81st Assembly Candidates on Education (updated)

The 81st Assembly District is the only district in the Madison Metropolitan School District where there will be a primary contest for a State office this September. The Cap Times posted an overview of the race to replace Dave Travis and Q&As with the candidates last week. Since we all know that the Assembly is crucial to achieving real, positive education finance reform in our State, I thought it would be good to run down where the candidates stand in this area. Excerpted from the Q&As and websites, in alphabetical order:

Eric Englund


Enhanced funding for education at the primary, secondary and university level.


But our schools also face many serious challenges. They are dealing with the dramatically rising costs of things like special education and pupil transportation. And they are working with a state school funding formula that many believe is outdated and in need of serious reform.

Quality primary and secondary education in Wisconsin is shaped by the actions that occur in the State Capitol in Madison. Those actions will determine whether or not our children and grandchildren will continue the traditions of quality education in our state.

Here are some ideas of what we might do when the Legislature convenes in 2009:

Many legislators are advocating for a thorough review of our current school finance system to make sure we are providing our kids with the best possible education. Such a review could provide an opportunity to assess all aspects of state involvement in our schools to make sure we are helping, not hurting, our schools.

And we can expect that the state’s budget woes will continue. Funding of K-12 education is a major portion of the state budget, so the amount of money our schools receive from the state will continue to be front and center in the debate over the next state budget.

Education Related Endorsements:

None listed.

Peng Her


I have a father who was a school teacher, a sister who is a principal and three other siblings who work in the education field. As you might imagine education plays a very important role in my family. I honor them and all educators by making sure we fully fund our schools by fighting to eliminate the revenue cap, make funding equitable for schools, invest in early childhood education, shift the cost from tax payers back to corporation for fair taxation. A quality education system is the foundation of a strong democracy and healthy economy.


A quality education system is the foundation of a strong democracy and healthy economy.

To maintain a quality education system we have to:

  1. Eliminate revenue caps that are strangling our schools
    We have to stop pitting property owners against students. Every two or three years, like many school districts throughout the state, Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD) has to go to a referendum to adequately fund the school. They did not have to introduce a referendum last year only because a TIFF Zone was closed in the city of Madison, allocating a one-time revenue source to the MMSD. Many school board members believe they will need another referendum this coming fall.
  2. Make funding equitable for schools by changing the funding formula
    The funding formula should be based on needs of the school not property value of homes in the district.
  3. Invest in early childhood education
    Research clearly demonstrates that high-quality early childhood education yields significant results throughout children’s lives, including improved academic performance, reduced special education placements, higher graduation rates, and reduced involvement with the criminal justice system.I worked for the Children’s Museum and as a father of three children I can attest to the importance and success of early childhood education. American’s first kindergarten class was created in Watertown back in 1856, and we need to get back to our roots and invest in early childhood education.
  4. Shift cost from tax payers back to corporations for fair taxation for our citizens
    Just in the last two decades, the state’s revenue from corporate income tax has been nearly cut in half. The Dept. of Revenue confirms that over 60% of companies whose tax returns showed annual receipts of over $100 million paid NO corporate income tax (2003).

Wisconsin lost $643 million in 2006 corporate tax. Imagine how much better our schools would be if corporations started paying their fair share of corporate tax. I support Senator Dave Hansen’s (D-Green Bay) Corporate Tax Accountability Act that does not raise taxes but it gives all Wisconsin citizens information about Wisconsin’s tax code and who is, and is not, paying their fair share.

Help me fulfill our promise to our children by giving them the best education possible.

Education Related Endorsements:

Arlene Silveria – Madison School Board President Bill Keys – fmr Madison School Board President Bill Clingan – fmr Madison School Board member Ray Allen – fmr Madison School Board member Shwaw Vang – fmr Madison School member, Cindy Crane – Exec. Dir. of Gay Straight Alliance for Safe Schools, Ashok Bhargava – MATC Foundation Board member, Dan Guerra – Nuestro Mundo Inc Board member.

Tim Kiefer



Website (Updated — This was sent to me by Mr. Kiefer and will soon be on his website):

A great education for all students

Tim Kiefer believes that “every kid deserves a great school.” As the first person from his family to go to college, and as someone whose educational path took him from Wisconsin public elementary and high schools to UW-Madison and finally to Harvard Law School , Tim Kiefer knows the paramount importance of education.

Tim Kiefer believes that the best way to make our schools great is to support teachers and to encourage local control of local schools. Local school boards, not Washington or Madison, should have the freedom to make decisions as to what is best for local schools.

In the 81st district, the failure of the Wisconsin legislature to fix the school funding formula has led to severe budget problems in some districts. The continued existence of the Wisconsin Heights School District is in question due to a lack of funding for that district, which is in turn the result of a dysfunctional state school funding formula. Tim Kiefer will fight to reform the school funding formula and save the Wisconsin Heights School District .

