Category Archives: Elections

4K Opens Today!

After over a decade of of advocacy and effort, district-wide Four-Year-Old Kindergarten starts in the Madison Metropolitan School District this morning.

Thank you and congratulations to all who made this happen.

Thomas J. Mertz

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Save Our Schools Rally — Madison, July 30, 2011 — 3:00 PM

The Staple Singers -“Long Walk To D.C” (click to listen or download)

Yes, it is a long walk to D.C. and many of us who care deeply about the future of public education will not be able to join the Save Our Schools mass action there from July 28 to 3o.    Instead, some of us will be rallying in Madison.   Join us and help spread the word (download flier here and press release here).

Wisconsin Public School Advocates to Rally at the Capitol, Saturday July 30, 3:00 PM

A need for national, state, and local action”

As hundreds of thousands of public school supporters gather in Washington DC the weekend of July 28 to 30, 2011, Wisconsin advocates will hold a rally in support of the Save Our Schools agenda at 3:00 PM on Saturday July 30, near the State St. entrance to the Capitol.

“Public schools are under attack. There is a need for national, state, and local action in support of our schools. Wisconsin has been ground zero in this; the Save Our Schools demands from the Guiding Principles provide a great framework to build our state movement and work to expand opportunities to learn” said education activist Thomas J. Mertz.

The Save Our Schools demands are:

  • Equitable funding for all public school communities

  • An end to high stakes testing used for the purpose of student, teacher, and school evaluation

  • Teacher, family and community leadership in forming public education policies

  • Curriculum developed for and by local school communities

Doing more with less doesn’t work. “The time to act is now. While phony debates revolve around debt ceilings, students and teachers across the country are shortchanged. We need real reform, starting with finally fixing the school funding formula, and putting families and communities first. What child and what teacher don’t deserve an excellent school?” said rally organizer Todd Price, former Green Party Candidate for Department of Public Instruction and Professor of Teacher Education National Louis University.

The event will feature speeches from educators, students, parents and officials, as well as opportunities for school advocates from throughout Wisconsin to connect and organize around issues of importance in their communities.

For more information, visit: and

Thomas J. Mertz

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An Endorsement for Andy Heidt — #1 of 7 of the 48th Assembly District Candidates on Education

On July 12 the voters in the 48th Assembly District — covering the East side of Madison, Monona, McFarland and the Town of Dunn  (map here)– will choose a Representative to the State Assembly to replace now County Executive Joe Parisi.  The candidates are (alphabetical, linked to their web sites):  Fred Arnold, Dave de Felice, Andy Heidt, Katherine Kocs, Bethany Ordaz, Vicky Selkowe, and Chris Taylor.

I don’t live in the District, but like all progressives in the state, I have a stake in the race.  Whoever is elected will be in a “safe seat” which means that they have the opportunity to do more than be a consistent vote; they can push the envelope by introducing and promoting significant progressive legislation, the kind of legislation that makes overly cautious party leaders uncomfortable.  With the Republicans in charge, the rhetoric from the Democrats has been heartening, but it should not be forgotten that when they controlled the state from 2008-10 they did nothing to reform school funding except cut $300 million and raise the levy credit, did nothing on the minimum wage, failed to pass the Green Jobs bill, didn’t finish the Union contracts when they could, did much to little in progressive revenue reform…the list goes on.   In this race I think people should look beyond opposing Walker to what kind of legislator the candidates will be when the Democrats are in control.There is no shortage in the legislature of “pragmatic progressives” who can find 1,000 reasons not to do the right things; there is a dire need for courageous leaders who will be steadfast in their advocacy both behind caucus doors and in public.   Andy Heidt will be that kind of leader, that’s why he has my endorsement and why I’ve been helping with his campaign.

To back up this assertion (and as a service to AMPS readers and voters in the 48th), I’m offering a series of posts  examining what the candidates have and have not said about education issues, especially the core issue of school finance, and to a lesser extent the related issues of revenue reform (based primarily on their websites and on internet searches).  In the interest of disclosure, I’ll note that I’m acquainted with three of the candidates and believe I have met at least three others and that some things that I know about them or impressions that have not appeared in campaign statements or biographies are part of the analysis.  If anyone, including the campaigns has anything to add or dispute, please use the comments to bring it to my attention.  This time the order is  from who I consider the strongest to who I consider the weakest (Andy Heidt, Vicky Selkowe, , Bethany Ordaz, Fred Arnold Chris Taylor, Katherine Kocs and Dave de Felice — this may change as I do more research).

