WI Republicans Fast Tracking Bill Effectively Kills Workers Comp


Wisconsin has the distinction of being the birthplace of the Worker's Compensation system.  

Approximately 100 years ago, labor and management struck a "grand bargain" where if a worker gets injured at work, the worker cannot sue their employer for damages—even if the injury is clearly the employer's fault. 

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Report-back on the Public Hearing about the Right to Hunt Act

Wolf Patrol’s response to Committee on Natural Resources and Sporting Heritage public meeting on Assembly Bill 433 aka: The Right to Hunt Act

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Education Legislative Update for Oct. 30th, 2015

Over 2,500 Students Are Now Enrolled in
Statewide Voucher Program

Newly released figures from the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) show that participation in the statewide voucher program rose substantially to over 2,500 students after lawmakers lifted the 1,000 student enrollment cap on the program in the 2015-17 state budget act.

Currently, per-district enrollment in the statewide voucher program is limited to 1 percent of that district’s student population.

According to third Friday in September counts, a total of 2,514 students are receiving vouchers to attend private schools under the statewide voucher program, known formally as the Wisconsin Parental Choice Program (WPCP), up from about 1,000 students last year.

Of the 1,640 new students enrolled in the statewide voucher program for 2015-16, only 19.1 percent had attended a Wisconsin public school the previous year, while 74.8 percent had already attended a private school. (The remainder were either not in school, were home-schooled, or attended school out of state).

Private schools taking part in the voucher programs this year receive $7,214 per student in grades K-8, and $7,860 for each high school student. 

Continue reading Over 2,500 Students Are Now Enrolled In Statewide Voucher Program →

Wisconsin's Graduation Rate Gap Between White 
and Black Students Widens to Largest in U.S.

First, the good news:

Wisconsin’s overall graduation rate rose by more than half a percentage point to 88.6 percent in 2013-’14, the most recent year available, and ranks third in the nation, according to preliminary data released last week by the U. S. Department of Education.

Now, the bad news:

While Wisconsin students in almost every other racial, ethnic and special-needs category made gains, the four-year graduation rate for African-American students held steady at 66.1 percent, widening the gap between black and white students.

As the four-year graduation rate for white students rose to 92.9 percent, which ranks third nationally, Wisconsin’s 2013-14 white-black graduation gap reached 26.8 percentage points, the largest in the nation.

And, some more good news:

In Wisconsin, graduation rates rose 3.8 percentage points to 78.1 percent for Latino students and 5 percentage points to 81 percent for American Indian students. The percentage gaps between white students and Latino and American Indian students narrowed to 14.8 points and 11.9 points, respectively.

According to the U.S.Department of Education’s preliminary data, 36 states posted increases in overall graduation rates, six saw decreases and eight were unchanged since the 2012-’13 school year. The majority of states also narrowed the graduation gap for black and Hispanic students, as well as students with disabilities, English language learners and low-income students, the agency said.

State Support for Public Schools 
in 2014-15: 62.3 Percent

Estimated state support for public K-12 schools totaled just under 62.3 percent last year, according to a new analysis released today by the non-partisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau (LFB). That percentage was calculated using the same “partial school revenues” method that was used to determine state support during the period from 1996-97 to 2002-03, when the state had a statutory commitment to fund two-thirds (66.7 percent) of K-12 partial school revenues statewide. That mandate ended in 2003.

The 62.3 percent figure is the share of state support as calculated on a statewide basis for the 2014-15 school year. The share of state support for each individual school district will vary according to how the district is treated under the state general aid formula, which is based to a large extent on a district’s property wealth per pupil.

The LFB memorandum released today provides information on the estimated level of state support provided for K-12 education statewide and to individual school districts in 2014-15. You can find it here.

Governor Signs School Board Vacancies Bill Into Law

Governor Scott Walker signed Assembly Bill 325, relating to filling vacancies on a school board of a common, union high, or unified school district, into law as 2015 Wisconsin Act 63 last Friday (Oct. 23).

The new law requires school boards to adopt local policies on filling board vacancies and makes a temporary distinction between the Racine Unified School District and all other school districts with regard to how certain school board vacancies may be filled (see below).