In addition, Tim Kiefer believes that closing the achievement gap between rich and poor students cannot be done by educational reform alone. As Richard Rothstein writes in his insightful book Class and Schools, improving schools “requires social and economic reform as well as school improvement.” Tim Kiefer believes that health care reform, nutrition programs, and summertime programs can all help ensure that every child has the opportunity to succeed.

Wisconsin ‘s education system faces serious challenges in the upcoming years. Tim Kiefer is committed to making the tough choices needed to ensure that our schools are second to none.

Education Related Endorsements:

Madison School Board Member Ed Hughes.

John Laubmeier


Invest in infrastructure to keep/make this economy healthy. By infrastructure I mean education (elementary, secondary and college). We need to keep tuition low enough at our technical colleges and public universities so that all our children can afford to get the education needed to be productive workers in this increasingly “flat” world. Included in this school funding is a reexamination of the whole school funding formula, funding caps and QEOs. We need to invest in roads, bridges, dams, utilities, etc. to make Wisconsin the envy of the other states.


Focus on the Issues: K-12 Education

“As an economics teacher, I know we can’t have everything. However, as a teacher, I can vow to make schools a top priority in the budget.”

I have literally devoted my life to education. I can honestly say that I have been a student in a classroom every single year since first grade (I hesitate to tell you that is over just over fifty straight years). Briefly, my commitment to K-12 education can be listed as follows:

  • Classroom teacher of Economics and History for the past 34 years
  • Social studies department chair for 29 years at Waunakee High School
  • WIAA official in basketball and baseball
  • Statistician and bench official for Waunakee High School boys’ home football and basketball games
  • Forensics judge
  • Debate coach
  • Teacher’s union officer for three years
  • Teacher’s union negotiator for 11 years
  • Master’s Degree in educational administration
  • Master’s Degree in curriculum and instruction
  • Licensed school administrator, guidance counselor, and teacher

I know the effect of QEOs. I know the effect of spending caps. I know the pain of failed referendums. I know the effect of crowded classrooms. I also know that I have been lucky to be in Waunakee during most of those years. Many school districts have it far worse….

In preparation for my run for the 81st Assembly district seat, I sought advice from experts on how to resolve the riddle of school financing. While the advice somewhat varied on nuisances of various funding variables, the one common thread was the need for simply more money for public education. A second theme was the need to do away with spending caps. Let the local school board members, who must literally face their voters each and every day in their small towns and neighborhoods, decide what is best for the children of their school district. Should the heavy hand of the State reach into every classroom and affect every student? Do legislators in Madison really know if a local school district should replace a roof or maintain a strings program?

Just as these experts called for more funding for schools, teachers feel that way too. The June, 2008 “On WEAC” newsletter reported that delegates to the WEAC Representative Assembly voted increased school funding as the number priority for WEAC lobbying efforts for the next session of the legislature. “School funding ‘is the critical, most important issue right now,’ said Dana Westedt, a WEAC Representative Assembly delegate from Reedsburg.” The second most important issue was health care reform.

As a teacher’s union negotiator, I know that health insurance costs eat up raises. As a teacher nearing retirement, I know that health insurance costs are a major barrier for potential retirees.

I can’t promise that I can help balance the State’s budget, increase funding of local schools, and provide a whole new health care program (in addition to funding a host of other worthwhile items from the university system to roads). However, I can promise that I will work hard in the State legislature to increase funding of schools and to bring about health care reform. Balancing the state budget is going to be very difficult. As an economics teacher, I know we can’t have everything. However, as a teacher, I can vow to make schools a top priority in the budget.

Education Related Endorsements:

Retired UW-Madison Professor of Education Administration George Kliminski, Monona Grove High School Principal Paul Brost.

Kelda Helen Roys


Education: Every child in Wisconsin deserves a quality public education — the best we can provide — and that means adequately funding K-12 schools as well as our great university and technical college systems.


Every child in Wisconsin has the right to a quality public education – the best we can provide.

We will only succeed economically if we invest in our children and prepare them for the jobs of the future. Our schools must be adequately funded, staffed by caring professionals, and not pitted against property taxpayers. Wisconsin has a tradition of excellent public education, but chronic underfunding has endangered our educational system. We need wholescale reform of our educational funding formula to continue providing a quality public education for every child. I am proud to be endorsed by Rep. Sondy Pope-Roberts, a leader in improving public education.

Schools are central to communities: the state should support local school boards in their efforts to keep neighborhood schools open, provide innovative and responsive teaching, and meet the needs of diverse students. State government must be a partner to school boards, recognizing that there is no “one-size-fits-all” solution to improving our educational system. The state must provide adequate resources and ensure accountability and transparency.

Accountability means more than yanking funding when test scores dip – it should reflect the broad range of skills and information that today’s students need to master, like critical thinking, problem solving, synthesizing ideas and writing. Rather than holding teachers hostage to a hollow “accountability,” we must ensure that teachers have the tools needed to succeed: proper training in their subject matter, manageable class sizes, continuing training and professional development opportuities, and responsive and effective administrators.

