Category Archives: Quote of the Day

Quote of the Day — The Decline in State Education Aid (and more)

In the 2009-11 biennial budget, Wisconsin was forced to reduce state general school aids by $147 million each year compared to FY 2009.  Despite increasing poverty and rising fixed costs, the level of general aid available to Wisconsin school districts for the 2010-11 school year is roughly equal to what it was five years ago.

Wisconsin State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers in letters to Senators Herb Kohl and Russ Feingold in support of the Harkin Education Jobs bill.

To learn more about the Harkin bill, see here and this New York Times editorial: “Saving the Teachers.”  I also liked Harold Meyerson’s recent Washington Post op ed, “Deficit hawkery’s harsh impact on education” (although with most states deficits aren’t allowed and much of it is about the equally insidious budget hawkery).

USA Today is reporting that:

Federal, state and local taxes — including income, property, sales and other taxes — consumed 9.2% of all personal income in 2009, the lowest rate since 1950, the Bureau of Economic Analysis reports. That rate is far below the historic average of 12% for the last half-century. The overall tax burden hit bottom in December at 8.8.% of income before rising slightly in the first three months of 2010.

So there is plenty of reason and room to be talking about real tax reform that makes needed adjustments and provides necessary revenues.

While on that topic, the Penny for Kids campaign is going strong.  Join the thousands calling for an sales tax increase dedicated to education in order to meet the crisis and start Wisconsin back in the right direction.

Following Evers lead and contacting our Senators would be a good idea:

Herb Kohl

Madison Office
14 W. Mifflin St., Suite 207
Madison, WI 53703
(608) 264-5338
Fax: (608) 264-5473

Russ Feingold

1600 Aspen Commons
Middleton, WI 53562-4716
(608) 828-1200
TDD (608) 828-1215
Fax (608) 828-1203

If you want to hit State officials too, all the info is here.

Last, WisPolitics is reporting that Supt Evers also broached some school funding reform ideas around the Levy Credits (no link).  Addressing the levy credits as the property tax relief they are, instead pretending that they are education aid is  a great start,  but much more is needed to take our state where it should be and offer a quality education to all.

Thomas J. Mertz


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“Let’s get to work.”

United States Office for Emergency Management. - 1941

United States Office for Emergency Management. - 1941

A hopeful voice emerged today in an editorial in the Wisconsin State Journal, a venue that wasn’t always convinced in the past of the need for education finance reform.

School finance reform should be at the top of Gov. Jim Doyle’s to-do list before he leaves office.

Reform won’t be easy.

Yet fixing the state’s broken system of paying for public education has always been a monumental task. That’s why so many politicians — Democrats and Republicans — have largely ignored it for so long.

Doyle, who announced Monday he won’t seek a third term, has advantages in pressing for major change now, even if he’s viewed as a lame duck.

The Democratic governor won’t have to fear the political repercussions of reform because he’s leaving anyway. And his fellow Democrats who control the Legislature might be happy to let Doyle take ownership of the thorny and complicated issue. Then Doyle can be the fall guy if special and local interests balk at difficult yet necessary state decisions.

Without reform, school districts will only face more pressure to scale back, threatening the quality of public education that’s so vital to a strong economy.

Doyle and the Democrats lifted state-imposed limits on teacher raises earlier this year. That means the biggest expense for schools — employee compensation — is about to jump.

At the same time, Doyle and the Legislature cut state aid to schools while maintaining school revenue caps. That leaves schools with less money to pay its climbing expenses. And the vise will only get tighter.

We hope Doyle was serious Monday when he pledged to “move forward” with school finance reform despite his looming departure.

Doyle told the State Journal editorial board in February that he would unveil far-reaching changes to state policy on school finance this fall. Without a lot of detail, Doyle suggested he would require savings on health benefits for teachers. He also would allow districts more revenue if they agreed to a list of best practices to improve student performance with accountability for results.

The effect on property taxpayers is unclear.

Doyle has talked about fixing school finances for years. He’s made a few tweaks but never finished the job.

As Doyle said to his staff at Monday’s press conference: “Let’s get to work.”

I myself remain skeptical, but hopeful, Governor Doyle will “finish the job.” We’ll keep you posted of any new developments.

