New Poll Confirms Guv Race is Tight

By John Forester | September 18, 2014

From …

Gov. Scott Walker and rival Mary Burke were still close in the latest Marquette University Law School Poll, though the latest survey found a shift as Republicans were more excited to vote than their Dem counterparts.

The poll found Walker and Burke tied at 46 percent apiece among registered voters. Among likely voters, Walker had the edge 49-46.

In last month’s poll, 47.5 percent of registered voters backed Walker, while 44.1 percent favored Burke, while among likely voters it was 48.6 percent for Burke and 46.5 percent for Walker.

Poll director Charles Franklin said the shift in enthusiasm could be attributed to several possibilities.

Eighty percent of Republicans in the most recent poll said they are certain to vote in November, compared to 73 percent of Dems and 69 percent of independents. In August, 82 percent of Dems said the same, while 77 percent of Republicans and 68 percent of independents were certain to vote.

Franklin noted Walker and Republicans have been pushing the GOP base to get engaged in this election since the last results were released.

“Likely voters have seen a real blossoming of Republican excitement, and that has helped Walker among likely voters,” Franklin said.

The sample also was more Republican than the last one. Among registered voters, 29 percent said they were Republicans, 28 percent said they were Dems and 41 percent identified as independents. That is the first time in 24 Marquette Law School Polls that Republicans had an edge among registered voters.

Among likely voters, Republicans had a 32-28 advantage over Democrats, with 38 percent saying they were independents. It was the fourth time Republicans had an edge among likely voters in the poll.

In August, Dems had a 4-point advantage among registered voters and 6 points among likely voters.

Franklin said that could be attributed to either an outlier survey or to a true shift among the electorate. He noted a growth in GOP partisanship across all geographic regions and other factors that make it less likely the results were an outlier.

Franklin said the next poll will help demonstrate if the shift in enthusiasm was a fluke or real movement in the poll. He did not say how many more polls would be conducted between now and the election, but said the surveys would start to focus more on likely voters with Nov. 4 drawing near.

See Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Coverage here.

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Back to School, and to Widening Inequality

By John Forester | September 18, 2014

Robert Reich, Secretary of Labor in the Clinton Administration, is a polarizing figure to some.  However, I must admit that, even when I don’t agree with him, I find his analysis insightful and always worthy of consumption.

Recently, I stumbled across a blog post of his entitled, “Back to School, and to Widening Inequality”.  In it he discusses how the nation’s achievement gap between rich and poor kids is, not surprisingly, a reflection of the widening gulf between rich and poor families in this country, as well as our political unwillingness to direct enough school funding where it is needed most.

Reich concludes his post with the following:

Money isn’t everything, obviously. But how can we pretend it doesn’t count? Money buys the most experienced teachers, less-crowded classrooms, high-quality teaching materials, and after-school programs.

Yet we seem to be doing everything except getting more money to the schools that most need it.

We’re requiring all schools meet high standards, requiring students to take more and more tests, and judging teachers by their students’ test scores.

But until we recognize we’re systematically hobbling schools serving disadvantaged kids, we’re unlikely to make much headway.

Amen.  I’m sure many of you will agree that much of this column reads like a reference to the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s standard created in the Vincent v. Voight (2000) decision regarding disadvantaged students.

We need to re-frame the conversation, in Wisconsin and the nation, to focus on creating good education policy based not on ideology but on what the evidence says is best for kids.

Thanks for listening.  Keep up the good fight.  The kids you serve deserve nothing less.

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DPI Submits Partial Budget Request

By John Forester | September 17, 2014

State Superintendent Tony Evers has submitted the first piece of his 2015-17 departmental budget request focusing on school safety and technology. He noted his request for school funding will come after Oct. 15, when new school aid numbers are released. He said it would propose making the school funding formula “fair, sustainable, and transparent” while accounting for meeting the needs of children with disabilities, English-language learners and those who are economically disadvantaged. It also will address the needs of rural schools.

See the Evers letter and partial DPI request here.

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School and School District Report Cards Released

By John Forester | September 16, 2014

The Department of Public Instruction (DPI) announced today that report cards for Wisconsin schools and school districts show that the majority meet or exceed expectations for student achievement and academic engagement in the 2013-14 school year. Overall, 88.3 percent of schools and 98.1 percent of districts with accountability scores had ratings of meets expectations or better.

See the news release here.  A listing of district Overall Accountability Scores and Ratings can be found here.

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AFC Launches State Chapter to Push Voucher Expansion

By John Forester | September 15, 2014

The American Federation for Children (AFC), the tax-exempt political arm of the Alliance for School Choice, is launching a Wisconsin chapter to push for the expansion of taxpayer-funded private school vouchers.

This Cap Times news article highlights former Assembly Speaker Scott Jensen’s role as senior adviser, as well as the role of out-of-state billionaires in bankrolling AFC’s efforts in Wisconsin and elsewhere.

The SAA believes that any Wisconsin expansion of taxpayer subsidized private education for the few, comes at the expense of the many.  In other words, voucher expansion = diminished educational opportunities for Wisconsin public school children.