Under current law, when a vacancy occurs on the school board of a common, union high school, or unified school district, the remaining school board members may fill the vacancy by appointment. Current law does not provide an alternative method for filling a vacancy and does not address how a vacancy is to be filled in the event that the remaining school board members do not make an appointment.

Assembly Bill 325, as amended, addresses this situation generally by requiring school boards of common, union high school, and unified districts to adopt a policy on how to fill board vacancies if members are unable to settle on a replacement within 60 days of the date on which the vacancy first exists. School boards must adopt such a policy by July 1, 2016.

Continue reading Governor Signs School Board Vacancies Bill Into Law →

New Proposal Would Limit Opportunities for Voters to Approve New Resources for Schools

New Proposal Would Limit Opportunities for Voters to Approve New Resources for Schools

State lawmakers have proposed making it more difficult for school districts to go to referendum, a change that would have reduced or delayed new resources for schoolchildren by nearly $200 million in recent years, according to a new analysis by the Wisconsin Budget Project.

Under a proposal advanced by state lawmakers, school districts would be prohibited from asking voters for new resources for a period of two years after a referendum failed to pass. School districts go to referendum to get voter approval to borrow money for large projects such as the construction of new schools, and to raise the spending limits imposed by the state.

The Wisconsin Budget Project reviewed the results of school referenda since July 2011, and determined that if the proposed restrictions had been in place:

  •   36 referenda in 31 different districts would not have been able to pass when they did;

  •   Those referenda represented $196 million in new resources for children in public schools:

    $143 million in borrowing for large projects, and $53 million to lift the spending caps; and

  •   School board members and other representatives from several of the 31 districts said that without a

    successful referendum, officials would consider dissolving the school district or combining it with another district.

    Wisconsin residents who value their public schools should have the opportunity to vote for new resources for schoolchildren,said Tamarine Cornelius, author of the analysis. Tying votershands reduces local control over public schools and makes it harder for communities to invest in educating their children.

    The analysis includes a list of every successful school referendum since July 2011 that was passed within two years of an unsuccessful referendum, with amounts, type, and purpose of each referendum. This map shows the geographic location of the school districts that have passed successful referenda within two years of an unsuccessful referendum.

    The proposal includes other limits on school districts that were not included in this analysis, including a prohibition on using a variety of financing methods in the two-year period after a failed referendum, and a requirement that the referenda elections be held at the same time as the annual spring elections or as the fall elections in even-numbered years.

    New Analysis: Proposed Limits Would Make it More Difficult for Voters to Approve New Resources for Schools 

Education Legislative Update for Oct. 24th, 2015

Exam Opt-Out Bill Scheduled for
Assembly Floor Vote on Oct. 27

Assembly Bill 239 (as amended by Assembly Substitute Amendment 1) has been scheduled to be taken up by the full state Assembly on Tuesday, October 27.

This substitute amendment requires, upon request of a parent or guardian, a school board, or the governing body of an independent charter school or a private voucher school, to excuse a pupil enrolled in any grade from 3 to 12 from taking any examination required under state or federal law, except for an examination that is a high school graduation requirement. [Under current law, upon request from a parent or guardian, a school board, independent charter school, and private voucher school must excuse a pupil in 4th, 8th, 9th, 10th, or 11th grade from taking the knowledge and concepts examination (WKCE) adopted by the state superintendent of public instruction that is required to be administered to pupils in that grade.]

The substitute amendment prohibits the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) from considering how many pupils enrolled in a school or school district have been excused from taking an examination required under state or federal law for purposes of the annual school and school district accountability report published by DPI. The substitute amendment also prohibits a school board, school district administrator, principal, governing body and administrator of a private voucher school, and operator of an independent charter school from encouraging or counseling a parent or guardian to request that their child be excused from taking a knowledge and concepts examination.

Finally, this substitute amendment requires, beginning in the 2016-17 school year, each school board and independent charter school to annually provide the parent or guardian of each pupil enrolled in the school district or the independent charter school with a copy of, or access to, a summary of the pupil examinations that it is required to administer under state and federal law, as well any examinations the school board or operator requires to assess pupil, school, or school district performance. The governing body of a private voucher school  is required to provide a copy of, or access to, a summary containing the same information to the parent or guardian of each pupil who is attending the private school under a parental choice (voucher) program.

