State Senate Closes Session with Anti-Freedom Legislation

In the waning days of this legislative session, the Wisconsin State Senate under GOP leadership is poised to pass some of the most anti-freedom legislation this state has seen in a generation.

One of the fundamental freedoms that Wisconsin has always expanded for its citizens is the vote. The first State Constitution proposed in 1846 would have granted the right to vote for immigrants, women and African Americans. That original Constitution failed to pass due to Territorial laws giving only property-owning white males the right to vote on the founding document. The adopted Constitution in 1848 provided the foundation of voting freedom, and Wisconsin has continued to expand voting freedom throughout history:

  1. 1849 Wisconsin Referendum provided African American men the right to vote.
  2. 1865-1866 Ezekiel Gillespie case at State Supreme Court validates African American vote.
  3. 1869 Wisconsin is a leader in passage of the Fifteenth Amendment to the US Constitution, guaranteeing African American the right to vote nationwide.
  4. 1919 Wisconsin leads the nation in passage of the Nineteenth Amendment giving women the vote.
  5. 1935 Wisconsin leads the nation in expanding voting freedom to “Every citizen” over the age of 21 and a state resident for one year. At this time, most other states still had literacy, language, or property requirements.
  6. Contemporary voting freedom acts have Wisconsin as a national leader in voting registration and participation, fundamental to our democracy. 

The legislation before the State Senate today is historic, in that it represents the first time in over a generation that our duly elected legislators may act to impinge upon the freedom of thousands of Wisconsinites to register and vote. Not since the 1908 American Indian Voting Restrictions, which prohibited American Indians in Wisconsin from voting if they lived on a reservation, has a sitting legislature taken action that would literally impinge upon people’s fundamental freedom to register to vote or cast a ballot.

This legislature has established itself as a fundamentally anti-freedom body. Since 2011, this legislature has acted to impinge upon the freedom of citizens to organize for the purposes of negotiating for fair wages, earned benefits, and just working conditions. It has impinged upon the freedom of thousands of children to receive a quality public education through funding cuts. It has even impinged upon (and continues to impinge upon) the freedom of local governments to provide necessary resources and services to their constituents.

Making matters worse are current proposals which would open the flow of campaign cash even further. It is the freedom to vote and participate in democracy that is at the foundation of our nation. Our lawmakers take an oath to uphold this principle, and through their continual pursuit of big money interests and lobbyists, our elected lawmakers are choosing to betray that trust. In essence, they are cheating on us – engaging in a salacious affair with these big money and lobbying interests, kicking the majority of Wisconsinites they represent to the curb.

The legacy of this Legislative Session will be written years from now. If the GOP-controlled Senate passes these bills as conventional wisdom suggests, it will go down in history as an anti-freedom legislature -impinging upon fundamental freedoms which have been established for generations.

(See link here for Wisconsin Election History documentation)

Letter to Senate Education Committee – Education Standards

Dear Chairman Olsen and Education Committee Members, 

Today, the Senate Education Committee will hold a public hearing pertaining to SB 619, which would create a “model academic standards board” in Wisconsin – shifting responsibility for the creation of academic standards from a non-partisan group of education experts to an assemblage of political appointees. I am writing this letter to voice my opposition to SB 619 in the strongest terms, as this gross politicization and ideology have no place in educating our children.

In Wisconsin and our communities statewide, we invest in public education because it provides a return more valuable than any sum of money. Public education is the only way we can provide EVERY child the opportunity to acquire the skills and knowledge necessary to pursue what is meaningful to them; and in turn, live a prosperous and meaningful life.

This is not a partisan issue. We have scores of legitimate, academic research which shows us what that education should include, in order to fulfill the responsibility we have as a community to provide children with the greatest educational knowledge and opportunity. In SB619, this legislature and the authors would abdicate that responsibility to a partisan group of political appointees. In fact, the majority of the members proposed in SB619 would be political appointees. In today’s political climate, this would assure abdication of that responsibility to the political and ideological interests with the greatest financial influence. In any terms, this is an absurd proposal. I find it highly objectionable to cede responsibility of education standards to any political appointee from any party. The future of our state is too important.