Robert Godfrey

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3 State Senators and 3 Rolling Stones’ Songs

3 and 3

Statements by three Wisconsin State Senators on education in the 2009-2011 biennial state budget brought to mind three songs by the Rolling Stones, so I’m offering some special dedications.   Read, listen, think, act (click on their names to contact the Senators).

Before getting to the excerpts from the statements and the songs I want to say that whatever my opinion of the statements themselves, I want to applaud the Senators for talking about this in public.  It takes a little courage to address these difficult issues and if nobody is talking no progress can be made.

Senator Mark Miller:

“[T]he state’s complex school finance formula…can’t be changed easily.”

In the Wisconsin State Journal.

The Rolling Stones , “It’s Not Easy” (click to listen or download).

We all know it is complex and that change isn’t easy.  As noted in regard to Miller’s fuller statement, change requires work and that work is the responsibility of the State Senate and Assembly.

Senator Dale Schultz:

“I thought protecting education should have been the top priority in the budget, but instead students and property taxpayers are shortchanged with less state aid,” Schultz said.”…

“State school aid is important for our kids and for property taxpayers and it should have been a higher priority.”

State budget hits local schools and property taxpayers.

The Rolling Stones, “I Am Waiting” (click to listen or download).

Senator Schultz has been in his position since 1991; before that he served a decade in the Assembly.  By the standards generally applied to Republicans in Wisconsin, he has been considered a “friend of public education.”  This is mostly because he often says something close to the right things.  Words are nice: actions are needed.  Leadership would be even better.  I am waiting.

Senator Kathleen Vinehout:

“We don’t have the money to do school funding reform,” goes conventional wisdom around the Capitol. It costs money to fix the funding formula and money is in very short supply.

Given the state’s fiscal condition, many considered any reform of school funding impossible. But in our Senate District schools simply can’t wait….

As one man from Pepin said, “We have got to start somewhere and we have got to start right now.”

Fixing School Funding One Step at a Time.

The Rolling Stones, “You Can Make It if You Try” (click to listen or download).

This last song goes out to all the Senators and Members of the Assembly, but Senator Vinehout seems to display more of the “can do,” “get-er’-done” spirit than most who work at the Capitol (including elected officials, staff and lobbyists).  As the Miller quote indicates, many will always find reasons why progress and reform can’t happen.  I believe it can and must happen.  The first step is trying.

Thomas J. Mertz

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Truth and Spin (Quotes of the Day)


The three-legged stool is now down to one leg.

Will that leave either schools or taxpayers wobbly? Will the last leg fall, too?

In any case, Wisconsin’s old order for how to fund schools is coming to an end, and what comes next remains to be decided, perhaps two years from now when the next state budget is adopted. Pressure for an overhaul is growing, even as economic realities are providing strong pressure to hold down budgets.

School funding getting precarious” Alan J. Borsuk and Amy Hetzner, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Now the spin:

With this budget package, Democrats have strengthened K-12…education.

Democratic Party of Wisconsin (DPW) Chair Mike Tate.

Since this was in a press release, there is no report  whether Tate managed to keep a straight face while forming these words.

Thomas J. Mertz

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The Wrong Direction – Quotes of the Day


“I’m certainly concerned from the perspective that we passed a referendum in Madison that I think was predicated on the state doing its share,” says Matt Calvert, whose children will attend O’Keeffe Middle School and Marquette Elementary this fall. “Until we have financial reform, something that will keep up with needs, it seems like now things are going the other direction.”

…[TJ] Mertz believes this budget, regardless of its final form, “moves us further from what the goals of that reform should be in a number of ways.” And he believes impending cuts will mean tough times for school districts across the state.

From Lynn Welch, “Madison schools brace for state budget,” in the Isthmus

(OK, I know it isn’t the best thing to use yourself as a source for a “Quote of the Day, ” but I liked the way what Matt and I were saying fit together.  read the whole story.)

Thomas J. Mertz

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A Lesson for Jim Doyle (and others)

classroom1I saw clip last night of Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle blithely dismissing complaints about the secrecy of the the Democratic-controlled budget process.  I think this quote is from the same media opportunity:

“Everything is totally transparent. Everybody knows what the bills were that were passed by the two houses and they know what the issues of debate are, the differences between the two houses. So there aren’t any secrets here,” Doyle said.

I don’t know if Doyle is so insulated that he doesn’t get it or if he is clumsily poking at a straw man, but either way here are some lessons Doyle and the rest of the Democratic “leadership” should heed.