Andy Heidt

By my criteria, Andy Heidt is far and a way the best candidate.  Throughout his campaign — beginning with his announcement (covered here by John Nichols) — he  has done more than decry the actions of the GOP, he’s offered positive policy alternatives and pointed to the failure of other Democrats to enact these and other positive proposals.  As Nichols put it:

Heidt’s argument that we must do more than merely prevent Walker from implementing his agenda. We must recognize that the crisis Walker is exploiting has its roots in the failure of Republican and Democratic administrations and legislators to recognize that Wisconsin cannot maintain services and public education if our politicians keep giving away tax breaks to multinational corporations and the wealthy.

Nowhere has this been clearer (or in my head more important) than in his statements on education funding.  Heidt has issued one press release  a “Keeping the Promise” plan (and here, scroll down) for school finance reform ((I helped draft the plan) and a short video.

In the press release, Heidt recognizes the importance of education and shows a “can do” spirit:

There are no more important investments than those we make in our children. They are the future and each generation has an obligation to provide the next with the skills and knowledge they need to be successful. With a fair revenue system, there is no reason we cannot return to the Wisconsin tradition of supporting quality public education.

He also notes past cuts to education under the Democrats  and the inadequacy of their recent counter-proposal to the Republican decimation of our schools.  No other candidate has been explicit on this.

More importantly, no other candidate has offered anything like the detailed “Keeping the Promise” plan, nor the pledges to action contained in that plan.

“Keeping the Promise” has two parts.  First it calls for “immediate action” to address the crises created by 18 years under a broken system, significant cuts in state funding in the 2009-11 budget and the recent Republican measures.  These include enacting the Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools Penny for Kids proposal, expanding sales taxes, shifting the levy credits to the equalization formula,  rolling back vouchers, fully funding SAGE, allowing for growth of the revenue limits based on CPI or the state GDP, taking the profit motive out of virtual schooling and reinstating educator union rights.   The second part build on this by initiating comprehensive reform based on “based on the shared principles of the WAES Adequacy Plan the School Finance Network Plan and the 2007-2008 Assembly Joint Resolution 35.” These are (from AJR 35):

  • Funding levels based on the actual cost of what is needed to provide children with a sound education and to operate effective schools and classrooms rather than based on arbitrary per pupil spending levels.”
  • State resources sufficient to satisfy state and federal mandates and to prepare all children, regardless of their circumstances, for citizenship and for post−secondary education, employment, or service to their country.”
  • Additional resources and flexibility sufficient to meet special circumstances, including student circumstances such as non−English speaking students and students from low−income households, and district circumstances such as large geographic size, low population density, low family income, and significant changes in enrollment.”
  • A combination of state funds and a reduced level of local property taxes derived and distributed in a manner that treats all taxpayers equitably regardless of local property wealth and income.

Heidt vows  to “work tirelessly” to see that this reform is achieved prior to the next biennial budget cycle.

The sad history of AJR 35 (see here for AMPS posts covering that history)demonstrates the need for someone like Heidt in the Assembly.   When the resolution was introduced, the Democrats controlled the Senate and the Governorship, but not the Assembly.  Over 60 legislators signed on and the promise of comprehensive school funding reform was part of the 2008 campaign to “Take Back the Assembly.”  The Democrats did take back the Assembly and once they did AJR 35 and school funding reform disappeared.   Gone.  Silence.  When some of us who wanted them to keep their promises spoke up, we were told to be quiet because speaking or acting on this difficult issue might jeopardize their electoral prospects in November 2010.   I for one didn’t keep quiet, but I’m not taking the blame for the electoral failures of 2010.  Instead I’ll offer an alternative analysis — it isn’t  the people like me who called for action who are to blame, it is the legislators who didn’t act and didn’t want to be reminded of their failure to act (I said much the same well before the November 2010 elections).  Many of those silent, silencing  and inactive legislators are now supporting other candidates who share their priorities and outlook in the race for the 48th.  I’m supporting Andy Heidt.