I also object to the Committee’s consideration of Dr. Duke Pesta as an “expert” in educational standards. With all due respect to Dr. Pesta and his expertise as a Shakespearean scholar, his area of focus and expertise is certainly not educational pedagogy or curriculum. In fact, Dr. Pesta does have a vested interest in the expansion of home schooling (https://www.greathomeschoolconventions.com/wp-content/uploads/sc/speakers/sc_%20speaking_sessions_alphabetical_2014.pdf) and public financing of Christian education curriculum  ( http://www.thefreelibrary.com/Christmas+myths%3a+in+this+day+and+age%2c+when+something+is+described+as+…-a0313160852), even to the point of advocating for public resources for expansion of ideological religious positions.

Dr. Pesta, in serving in his position as the Freedom Project’s Education Director (http://www.freedomproject.com/), works for the American Opinion Foundation (http://www.jbs.org/society-news/american-opinion-foundation-a-progress-report). As many of you must already know, the AOF is the 501c3 arm of the John Birch Society. The John Birch Society’s express mission for education is “…to provide educational materials…develop and maintain course curriculum for grades K-12 homeschoolers.”

This committee has a constitutional obligation to address the educational needs of our children through the best means of providing them with equal opportunity to pursue what is meaningful through skills and knowledge. That is fundamental to our democracy, and fundamental to our investment in every child’s education.

In SB 619, and the consideration of Dr. Pesta’s testimony as “expert” on this matter, the Senate Education Committee is abdicating its responsibility to political and religious ideology as reflected in the bill. For these reasons, I urge you to table SB619, and not pass it out of committee.

Respectfully submitted,

Scott Wittkopf, Chair, Forward Institute,Inc.

Letter pdf can be found here: Senate Education Committee Letter March 6

 

“Habitual Truancy and School Report Cards in Milwaukee Schools”

The latest Forward Institute study has been released, titled “Habitual Truancy and School Report Cards in Milwaukee Schools” (full study in pdf at link). The full raw data set will be posted in the coming days.

The following is the text of remarks from Scott Wittkopf, lead author of the study, at the press conference this morning in Spring Green with State Senator Dale Schultz(Power Point at the link):

Introduction

Why are we here today? It may seem odd to release a study about Milwaukee schools in Spring Green. In truth, public education is about community. In fact, public schools are the heart of the community – and as goes a community, so go the public schools. Show me a community in distress, and I’ll show you a school district in distress. That fact is true whether the “community” is considered rural, urban, a state or the entire nation. As a community we invest in public education because every child requires, and deserves, an equal opportunity to learn the skills and knowledge to pursue what is meaningful in life. It is our responsibility as a community to provide for that equal opportunity through public education. The very future of our communities, large and small, depends on it.

This study, while focused on Milwaukee School Report Cards, tells us something critically important about what is happening in the Milwaukee education system. Our study of significant factors associated with Report Card Scores, why 2R charter schools APPEAR to have higher Report Card Scores, and how publicly subsidized “opt-out” schools impact public schools has statewide implications. As Milwaukee now serves as the laboratory for education experimentation in Wisconsin and the nation, we can extrapolate what is happening in Milwaukee to examine the impact of such a system if it were to be expanded statewide – into rural districts like River Valley. 

Summary of most significant findings

1. School to school comparisons:

  • MPS/2R raw scores – We need to take into account that 2R charter schools have lower truancy and student poverty rates. When we equalize for those factors, the difference becomes insignificant. This means that the 2R Charter school type is NOT creating higher scores.
  • 2R/MPS Charters – We need to take into account that 2R charter schools have lower truancy rates and higher rate of fully licensed teachers. When we equalize for those factors, the difference becomes insignificant. This means that the 2R Charter type is NOT creating higher scores.
  • MPS public/MPS Charters – We need to take into account that MPS public schools have higher disabled enrollment, teacher experience, and student poverty rates than MPS charter schools.  When we equalize for these factors, we find that the difference BECOMES significant. This means that MPS public school Report Card Scores actually ARE higher than MPS charter schools. 

2. The most significant factor in the Milwaukee School Report Card scores is habitual truancy (Truancy effect slope figure). We can explain almost the entire effect on Report Card scores by three significant factors – habitual truancy rate, student poverty, and the percent of teachers with at least five years of experience. It is important to underscore that “Percent of Teachers with 5 years experience” have the same POSITIVE effect with scores as student poverty has negative effect. The negative truancy effect is 3 times that of the teacher and student poverty effects.