Also on the Oct. 27 calendar:

Assembly Bill 287 and Senate Bill 254, a pair of identical companion bills related to the new Achievement Gap Reduction Program, authored by Sen. Luther Olsen (R-Ripon) and Rep. Mary Czaja (R-Irma). These companion bills make technical corrections to the Achievement Gap Reduction (AGR) program (formerly SAGE) created in 2015 Wisconsin Act 53. The bills clarifiy that AGR contracts must require school boards to implement one or more of the three statutorily defined strategies in each class in each participating grade at each participating school. The bills also delay  annual evaluations of the AGR program by one year. The Senate version (SB 254) was passed by the state Senate on Oct. 20.

Application Window for Microsoft IT Academy 
Runs Through Oct. 30

The Microsoft IT Academy program provides schools, teachers, students and staff with technology curriculum and learning tools such as digital access to technology textbooks to help them acquire skills on current Microsoft technologies. Additionally, program members may purchase discounted Microsoft Office Certification exam vouchers that allow students (and teachers) to earn certification by demonstrating the skills they learn through the program.

Up to 234 Wisconsin high schools will be eligible to host a Microsoft IT Academy at no cost. These 234 slots will be filled on a first-come, first-served basis.

All applications must be submitted through the online Participation Form. Participation Forms are currently available online through October 30, 2015 (5 p.m. CST) Any school submissions after October 30, 2015 will be considered based upon remaining availability.

Continue reading Application Window for Microsoft IT Academy Runs Through Oct. 30

Bill Addressing School Board Vacancies
Heads to Governor's Desk

The state Senate gave final approval Tuesday (Oct. 20) to a bill (Assembly Bill 325) that requires school boards to adopt local policies on filling board vacancies and makes a temporary distinction between the Racine Unified School District and all other school districts with regard to how school board vacancies may be filled.  The bill cleared the state Assembly on Sept. 24.

Under current law, when a vacancy occurs on the school board of a common, union high school, or unified school district, the remaining school board members may fill the vacancy by appointment. Current law does not provide an alternative method for filling a vacancy and does not address how a vacancy is to be filled in the event that the remaining school board members do not make an appointment.

Assembly Bill 325, as amended, addresses this situation generally by requiring school boards of common, union high school, and unified districts to adopt a policy on how to fill board vacancies if members are unable to settle on a replacement within 60 days of the date on which the vacancy first exists. School boards must adopt such a policy by July 1, 2016.

Continue reading Bill Addressing School Board Vacancies Heads to Governor’s Desk→

U.S. House Speaker Boehner Sets Election Dates
for New Speaker; Ryan to Run

Speaker John Boehner announced today that the internal Republican election for Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives will be Oct. 28, and the floor election will be Oct. 29.

Wisconsin congressman and current House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan told House Republicans Tuesday evening that he is willing to serve as Speaker of the House if he is the unity candidate, and he gave the House Republican Conference until Friday to decide if they are behind him. 

Ryan said Thursday evening that he will seek to become the speaker of the House of Representatives. Ryan announced his decision in a letter to members of the House Republican Conference.

"After talking to so many of you, and hearing your words of encouragement, I believe we are ready to move forward as a one, united team," the letter reads. "And I am ready and eager to be our speaker."

Read more: Washington Post articleCNN coverageMilwaukee Journal Sentinel article;Politico coverage

Democracy in Wisconsin is Under Attack

Three controversial bills will have a joint committee hearing by the Senate and Assembly elections committees on Tuesday, October 13, 9AM in Room 412E of the State Capitol.  Contact your state Senator and Assembly Representative as soon as possible and urge them to vote NO on these bills. 
SB 294/AB 388 – This bill would disband the nonpartisan Wisconsin Government Accountability Board and replace it with two separate boards to oversee elections and government ethics – and neither board would have any teeth. The boards would have a structure similar to that of the Federal Elections Commission, with an even split of members appointed by each of the two major political parties. That is a recipe for deadlock and dysfunction. The bill would take Wisconsin back to the type of partisan appointee system that resulted in the Legislative Caucus Scandal of 2002 which sent legislative leaders of both parties to prison on felony counts.