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More Analysis of Structural Deficit

By John Forester | September 10, 2014

The Wisconsin Budget Project has released yet another interesting analysis, this time focusing on the projected $1.8 billion state budget deficit.

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Senator Cowles: Lawmakers Should Have Been More Cautious

By John Forester | September 9, 2014

From WisPolitics . . .

GOP state Sen. Rob Cowles, who pushed fellow Republicans to address the structural deficit as part of a tax cut package earlier this year, said the new projection shows lawmakers should have been more cautious in handling the surplus.

Cowles, R-Green Bay, noted a report from the Department of Administration due in October that includes expenditures as well as revenues could help soften the deficit. Still, he also pointed out Wisconsin’s Medicaid fund faced a $93 million shortfall earlier this year and the state is now in a dispute with the Forest County Potawatomi over the tribe’s gaming revenue sharing payments.

There’s also the chance revenue collections could pick back up, though the state needs to “be prepared that it might not be quite that good,” he said.

“Until you’ve gone through one of these things, you really don’t understand how bad it can get,” said Cowles, who’s been in the Legislature since 1983. “Maybe they’ll be more cautious next time.”

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Walker, Dems Spar Over Projected Structural Deficit

By John Forester | September 9, 2014

From WisPolitics . . .

Gov. Scott Walker is downplaying a new projection that pegs the state’s structural deficit at $1.8 billion, while Dems are accusing the guv and Republicans of reckless budgeting.

The Legislative Fiscal Bureau sent lawmakers a new projection yesterday, showing declining revenues had driven the structural deficit for 2015-17 to $1.8 billion from a $624 million projection in May.

During a stop in Waukesha yesterday, Walker insisted revenue growth would more than make up for the projected deficit. He sidestepped a question about where that revenue would come from, instead stressing average revenue growth over the past decade had equaled that mark.

“It’s not a new number. It’s new to the media, but it’s literally not a new number. They just took the number they reported on and applied it to the future budget,” Walker said of the LFB projection.

Dems accused Walker and the GOP-controlled Legislature of having “squandered” a surplus.

“While virtually every state in the nation has a surplus due to the improvements in the national economy, Wisconsin now becomes one of the select group of states that squandered it through irresponsible budgeting,” Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca said in a conference call with reporters.

The state would be better off if it had followed the Democrats’ plan to use the projected surplus, Barca said. That included doubling the deposit into the state’s rainy day fund, increasing funding for worker training and directing targeted tax breaks to the middle class. He also said the budget would be in better fiscal shape had Walker accepted federal money to expand Medicaid.

Sen. Jennifer Shilling, the ranking Democrat on the Joint Finance Committee, said the projections paint a “dire picture” of the state’s fiscal health and accused Republicans of denying there is a problem.

“We have a fiscal storm on the horizon, and it seems my colleagues are unwilling to admit we have a problem,” Shilling said, adding that Legislature can’t address the issue “as long as Republicans continue to ignore the facts.” 

Read the LFB memo here.

See Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Coverage here.

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Walker Campaign Declines SAA Request; Burke Campaign Says “Yes”

By John Forester | September 9, 2014

As you know, last Thursday the SAA asked the Walker and Burke campaigns to respond in writing to several questions on current education issues impacting Wisconsin public schools and public school children.

On Saturday, the Burke campaign responded via email thanking the SAA for reaching out to the campaign and promised to have their written responses to the SAA by the deadline of September 19th.  On Monday, we received a form letter from the Walker campaign manager declining to participate.

The SAA is moving forward with its process for engaging the candidates.  When we receive additional information from either of the candidates, we will forward it to the SAA membership.  Stay tuned.

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AEF Releases School Finance Study

By John Forester | September 8, 2014

The Association for Equity in Funding (AEF) has released its much-anticipated school finance study, which examines the Wisconsin school funding formula to determine whether the funding formula fulfilled its mandate to provide for a sound, basic education as defined by Vincent v. Voight (2000) ands statute.  The AEF study and press release are linked below for your review and information.

It is vitally important to note that this study does look at specific districts to compare and contrast the level of funding that they receive to serve students with disabilities, ELL students and economically disadvantaged students.  However, it is not the intent of the AEF to claim that any district is overfunded and should have any funding taken from them.  Rather, the districts that appear to be funded appropriately should be held up as the models for the state funding system.  The goal of the study is to move the state toward an adequate funding system that meets the needs of all students in all districts.

According to AEF President, and Neillsville School District Administrator, John Gaier, “Ultimately what the study reveals is that Wisconsin’s funding formula no longer adequately funds all school districts.  This has resulted in widening gaps of opportunities for students and communities.  Low property value communities are shouldering a greater burden for funding local school districts.  A better funding system is needed for Wisconsin school students to have the opportunities for them to be college and career ready, regardless of life circumstances or the community in which they live.”

AEF Funding Study

AEF Press Release

Please direct questions about the study to John Gaier at the Neillsville School District, or (715) 743-3323.

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