3. The negative effect of truancy is equal across schools. No school type counters these effects through educational effectiveness. 

4. The data presented in this study along with other cited research indicates a strong likelihood of student selectivity (“skimming”) by 2R charter schools. This factor creates perceived positive effects which are overstated and unrelated to school type. 

5. We suggest that school and parental bias factors are theorized to have a negative effect on the students left behind by an opt-out system which functions as a new form of segregation based on prior student achievement, parental participation, and schools picking “desirable students.” (Power Point Slides on truancy) 

  • 9-year truancy trend – WI and MKE stable, as student poverty increases; 2R sees 50% decrease.
  • Zip Code – Community level – 2R charters not characteristic of community school. 53210 – stark difference in truancy rate/report card score.
  • 2012 – 2013 – Effects of truancy across all schools. No school type counters effect, only through selection. 

The big picture presented in this study is consistent with a large body of research which tells us that these multiple levels of selection bias are occurring in “opt out” parallel school systems as in Milwaukee. It also tells us a great deal of how that system is fundamentally flawed, and that expansion of this type of system statewide would have devastating effects on community school districts like River Valley.

Connecting the dots

                1. There is strong evidence that 2R charter schools have selection biases which reinforce each other, and have nothing to do with educational efficacy – confirming theorized “skimming” effects.

2. Recent published research (Dr. Kern Alexander, U of I, Journal of Education Finance, Fall 2012)[1] confirms what is now known from 20 years of Cognitive Science research[2] – that people make decisions based on deeply held values, beliefs, and cultural biases – not from best information. This is critical in understanding how ANY publicly subsidized, parallel education system is based on a false premise – that people will select a school based on educational effectiveness. THIS IS FALSE. In education decisions, as in economics, people do not behave as rational actors. WHY IS THIS IMPORTANT?

3. The system in Milwaukee is leading to selection bias on the part of schools and parents, which is causing predictably higher performing students to opt out of public schools for multiple bias reasons, leaving higher concentrations of higher needs student in the public schools.

4. Higher concentrations of higher needs students places more stress on a school, requiring more resources – which are not there because of funding required for the parallel, publicly subsidized schools which are skimming funding as well as students.

5. The cycle is now continuous as funding for higher needs, public school students continues to be cut. These are the schools in our most distressed communities which will be faced with closure, only to be replaced by 2R style charter schools which do NOT offer a better education for a more select group of students – leaving many behind.

This is becoming a vicious, downward spiral in Milwaukee. Current policy being debated would perpetuate this cycle through inappropriate use of School Report Cards. School Report Cards provide local schools with another rung on the educational ladder of success. They provide insights into what works, and what requires further development and investment to ensure educational opportunity for every child. Instead, there are policymakers who would have the Report Cards be used as a wrecking ball – to literally wreck public schools in our most distressed communities, and replace them with schools that do not provide equal opportunity for every child. 

Policy Recommendations

                1. The entire Milwaukee community (and the state of Wisconsin) should commit to a proactive, wide reaching truancy project. One place to start is the model program “Walking School Bus” which has been successful in getting kids to school in other urban areas.

2. A ten year plan to sunset the 2R charter and any publicly subsidized private schools. A 20 year experiment has cost hundreds of millions of dollars, and shown no real educational benefit or effectiveness beyond what is available in public schools.

3. Develop criteria for proper use of School Report Cards as another means for local districts to gauge successes and further needs – not as a wrecking ball.

4. Address the issue of inequitable funding in Wisconsin Public Schools in the face of increasing populations of high needs students.

5. The state needs to begin addressing the real issues facing communities in distress, as schools will follow.

[1] Alexander, Kern, “Asymmetric Information, Parental Choice, Vouchers, Charter Schools and Stiglitz”, From the Journal of Education Finance,  Fall 2012

[2] Damasio, Anthony, “Descartes’ Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain,” Penguin Books, 1994

New Forward Institute study to be released

The Forward Institute will be releasing a new study next week in public press events which will be announced soon. The latest research began in August, 2013 and examines School Report Card scores in MPS, MPS charter, and 2R charter schools.