AB 387/SB 292 – This bill would permit campaign coordination between candidates and outside special interest spending groups. That practice was strictly prohibited for decades in Wisconsin, until the State Supreme Court in July said such coordination was permissible. That court decision, which is likely to be successfully appealed, is an outlier in the nation. The bill would make contribution limits meaningless because supporters of candidates would be able to anonymously contribute or spend unlimited money on a phony issue ad communication.

SB 295/AB 389 provides for electronic voter registration for citizens with a Wisconsin driver license or state ID card – but it also eliminates Special Registration Deputies (SRDs).  While the League of Women Voters strongly supports the concept of online voter registration, we are not willing to trade the SRD program. The League registers voters year-round through the SRD program, which makes a huge difference for elderly, minority and disabled voters, as well as new citizens. Other SRDs are librarians, teachers and other concerned citizens who wish to make voting accessible to all eligible citizens. These registrations reduce the workload of our municipal clerks, who have many other duties to carry out.    
For contact information for your legislators, go to:  http://legis.wisconsin.gov/  and enter your address near the map of Wisconsin under the heading Find My Legislators.

Mandela Barnes introduces 'The Marty Bill' to create Office of Civil Service



As people gathered on the steps of the Capitol to honor their friend, leader and union brother, the murmur that made its way through the crowd went something like this:

"The timing sure is something, huh?"

Marty Beil, the longtime labor leader, died last week just as a new debate involving public employees in Wisconsin emerged. He was 68. 

Beil retired in June after a storied career leading the the Wisconsin State Employees Union, which merged this year with the two other Wisconsin councils of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

He had served as the union's director for 30 years. A burly man sporting a snow-white beard, he was seen by many as the face of public employees during the bitter fight over Gov. Scott Walker's Act 10 legislation, which all but eliminated collective bargaining rights for most public employees.

The candlelight vigil in his honor was held just a few hours after the public hearing concluded for a bill that would overhaul the state's civil service system

While the bill's authors say its aim is to strengthen the system and modernize the state's hiring practices, its critics view it as another step in a succession of attacks on public employees.

That's why Rep. Mandela Barnes, D-Milwaukee, chose Tuesday evening to announce his own bill — in effect, a counter-proposal to the one introduced by Sen. Roger Roth, R-Appleton, and Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke, R-Kaukauna.

Barnes' proposal, which will be circulated for co-sponsorship this week, would restructure the state's Division of Personnel Management into an Office of Civil Service. The office would be attached to the Department of Administration for administrative purposes. 

Barnes' bill would also restructure the Bureau of Merit Recruitment and Selection as a division within the Office of Civil Service, and would create a Division of Labor Relations and a Division of Affirmative Action within the office.

Whether or not the name sticks, he's calling it "The Marty Bill."

"This isn't the time to play around," Barnes said in an interview. "Every time the governor says he wants to reform (something) it just means he wants to destroy it."

Walker has been a vocal supporter of the GOP bill to make changes to the existing civil service system.

The civil service system was established as a way to put qualified workers in state jobs and prevent political patronage, but advocates of the new proposal say the process has become too slow and outdated.

"We want to make sure a civil service system adopted in 1905 is ever strong in 2015, and 110 years after that," Roth said of his proposalTuesday morning, addressing the Senate Labor and Government Reform Committee.

Roth and supporters of the bill have said they're not attacking the system, they're just aiming to align it more closely with modern practices in the private sector.

Meanwhile, Democrats say the proposal would open the door for cronyism to run rampant in Wisconsin.

Barnes, as a member of the minority party, acknowledged the prospects for his bill are bleak, but he said there's no better time than now to start the conversation.

"People shouldn't have to lie down and take it," Barnes said. "We need to have something to fight for, not just something to fight against."


Read original article at The Cap Times.

Important Education Update for October 2nd, 2015


Legislative Proposal Would End Energy
Efficiency Revenue Limit Exemption

In a draft memo being circulated for support from legislative colleagues, state Rep. Adam Neylon (R-Pewaukee) and state Sen. Frank Lasee (R-De Pere), are proposing legislation to end the school district revenue limit exemption for energy efficiency projects. (See additional story above.)

Currently, a school board may adopt a resolution to increase the revenue limit otherwise applicable to a school district under s. 121.91 (2m), Stats., in any school year by an amount spent by the school district in that school year on a project to implement energy efficiency measures or to purchase energy efficiency products. 

