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May 28, 2015

Democrats say voucher expansion takes $800 million from public schools

Rep. Sondy Pope (Photo: Andrew Beckett)

Rep. Sondy Pope (Photo: Andrew Beckett)

Wisconsin Assembly Democrats say expanding the statewide private school voucher program will result in public schools losing up to $800 million over the next decade. The claim is based on a report from the non-partisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau, which looked at a provision added to the state budget last week by Republicans that lifts the enrollment cap on the program and changes how it is funded.

During a news conference at the Capitol Thursday, Assembly Democrat Sondy Pope (D-Cross Plains) called it’s just the latest in an ongoing assault against public education. “There is no doubt about it – this budget will further harm our already financially struggling public schools,” Pope said.

Pope argued the cuts will devastate the future of public education in the state, and claimed Republicans are “selling out” public school students in order to provide a boost to a potential presidential bid by Governor Scott Walker. Republicans have maintained that efforts to expand voucher schools are because of growing demand for the program, and that parents should be given the flexibility to send their children to a school that best fits their needs.

Pope, the ranking Democrat on the Assembly Education Committee, said GOP lawmakers are ignoring what the people of Wisconsin actually want though by proposing “swift and harmful changes that represent one of the most drastic changes in education in a lifetime.”

Prison reform groups critical of increased corrections funding

Rev. Joseph Ellwanger addresses a prison reform rally. (Photo: Andrew Beckett)

Rev. Joseph Ellwanger addresses a prison reform rally. (Photo: Andrew Beckett)

A broad coalition of religious and social justice groups are blasting a decision to increase funding for Wisconsin prisons in the state budget.

The Joint Finance Committee approved an extra $5 million for the Department of Corrections last week, which is expected to fund the incarceration of a thousand more people over the next biennium. The Reverend Joseph Ellwanger says the state should be focusing on ways to reduce that projected growth, instead of just providing more funding to keep people incarcerated.

Ellwanger told a group of about a hundred demonstrators at the state Capitol Wednesday that they should not have to accept the DOC’s “prophecy of an increase” as just being inevitable. He argued the state should instead be focusing its resources on treatment and diversion programs, rather than just sending more people to prison. “You can keep 4,000 a year out of prison by simply placing parolees with a mere rules violation into community based sanctions, instead of revoking them and sending them back to prison,” Ellwanger said.

Several states have seen inmate populations go down and have even closed prisons by backing those types of programs. The Reverend Willie Brisco said that $5 million could be used to divert thousands of people from prison or give a thousand kids a better education.

The coalition, which included groups such as WISDOM and MICAH, delivered a letter to legislative leaders and the DOC secretary, calling on them to explore programs that can help reduce the prison population…instead of planning on making it grow.

Evers says teacher licensing change ‘breathtaking in its stupidity’ (AUDIO)

State Superintendent Tony Evers (Photo: DPI)

State Superintendent Tony Evers (Photo: DPI)

Wisconsin’s top education official is offering up harsh criticism for a state budget provision that would relax state standards for obtaining a teaching license.

The measure, added to the budget last week by the legislature’s Joint Finance Committee, would allow anyone with a bachelor’s degree to be licensed to teach math, social studies, science, or English in Wisconsin schools. Anyone with relevant experience, but not necessarily a degree, could teach other subjects. State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers says it’s a terrible idea that is just “breathtaking in its stupidity.”

AUDIO: Sup. Tony Evers (:26)

The language was added to the budget as part of a large omnibus motion taken up by the Joint Finance Committee late at night.

The measure did not indicate who requested its inclusion, but the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel said it came at the request of Rep. Mary Czaja (R-Irma), who argued it’s intended to make it easier for rural school districts to fill vacant positions. Evers says there are other ways to address that issue though, and the budget proposal would cause far more harm to the quality of education in Wisconsin if it’s allowed to stay.

Czaja’s office did not respond to a message seeking comment.

Evers argues the change would give Wisconsin the most relaxed licensing standards for teachers in the nation and would be a recipe for disaster. “It essentially says whoever you hire will be licensed, and for me that’s a huge step in the wrong direction.”

Hearing scheduled for Wisconsin 20 week abortion ban

Wisconsin state Capitol (PHOTO: Jackie Johnson)

Wisconsin state Capitol (PHOTO: Jackie Johnson)

A public hearing has been scheduled for next week at the state Capitol, on a fast-moving bill that would ban abortions after 20 weeks into a pregnancy.

The Assembly and Senate health committees will hold a joint hearing on the measure next week. Supporters have said they want to move the bill through the legislature before lawmakers open debate on the proposed state budget next month.

Senate President Mary Lazich (R-New Berlin), a main sponsor of the measure, has argued it’s needed to protect fetuses from being exposed to the pain of abortion. She claims medical research has shown they are capable of being able to feel pain at 20 weeks gestation, although several members of the medical community have disputed that claim.

The proposed abortion ban does not include an exceptions for rape or incest, but does provide one for cases where the life of the mother is at risk. Doctors who perform abortions after 20 weeks could be convicted of felonies.

Bill would allow Wisconsin hunters to wear ‘blaze pink’

Proposed legislation would allow hunters to wear blaze orange or pink. (Photo: Andrew Beckett)

Proposed legislation would allow hunters to wear blaze orange or pink. (Photo: Andrew Beckett)

If blaze orange is not your color, a proposal at the Wisconsin Capitol would could give you another option. The legislation would add blaze pink to the list of approved colors that must make up half of the outerwear worn by hunters who head out into the woods in Wisconsin throughout the year.

State Representative Nick Milroy (D-South Range), a co-sponsor of the bill, says it comes in response to the number of female hunters in the state, who now make up the fastest growing section of new recruits. He notes that outdoor apparel and gun makers have already been trying to cater to that demographic, with pink-themed camouflage, pistol grips, and other weapons. “I think it’s just important that we provide options that are safe and effective, that give people the choice.”

The blaze orange requirement is intended to prevent accidents by making it easier for hunters to see each other. Milroy says research done by a University of Wisconsin professor found blaze pink is just as safe as blaze orange for that purpose, and may actually be even easier for the human eye to spot. Professor Majid Sarmadi said at a Capitol news conference on Tuesday that it might actually also be less visible to deer than blaze orange.

State Representative Joel Kleefisch (R-Oconomowoc), a co-sponsor of the bill, says they want to “give hunters another option, and our number one concern is that it was as safe, if not more safe, than blaze orange.”

The proposal is currently being circulated for co-sponsors at the Capitol.