The electorate wants to know what the the people we voted into office are doing and saying as they make decisions about  the revenues and the allocations (and some policy).  We want to know who supports what; we want to know how hard they fight for what they have promised to fight for (or even if they fight for it at all).; we want to know where they stand when they aren’t  running for office.  We want to know, because in less than two years we will have to decide if they have earned our votes.

Knowing the issues and the end product are part of it, but knowing the behavior of the people who represent me is also part of “open government.”  As long as they insist on keeping the doors closed, I am going to assume they aren’t very proud of their actions (from what I have seen of their products, I can’t blame them).

The rest of today’s Civics lesson comes from the 2008 Democratic Party of Wisconsin Platform:

Government must be an open institution that people trust.”

A couple of other notes.

First, anyone who knows my politics (life-long, left-wing Democrat, currently active locally with Progressive Dane) knows how painful it was to link (in agreement) above to Charles Sykes quoting the McIver Institute.

This brings home something that I’ve noted before; while the GOP and the right-wing have been very vocal about both the budget process and products, the left in Wisconsin has been relatively silent (with Ed Garvey being the one prominent exception).

I find this strange.  Maybe it is because I am from Illinois, where it is understood that loyal Democrats on the left will criticize Democratic centrists, moderates, backroom dealers and the like.  I think this sort of criticism is healthy for the party.  I also believe that in the long run it helps advance the causes I work on, such as public education and open government.

The second note is that more regular AMPS blogging will resume in the next few days.  Check back.

Thomas J. Mertz

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Education Reporting: A Suicide Watch?


It is not a news flash to say that the decline in the health of American journalism is currently close to a death spiral. In a wonderfully succinct review of the current state of play for the industry in Frank Rich’s column today, he noted the many challenges that have been faced by the varied mediums throughout the 20th century, right up to the present. It’s well worth a read. But unlike the entertainment media who have had their successes at reviving their fortunes with the introduction of new technologies – and failures, he noted, “with all due respect to show business, it’s only journalism that’s essential to a functioning democracy. And it’s not just because — as we keep being tediously reminded — Thomas Jefferson said so.”

Rich goes on to write:

Yes, journalists have made tons of mistakes and always will. But without their enterprise, to take a few representative recent examples, we would not have known about the wretched conditions for our veterans at Walter Reed, the government’s warrantless wiretapping, the scams at Enron or steroids in baseball.

Such news gathering is not to be confused with opinion writing or bloviating — including that practiced here. Opinions can be stimulating and, for the audiences at Fox News and MSNBC, cathartic. We can spend hours surfing the posts of bloggers we like or despise, some of them gems, even as we might be moved to write our own blogs about local restaurants or the government documents we obsessively study online.

But opinions, however insightful or provocative and whether expressed online or in print or in prime time, are cheap. Reporting the news can be expensive. Some of it — monitoring the local school board, say — can and is being done by voluntary “citizen journalists” with time on their hands, integrity and a Web site.

I guess he would be referring to me, but not sure about the time issue.

He goes on to say that opinion is still no substitute for reporting, such as what is happening in Pakistan, Washington or Wall Street — and our local school board. I noted earlier that there was no reporting on the school finance hearing that recently took place at the capital. Nor was there any local newspaper reporting on our recent school budget decisions for next year. I’ve been told that a short TV piece aired on a 10 o’clock broadcast (update: WKOW, includes video, h/t JW) — hardly a sufficient exercise in enfranchising our community with the knowledge of how one of the largest portions of their tax money is being spent. In fact, at the moment, the Board of Education web site is even down, ironically. The latest lack of coverage by our local media about the budget deliberations, especially print, with it’s ability to dig a little deeper on issues, is a sad development. With newspaper management fixated on moving around reporters to new beats on a regular basis (from a long out-of-date model), just has they have gotten up to speed on a complex subject such as education, is indeed beyond stupid. Just because conflict has been and remains a driver of much American journalism, it does not mean that there isn’t some important education reporting that needs to be done at the moment.

Blogs, such as this one, are a woefully inadequate substitute to good reporting, one in which telephone calls to sources are made, meetings attended and then a report distributed in a medium large enough to reach a mass audience. Count me as another person who is concerned about these latest developments. What is the current thinking of the editors at the WSJ and the Cap Times?

Robert Godfrey

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