The report will have significant implications for education policy both in Milwaukee and statewide. It is also the first to examine the differences between the two charter school and public schools sets while controlling for multiple independent variables through multivariable regression analyses.

Press event notices will be posted on the Forward Institute website as soon as available. Follow Forward Institute to get instant notification of the event schedule.

 

CAFO Settlement after Decade of Violations

A factory farm in Wisconsin has agreed to pay a $100,000 settlement after a decade of violations. The hazards of concentrated livestock operations to public health are becoming well documented, as evidenced in recent Forward Institute posts on this website. Forward Institute statement on this settlement follows (Press Release):

Wisconsin Factory Farm to pay Six Figure Settlement to State

                A stipulation entered in Kewaunee County Circuit Court on September 12, 2013 resulted in $100,000 in fines levied against Keith Duescher, owner of the former “Legendairy Farms” CAFO. After nearly ten years of violations which subjected neighbors, wetlands, and Lake Michigan to manure runoff contamination and toxic emissions, the defendant (Duescher) has stipulated to the facts in evidence and the fine levied by the State of Wisconsin.

“This case is a stark illustration of how factory farms in Wisconsin are a threat to people who simply wish to live free to breathe clean air and have clean water to drink. Factory Farm oversight and accountability to the people of Wisconsin is absolutely necessary to ensure quality of life and quality of our local farms.” 

The State case outlined violations committed by Duescher and Legendairy Farms resulting in significant impact to the community and the environment beginning in 2004:

1. Manure runoff discharged into navigable waters that feed into Lake Michigan, resulting in a significant threat to water quality in the Great Lake and local tributaries.

2. The failure of Duescher to comply with permit and monitoring requirements posed a significant threat to public and environmental health.

3. Duescher compromised, damaged, or destroyed numerous wetland habitats, even after multiple contacts with DNR specialists instructing him to remove material discharged into those wetlands.

4. The open burning of a demolished barn and plastic containers resulted in airborne emission of dioxin and asbestos, two highly toxic and hazardous chemicals.

5. A second open burning incident occurred 8 months after Duescher had been warned by DNR against open pit burning. 

The full text of the stipulation and order can be read here

:Legendairy Farms Stipulation and Order

Wisconsin’s legislature and state agencies have created rules and accountability for a good reason, and this case is an illustration of why. We need continued oversight of factory farms and their practices for three important reasons. First, we have a fundamental right to live our lives with clean water and air. Second, our food supply needs to be safe and clean. Finally, factory farms engaging in unscrupulous practices without regard for their negative impact on people, land, and water are a scar on the long heritage of the Wisconsin family farm as part of the community. 

While we appreciate the efforts of the Wisconsin Department of Justice and Department of Natural Resources beginning to enforce the law, that there is much more work to be done in this area. There is a significant amount of research demonstrating the need for oversight and enforcement of CAFO operations.

Duescher’s “Legendairy Farms” is now owned and operated by Ebert Dairy Enterprises LLC of Algoma, WI.

New Messaging Campaign Unveiled at Fighting Bob Fest

You are invited to visit us at Fighting Bob Fest 2013 this weekend, where we are unveiling the Wisconsin Progressive Freedom Campaign…

“We CAN win the messaging war!” 

Forward Institute is spearheading a new, collaborative effort with progressive organizations and grassroots groups to take back Freedom for Progressives.

“What is this campaign all about?”

            The Wisconsin Progressive Freedom Campaign (WPFC) is a broad effort that has no precedent in Wisconsin or the US. For decades, progressives have been mere observers as conservatives have dominated messaging and communications on politics and policy. Through the WPFC, we will counter that dominance, and reclaim a value that has always represented progressives – Freedom. 

“Who is involved?”

Forward Institute is partnering with progressive organizations, individuals, and statewide grassroots organizations to create a long-term, multi-pronged structure for communications and values-based messaging on progressive issues. Consulting is Cognitive Science and Messaging expert George Lakoff from the University of California-Berkeley.

“How will it work?”

WPFC creates a four-pronged structure to address significant needs in progressive policy messaging and communications. Each will serve internal and external needs for partner organizations and all progressives statewide:

1. “Framers and Trainers” – Core group trained as messaging experts and trainers for work with grassroots and policy organizations statewide.