[Note — I originally conceived this as one long post, covering all the candidates, but that didn’t work out, so I’m doing a series.  This is #1 of 7. — TJM]

Thomas J. Mertz



Filed under "education finance", Accountability, AMPS, Budget, education, Elections, finance, Gimme Some Truth, Local News, Pennies for Kids, Pope-Roberts/Breske Resolution, School Finance, Scott Walker, Take Action, Uncategorized

Primary Election — Vote (For Me)

For more information, click the image.

Voting information can be found at the City Clerk’s site

Learn more about all the races and candidates via the League of Women Voters.

For those in District 13,  Madison, some things on the election where I am a candidate for Common Council.

Video from the Bay Creek Forum District 13 Forum is up on YouTube .  I want to thank the organizers and participants for a great exercise in democracy.  Here is one excerpt:

Capital Times, Laptop City Hall overview(very well done).

The candidates answers from Forward Lookout are here .

The Wisconsin Sate Journal overview and answers are here .

Capital Times guest columns are here .

Because of the current attacks on public workers and unions, I’d also like to use this opportunity to encourage all to work to defeat Governor Walker’s proposal.  More information here (linked).

Last, some quotes about voting I put on my campaign literature,  and a couple of songs.

Nobody will ever deprive the American people of the  right to vote except the American people themselves — and the only way they could do this is by not voting. — Franklin D. Roosevelt

Suffrage is the pivotal right. — Susan B. Anthony
Voting is a civic sacrament. — Theodore M. Hesburgh

Chis Stamey and Yo la Tengo, “Vote” (click to listen or download).

Chick Webb Orchestra with Ella Fitzgerald, “Vote for Mister Rhythm” (click to listen or download).

Thomas J. (TJ) Mertz

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Keep Russ Feingold in the Senate!

There are thousands of reasons to keep Russ Feingold in the Senate.  Hundreds of these have to do with him being one of the few voices of sanity who has gone against the Washington consensus on top down Education Policy based on underfunded sham accountability and “market forces.”

Read what he had to say about NCLB reauthorization (excerpt):

“NCLB has hamstrung state and local decision-making by establishing a federal accountability system that measures and punishes our students and our schools based on, among other things, annual high-stakes standardized testing,” Feingold said. “This is the wrong approach, and the groundswell of opposition to the NCLB – from parents, educators, and administrators alike – shows just how flawed it is.”

Check the rest of his positions and actions on his Education page.

Then go to his campaign site and sign on to help help re-elect Russ. If you can’t fit volunteering into your schedule, hit the phone and email and Facebook and whatever else to contact everyone you know in Wisconsin and remind them how important it is to keep Russ Feingold in the Senate.

For inspiration, here is one more commercial from 1992 (amazing how little the issues have changed).

Thomas J. Mertz

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Moving Wisconsin Forward Rally — Saturday, 10/16/2010

Click on image for pdf.

If and only if you aren’t out working to elect pro-education candidates (or taking a break from doing that), I hope to see you there (me, I’ll be on a break from campaign work).

More info here.

Thomas J.  Mertz

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Democrats the New Republicans? Education Policies and Much More

Let me preface this by saying that I am dues-paying member of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin (as well as Co-Chair of Progressive Dane) and don’t want to paint with too broad a brush.  Yet the trends and developments  I see everywhere (and have been seeing for sometime) are too disturbing to ignore.  Democrats are repeatedly championing destructive conservative policies in the service of economic elites while pushing aside both common sense and social justice.  The current GOP extremist obstructionism is beside the point, except that it enables the Democratic moves to the right because with the major parties the choice becomes one of very bad (Dems)  versus unbelievably insanely bad (GOP).

Let’s start with the “EduJobs” Bill.  I think last time I mentioned it, Senator Tom  Harkin and Rep. David Obey were pushing for $23 billion in aid to states to prevent teacher layoffs.  After it was killed, President Obama gave it a push.  This is a classic example of the kind of selective use of Presidential power that Glenn Greenwald has been documenting at Salon.  The progressive positions get the rhetoric, but the conservative policies get the muscle.

The deficit hawks managed to get the the allocation whittled down to $10 billion, but rather than pay for it via more progressive taxation or the kind of deficit spending that Keynesian economics has demonstrated  to be effective in these kind of economic times, there was insistence that cuts elsewhere in education be part of the package (makes me think of the Madison Metropolitan School District budget madness where cuts were justified because  “people are reluctant to pay higher taxes”).