Continue reading Legislative Proposal Would End Energy Efficiency Revenue Limit Exemption→

Urban Education Task Force Holds First Hearing

The Assembly Speaker’s Task Force on Urban Education, chaired by state Rep. Jessie Rodriguez (R-Franklin) and vice-chaired by state Rep. Sondy Pope (D-Cross Plains), held its first school tours and public hearing on Tuesday, September 29 in the Madison Metropolitan School District and the State Capitol.

The tour of the Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD) included a visit to Samuel Gompers Elementary School that highlighted the district’s phase one technology plan. The task force members then stopped by Madison East High School the AVID/TOPS program at the school was showcased. That program is a joint effort between MMSD and the Boys and Girls Club of Dane County, which offers disadvantaged students tutoring, mentorship and paid summer internships, in addition to eligibility for college scholarships.

The task force then held a public hearing at the Capitol focusing on teacher recruitment and retention with invited testimony from: 

Continue reading Urban Education Task Force Holds First Hearing→

Changes to WRS May Have Unintended Consequences

Wisconsin Coalition for Retirement Security: Possible changes to WRS may have unintended consequences

Strong state pension is the result of consistency, careful plannng 

MADISON, WI - The fully- funded WRS is one of the best retirement systems in the world. Yet, some politicians are inexplicably trying to change it. 

Senator Duey Stroebel has proposed companion bills to change how benefits are calculated and to arbitrarily raise the retirement age. Perhaps, AFSCME Council 32's new Executive Director, Rick Badger, said it best "these are solutions in search of a problem." 

Pension systems can experience unintended consequences when changes are made without thorough study and deliberation. Sen. Stroebel's approach does neither. That raises the question- why tamper with a fully- funded system that that is servicing taxpayers and retirees well. Unfortunately, Senator Stroebel's proposal relies on bumper-sticker slogans, but not the facts. 

Fact 1: Wisconsin has some of the lowest pension costs in the US (to workers and tax payers). [i] 

Fact 2: The WRS is 100% funded and has been for over a decade. The WRS is projected to be fully funded until at least 2061, and costs to continue funding it are expected to be steady or decline in the coming decades.[ii] 

Fact 3: A fraction of WRS participants retire in their first two years of elibility and those that do so receive a reduced benefit (due to "the age reduction factor"), thus ensuring the system stays fully funded. Raising the retirement age is unlikely to impact the system's funding in any way.[iii] 

Fact 4: Changing the method of calculating benefits is also unlikely to yield savings, but it may make the WRS resemble a cash balance, defined-contribution style system, which provides less retirement security for the same cost.[iv] 

The Wisconsin Retirement System is like a "Swiss watch", it is carefully constructed and changes to one part can cause damage throughout the system, harming taxpayers and future retirees. 

The state has many pressing problems that need to be addressed. The fully funded retirement system is not one of them. WCRS and its constituent organizations urge lawmakers to exercise caution and not to make any changes to the WRS unless and until those changes are analyzed from an actuarial perspective. 

[i] NASRA, "Issue Brief: State and Local Spending on Public Employee Retirement Systems " February, 2015. 2015 http://www.nasra.org/files/Issue%20Briefs/NASRACostsBrief.pdf 

[ii] Wisconsin Department of Employee Trust Funds(ETF), "Study of the Wisconsin Retirement System", June 30, 2012 http://etf.wi.gov/publications/wrs-study.pdf (pages 36-39) 

[iii] ETF "2013 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report"http://etf.wi.gov/about/2013-cafr.pdf (page117) 

[iv] National Institute on Retirement Security, "Still a Better Bang for the Buck", December, 2014 http://www.nirsonline.org/storage/nirs/documents/Still%20a%20Better%20Bang/bangforbuck_2014.pdf

Representative Zamarripa's Statement on Planned Parenthood



"Today, Republicans passed their "Defund Planned Parenthood" bill. It won't reduce abortion, but it will reduce Wisconsin women's access to pap smears, cervical cancer screenings, birth control, etc. Heartbreaking. Infuriating. As always, I #‎StandwithPP"


Read this devastating piece of legislation at http://docs.legis.wisconsin.gov/2015/proposals/ab310

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