2. “Research” – Unique capacity to conduct independent, academic quality research on progressive policy issues to ensure accurate, authentic messaging. Also serves as resource for grassroots groups without research capacity.

3.”Strategic Communications/Booking Agents” – Creates capacity through multiple media formats to disseminate values-based messaging. This segment works to educate key media in progressive values policy language. Assemble and train issue experts on progressive values language for media appearances and contact.

4. “Social Forums/Donor Development” – Creates and plans social event forums with featured speakers to engage the public on progressive values and issues. Engages donor development through direct interaction with the WPFC, potential donors, research, and messaging on policy issues.

“How can I help?”

1. Donate to our secure pay pal account below to support this critical and progressive effort. Forward Institute is a 501(c)(3) organization.

2. Follow Forward Institute to stay informed about this important campaign, and check our website often – look for the “Wisconsin Progressive Freedom Campaign” tab.

3. Email us to get involved with the Wisconsin Progressive Freedom Campaign:             info@forwardinstitutewi.org

4. Visit us at Fighting Bob Fest to get more information!

Through a collaborative, consistent, authentic, and values-based messaging campaign – we WILL reclaim FREEDOM for PROGRESSIVES!

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Forward Institute Statement on Budget Passage

The Forward Institute Board of Directors issued this statement regarding legislative passage of the budget:

The Wisconsin Legislature has passed a budget which will do long-term damage to education in Wisconsin. In expanding the private voucher program statewide, failing to keep up with inflation in funding public schools, failing to address student poverty issues, and unfairly rewarding select schools and students, Wisconsin Legislators are basing bad policy solely on multi-million dollar marketing campaigns and lobbying efforts, not the evidence for what works in schools.  The most important function of state government is the support of public education (Brown v. Board of Education, majority opinion, Chief Justice Earl Warren, 1954); the majority party in Wisconsin has passed a budget which is a fundamental governing failure. Every citizen in Wisconsin will be negatively affected by this budget. 

1. Statewide expansion of private voucher schools increases spending by hundreds of millions of dollars on a program which has failed in its fundamental purpose:  provide a better educational alternative for children of poverty. After twenty-plus years of the Milwaukee experiment, voucher schools have shown no positive benefit to student outcome and have almost no accountability to the taxpayers.

2.  Voucher school expansion increases the financial burden on local public schools, especially those in areas of high poverty, as state funding fails to keep up with inflation. Students in rural and urban areas of poverty continue to be denied equal access to educational opportunity compared to their more fortunate peers.  This is fundamentally in violation of Article X(2) Section 3 of the State Constitution and Wisconsin state statute 121.01.

3. Property taxes will continue to increase. Funding for the private voucher program is taken from the education budget first, with public school funding coming out of the remaining revenues.  As state revenue for public education continues to diminish relative to costs and inflation, property taxpayers will shoulder the burden for the local funding gap in public education. This is also in violation of state statute 121.01 on public school financing.

4. The budget provisions allow existing voucher schools to accept students statewide, without the new students counting toward the enrollment cap. This statewide expansion is contrary to the original, bi-partisan voucher experiment as established during Tommy Thompson’s tenure as Governor.

5. The budget limits accountability for educational outcomes by explicitly forbidding the Department of Public Instruction from reporting voucher school and student data without the consent of individual schools, data that public schools are required to provide. This intentionally prevents comparative analyses of the effectiveness of voucher school programs.

Forward Institute applauds lawmakers’ agreement with our policy recommendation to abandon the use of School Report Cards to make critical school financing decisions. The remainder of the education budget is a disaster, ignoring critical evidence presented in the months preceding debate. Legislators who advocated for passage of the education budget have demonstrated they are not interested in creating evidence-based policy.  Wisconsin’s heritage of forward thinking public education is threatened by policies driven by outside   lobby groups that want to compete for public funds, instead of focusing those funds on improving our troubled schools. The Forward Institute will continue to advocate for effective, evidence-based public policy in Wisconsin through independent research and communication efforts, and engagement across partisan lines.

Forward Institute Board of Directors

(A pdf file is available here: Forward Institute Budget Passage Statement 2013)

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