The good news is that those cuts were to be taken from the Race to the Top education deform con game.  The bad news is that all the Education DINOs (Democrats in Name Only) and their allies, are up in arms protesting the cuts to their favored scheme of more Charter Schools, and more tests used for more things (and here and here and here).  This follows their typical union bashing over the distracting issues of which teachers are slated to lose their jobs.  What a spectacle, “Democrats” and self- proclaimed education reformers more interested in destroying organized labor and expanding Bushian policies than in keeping teachers in the classrooms.

Now the biggest Education DINO, President Obama, has threatened to veto the bill if the cuts to Race to the Top remain.

A little break for sanity.  This week the Journal of Education Controversy posted a new critique of the Obama/Arne Duncan education policies from the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA.  Here is an excerpt:

We reject the language of business for discussing public education.

Not only has the language of the marketplace entered discussions of school governance and management, but we also notice that the language of business accountability is used to talk about education, a human endeavor of caring. The primary mechanism of the No Child Left Behind Act has been annual standardized tests of reading and math for all children in grades 3-8, followed by punishments for the schools that cannot rapidly reach ever increasing test score production targets. We worry that our society has come to view what is good as what can be measured and compared. The relentless focus on testing basic skills has diminished our attention to the humanities, the social studies, the arts, and child and adolescent development. As people of faith we do not view our children as products to be tested and managed but instead as unique human beings, created in the image of God, to be nurtured and educated.

I want to point out that although comes from a perspective of faith, the values espoused are also in the humanist tradition.

A  side trip away from education to note that the White House and the  Democratic leadership choose to court Scott Brown (R. MA) and  other Republicans by making the financial regulation bill more Wall Street friendly and rejected Russ Feingold’s (D. WI) efforts enact legislation that the banks and the hedge fund managers didn’t like, losing his vote.  This same “leadership” has failed to enact an extension of unemployment benefits.

The links between Wall Street and Education DINOS are many.  Kenneth Libby has started a new site — Democrats for Education Reform (DFER) Watch —  to document these and other aspects of the deform effort.  Some of this has to do with an elitist, technocratic, market based worldview, a desire to tear down a non-market based system of public education that works very well for most American students and communities,  destroy organized labor and a related desire to inculcate students with these values.  Some of it also has to do with the profit motive.  As Juan Gonzalez has reported, the semi-privatization of education via Charters and Vouchers offers wealthy donors significant tax credits (leading to further starvation of the public sector).  Here is a clip from his appearance on Democracy Now explaining how it works.

I can’t leave this topic without checking in again on my favorite Education DINO poster boy, Whitney Tilson.  He’s a DFER leader who also manages investment funds.  The fees from this “work” support a lavish lifestyle, generous political contributions and his extensive education policy advocacy.  Unfortunately for his investors, his funds lose money.  Let’s go to the charts:

Since inception, the Tilson Dividend fund has done slightly better than the NASDAQ and the  Tilson Focus fund slightly worse; both have lost money.  After taxes and fees are accounted for, investors are out even more.  As I said before, you would have done better stashing your money in an old sock than giving it to Whitney Tilson to invest.   As I asked at the same time, why would anyone trust our education system and our children’s futures to the people responsible for the economic disaster, people who have wrought havoc on our society and can’t even show a profit for their clients in the free market they love so well? I don’t have an answer, but like so much else that is wrong with politics it might have something to do with those campaign donations.

I’ll close by noting that closer to home Tom Barrett — the leading Democratic Candidate for Governor — has expressed has more concern for property taxpayers than enthusiasm for fixing Wisconsin’s broken school funding system.

Thomas J. Mertz

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Arizona Voters Approve Sales Tax for Education!

A referendum to increase the sales tax by 1 cent, with 2/3 of the revenue designated for education passed in Arizona yesterday, with a stunning 64% of the popular vote.

If conservative Arizona can do this, why can’t we even get Penny for Kids introduced in Wisconsin?  Sign the Penny for Kids petition and drop your legislator a line asking them that question.


New York Times report; Reuters reportExpect More Arizona (vote yes campaign).

Thomas J. Mertz

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Mark Pocan’s Ear

If you live in the 78th Wisconsin Assembly District, your Representative Mark Pocan wants to hear from you and he wants to hear from you about the “revenue crisis facing our schools.”  He’s listening; it is time to speak loud and clear.