In addition to improving our K-12 education, we must create a culture of lifelong learning. Wisconsin’s excellent University system and technical colleges are crown jewels of our state, and the engine of our long-term economic growth. We must ensure that these institutions remain affordable for working families so that all kids who are willing to work hard have meaningful access to higher education. Likewise, we should ensure that Wisconsin workers can receive job training and continuing education to enhance their careers and their earning power.

We must stop pitting education against homeowners. Property tax escalation is a serious problem, and homeowners are now being asked to shoulder much more than their fair share of the cost of educating our citizens. Education and home ownership are twin pillars of the American dream: we all have a stake in educating America’s future workforce, and we all have a stake in ensuring that working families, retirees, and young adults are not priced out of home ownership.

Property taxes are too high, yet schools are still underfunded – why? Because under pressure from corporate interests, the legislature has systematically slashed corporate taxes. Over the last 30 years, the share of the tax burden borne by homeowners has gone from about half to a whopping seventy percent, because businesses are paying less and less. In just two decades, the state’s revenue from corporate income tax has been nearly cut in half. Wisconsin is dead-last in the share of state and local taxes paid by business, according to a Federal Reserve Bank of Boston study – in fact, the Dept. of Revenue confirms that over 60% of companies whose tax returns showed annual receipts of over $100 million paid NO corporate income tax (2003). This imbalance is unsustainable and unfair. Businesses must once again pay their fair share for the cost of producing educated, skilled workforce that will power our economy and their companies.

Solving the challenges facing our educational system will not be easy. We must make tough choices, especially politically and financially. I believe our state must comprehensively reform our educational funding formula and fully fund public education, to live up to the demands of our economy and to fulfill our collective potential.

Education related Endorsements:

State Representative Sondy Pope-Roberts, Ruth Robarts, fmr Madison School Board member.

Justin Sargent


Fix the state education funding formula.


Educational Opportunities & School Funding

My involvement in our neighborhood school’s PTO has allowed me to see firsthand the need for improved public education funding. We must invest in great schools for kids and lifelong learning opportunities for adults. Doing so will increase opportunities for our children, strengthen our communities and build our economy. Put simply, good schools benefit everyone.

As a proud graduate of Wisconsin public schools, I want all children to enjoy the same educational opportunities that I had growing up. These opportunities made Wisconsin an education leader for decades. For the sake of our children and our state, we can’t afford to neglect our commitment to education…

In a time of economic uncertainty and tight family budgets no one is clamoring to pay more taxes. But what I hear when speaking to people in the 81st District is not an objection to taxes but concerns about tax fairness and how the tax dollars are being spent. People want more state funds spent on the public schools to lower the burden on local property tax payers; …

The biggest problem with current Wisconsin taxes is that they fall disproportionally on middle class property owners. Recent tax policy on both the state and federal levels have reflected a pattern of giving tax breaks to the ultra-wealthy on the theory that this will trickle down and help less wealthy people. This has not happened. And, while some Wisconsin corporations are paying their share, there are many who have used tax loop holes and tax evasion methods to avoid paying taxes in Wisconsin.

Education Related Endorsements:

Senator Kathleen Vinehout, Marjorie Passman, Madison School Board Member, Former Madison School Board Member and education advocate Carol Carstensen, Barbara Arnold, Ed Blume, David Cohen, Andrew Gussert, Melissa Sargent, David Dean (Past President MATC Full Time Teachers Union & Past President AFT-Wisconsin).

Some good candidates and some strange bedfellows.

Thomas J. Mertz


Filed under "education finance", AMPS, education, Elections, finance, Local News, School Finance, Uncategorized

3 responses to “81st Assembly Candidates on Education (updated)

  1. Al Wagner

    I’m curious to know what you meant by “strange bedfellows.”

    Also, regarding John Laubmeier, you have listed Paul Brost, Monona Grove High School Principal, as an endorser. He was formerly an assistant principal at Waunakee High School which would probably be how he knows Mr. Laubmeier.

  2. Thanks for the information.

    I should add that I went through the endorsements looking for education connections from a Madison perspective and may have missed some non-Madison connections (or even some Madison names). If any readers know of any that I missed, please let me know and I will add them.

    The Madison perspective also explains the “strange bedfellows” observation. Some of the candidates have listed endorsers who have often disagreed in local educational politics. Kind of “inside baseball” stuff, and not a bad thing but I thought worth remarking on.

  3. David Cohen

    I’m not surprised to see Eric Englund’s lack of educational support. As an insurance lobbyist, he’s helped prevent the Autism Bill from being passed. This bill would have forced HMOs to pay for services related to autism. Instead, school districts get stuck with a large portion of the bill via student services. I know. This was done to MY family by one of the largest HMOs in town. I shudder to think that this man might claim to represent my family from my district…uggghhhhh….

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