackson County childcare initiative is one example, and I hope there’ll be more.

I applaud local elected officials, like the leaders in Jackson County that are making these decisions for the recovery and advancement of the community. That is what real leaders do; they solve problems and look to the future with their solutions. We will recover and build back better with leaders that make wise investments.

Tags: Untagged
Rate this blog entry
0 votes

Enough Talk, Let’s Act

Posted by Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, Senator District 31 (D - Eau Claire)
User is currently offline
on Wednesday, 22 September 2021
in Wisconsin

jeff-smith-31Sen. Smith discusses his role on various task forces and how the legislature must be prepared to work as we move forward this legislative session.


MADISON - I find that participating in a task force or study group can be an eye opening and enriching experience that helps me grow as a person. Without better understanding an issue, state leaders can be flailing in the dark, but hearing from experts and reading about solutions that have worked in other states can help guide our work.

I serve on a couple of task forces. I think it’s important that I learn as much as possible so I can find possible ideas to fix some of the greatest challenges we face as a state. Also, I love to learn.

A task force first studies an issue, then formulates policy solutions to share with the legislature to pass into law. That process should work, but it seems like we’ve reached a point where an issue has been identified and potential solutions continue to be shared over and over again. The legislature is slow to act on solutions, if they’re introduced at all. We shouldn’t continue revisiting the same issues we’ve studied before without taking meaningful action first.

Let’s look at broadband, for example. During the COVID-19 pandemic, it became even clearer that every household needed to be connected to high-speed internet. Running fiber to every home and business would better situate us for times like this. Legislators, including myself, have studied this issue inside and out, up and down. Thanks also to the Governor’s Task Force on Broadband Access, we know what needs to be done. We know that private providers aren’t able to reach rural Americans without assistance from state and federal partners, like during the period of rural electrification in America. But here we are, still talking about it and delaying work that needs to get done.

The Dairy Task Force is the poster child for what can be wrong in Madison. Not only was there a task force that strategized how to save the industry in the 1980s, but in 2018 state leaders introduced Dairy Task Force 2.0. Although ideas came from both dairy task forces, the legislature has fallen far short of addressing the desperation that dairy farmers are feeling. It’s a shame; our family farmers needed action yesterday. While the dairy industry is full of hands-on problem solvers, their hands are tied by political inaction.

While the creation of a task force is promising, they get mired down by politics. There are plenty of theories I could suggest as to why that’s the case. First and foremost is political maneuvering. Some politicians get caught up in who get credit for solving the problem, and they prevent good ideas from moving forward.

Take the Water Quality Task Force, for example. In 2019 members toured the state, hearing from hundreds of experts and citizens. They introduced a package of bills that worked its way through the legislature, but didn’t even “come close to wholly addressing prevention or help people gain access to the clean, safe water they deserve,” according to Clean Wisconsin. To make matters worse, these proposals died on the floor when legislative leaders failed to schedule them for a vote. Once again, a task force was stifled by politics.

Similarly, the Climate Change Task Force presented a number of policy ideas to address what may be the most consequential challenge we, and our future generations, face. The governor included many of their recommendations in his 2021-23 budget proposal. Unfortunately, the Joint Finance Committee stripped them out and ignored the Task Force. Once again, no action.

We all want to be the person championing an issue, but we can’t let that get in the way of doing our job serving Wisconsinites.

I’m currently serving on the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women Task Force. We’re hearing stories, understanding the issue and learning how to address this crisis. But once the task force ends its work, the legislature must act on our recommendations.

As legislators we’re expected to do our jobs, and we should be prepared to work as we move forward this legislative session. Sure, being informed before taking any action is important. But taking no action at all is inexcusable.

Tags: Untagged
Rate this blog entry
0 votes

Redistricting: The Responsibility of a Lifetime

Posted by Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, Senator District 31 (D - Eau Claire)
User is currently offline
on Wednesday, 15 September 2021
in Wisconsin

wi-fair-mapsSen. Jeff Smith provides an update on where Wisconsin’s redistricting process currently stands and shares information about how people can stay engaged.


MADISON - Imagine what it must be like to have a job that carries with it a lifetime guarantee. No matter what you do, no matter how you behave, your job can’t be taken from you until you decide to give it up. Make terrible choices that hurt the clients you’re supposed to serve? Ignore calls from customers? Don’t bother showing up to your job for nearly a year? You face no consequences and you keep your job.

This is what happens with gerrymandered maps. Ten years ago, Republican politicians hired private attorneys to draw legislative districts in secret, with no public input. These gerrymandered maps essentially preserved the Majority Party’s political advantage for the last decade, giving them a free pass to ignore their constituents.

Since the gerrymandered maps were drawn ten years ago, you’ve heard me advocate for a nonpartisan redistricting process. Well, the time is finally here. The redistricting process is now underway and it’s crucial that we are paying close attention to make sure we have fair maps that truly represent the will of the people.

So, what’s the latest with Wisconsin’s redistricting efforts? In the spring, the U.S. Census Bureau released data showing an increase in the state population. This census data is used to show where population shifts occurred over the last ten years, which will determine how districts are drawn. Once the census data was made available in August, the redistricting process could officially begin in Wisconsin.

There are three phases that make up the local redistricting process. Currently, counties are preparing a county supervisory district plan with the census data. Once this phase is completed, municipalities are required to adjust the ward boundaries by complying with traditional redistricting principles that preserve geographic compactness, district contiguity, communities of interest and unity of political subdivisions. In the third phase of local redistricting, counties and cities will adopt their district plans.

While the local redistricting process is happening, state legislators are preparing to draw legislative and congressional districts. State lawmakers must adhere to the same traditional redistricting principles that local elected officials use when creating maps.

The redistricting process is complex. The process we currently have in place was shaped by U.S. Supreme Court decisions, landmark legislation and a fascinating history dating back to our state’s founding. Current redistricting efforts will have its share of political arguments and lawsuits—but this is why it’s more important than ever for you to be involved.

vote-47-mbWhile your local and state elected officials begin sketching district boundaries, they need to hear from you to take into account the identity and values you share with other members of your community. We want to ensure the public has ample opportunity to participate in this historic process, but we need to fulfill our constitutional duty of passing new maps before the next election. So, don’t delay—contact your elected officials today to share your support for fair maps and submit your districting ideas.

jeff-smithYou’ve probably heard from me and others that the state budget is a moral document; it defines our values and priorities. Well, redistricting falls into that same moral category. It’s a huge responsibility that must be taken seriously and done fairly if we are to be honest with ourselves and with you, the constituency we serve.

For years, policies supported by a majority of Wisconsinites have been ignored because of the gerrymandered Majority Party. We still haven’t expanded BadgerCare, closed the dark store loophole or legalized marijuana. It’s immoral to ignore the will of the people, and it ends now by participating in the redistricting process to ensure Wisconsinites’ voices are restored.

For a moral and just future we can’t allow legislators to give themselves a guaranteed job for another decade. We should–and must–answer to you on each issue we decide. Pay attention to this process and discuss with friends, neighbors and your legislators.

Tags: Untagged
Rate this blog entry
0 votes
Tweet With Us:

Share

Copyright © 2021. Green Bay Progressive. Designed by Shape5.com