In his latest mailing to constituents the last question of his survey reads:

Given the revenue crisis facing our schools, how would you direct additional funding towards K12? (please select one)

____Increase property taxes

____Increase sales tax by 1c under a “Penny for Kids” proposal

____Close corporate tax loopholes

____Redirect current revenue collections towards K12


Other than the “please select one” this is great (I think closing corporate tax loopholes and Penny for Kids should both be in the mix).

If you threw your copy out already, you can download the survey here and mail it to the address included.  You can also email him:  Do sign the Penny for Kids petition too.

If you don’t live in his district, think about doing it anyway, but indicate where you live or send it to your Rep (Pocan cares — maybe too much — what voters outside his district think).

Don’t let this opportunity go to waste!

Thomas J. Mertz


Filed under "education finance", Budget, education, Elections, finance, Local News, Pennies for Kids, School Finance, Take Action, Uncategorized

Wrong Way

The Rulers, “Wrong Em Boyo” (click to listen or download).

On and around April 15, “Tax Day,” you always expect to hear destructive messages from the likes of those now in the teabag crowd.   Unfortunately, we are now hearing  them from “liberals” and Democrats also.  What is wrong with these people?

Oliver Wendell Holmes observed, “Taxes are the price we pay for civilization.”  This truth seems to be lost as Democrats and Republicans rush to assume the anti-tax mantle.

First up is all-but-certain Wisconsin Democratic Gubernatorial nominee Tom Barrett.  In a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel report this week, he joined the leading Republican candidates in vowing not to raise taxes in his first biennial budget.  To Barrett’s credit, unlike the leading Republicans Scott Walker and Mark Neumann he did limit his pledge to the first biennium and said it would be “unrealistic to cut taxes now given the giant budget hole expected to face the next governor.”  Offsetting that credit are a clear pledge of no increases in shared revenue for local governmental units  (I assume that includes schools) and  vague statements about more “efficiencies.”  It is hard to say if  Barrett’s equally vague statements about tax credits targeted to to job creation and eventual property tax cuts are positive nor negative;  the devil is in the details.

Leading “liberal” blogger Jay “Folkbum” Bullock jumped on the “taxes are bad” bandwagon with a post titled “On Tax Day, thank Democrats for your lower tax bills.” In the same vein was an email from state Democratic Chair Mike “With this [2009-11] budget package, Democrats have strengthened K-12…education” Tate.  Like Bullock, Tate boasts that  “With Democrats in full control of government, Wisconsin’s tax ranking has improved for the first time in decades.”

One thing missing from this formulation are the increases in property taxes.

In a larger sense what is missing is the willingness to make a positive case for government programs and the taxes that pay for them.   Barrett, Bullock and Tate all cede the ground to the anti-tax crowd.  They begin by assuming taxes are bad and that cutting taxes is good.  With this as your starting point it becomes necessary and difficult to continually justify every expenditure and revenue source.  It is a constant game of defense with victory defined as not giving up too much ground, not cutting too many programs and services.  Progress is a thing of the past — the pending changes to the SAGE program are a perfect example.

The other mistaken assumption of this formulation is that current revenue policies are superior to any changes other than tax cuts.  This is just silly.  Tax codes are not divinely inspired, they are the product of years of messy legislative log rolling, horse trading and sausage making.  There is plenty of room for improvement, involving increasing some taxes and cutting others (see the Institute for Wisconsin’s Future/Wisconsin Council on Children and Families Catalog of Tax Reform Options for Wisconsin).

In fact, some limited improvements were made in the last state biennial budget, including closing the Las Vegas loophole, increasing income taxes on the top 1% of earners and improving the homestead credit.   Is it too much to ask that these be included in statements of the Democrats’ tax related accomplishments?

I want elected officials, political leaders and pundits who are willing to fully embrace the work of revenue reform.   Making the case for the good government does and can do isn’t that hard and is essential;  reforming revenue policies is harder but not impossible.  With each and every statement like those of Barrett, Bullock and Tate, it gets even harder.   They are heading the wrong way, but we don’t have to follow.

Thomas J. Mertz


Filed under Budget, Elections, finance, Gimme Some Truth, Local News, Uncategorized