July 28, 2014

Panel examines funding and governance of tech colleges

A legislative committee examines Wisconsin Technical College System funding and governance responsibilities. Lawmakers hear from experts at the state Capitol on “viable options to lowering property taxes.”

Joe Murray with the Wisconsin Realtors Association cites recent polls showing property tax is the “most onerous” tax for Wisconsin residents. He says, “According to a poll conducted by American Strategies conducted for the Wisconsin Realtors Association this February, 60 percent of Wisconsin voters feel that property taxes are too high.”

A Marquette Poll recently asked residents which tax would they cut if given the chance. Among homeowners, 48 percent said property taxes, 31 percent said income taxes, and 19 percent would cut sales taxes.

Morna Foy is president of the tech college system. She says they are now seeing less state investment in the system, while experiencing an increase in demand for their services. 

Since the mid ’90s, the tech college property tax levy has increased by 156.5 percent. Todd Berry, president of the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance, says funding for the tech schools should be considered in the larger context of state tax reform.

Berry adds, there must be more cooperation among the different areas of education in our state. “We have a K-12 system; we have a tech college system; we have a higher ed system; we have no department of education; we have no secretary of education; we have no czar of education in the governor’s office.” So, he says, “whatever cooperation or collaboration is going on is voluntarily, largely, and of course turf will always be an issue.”

Berry says there needs to be optimally designed education and its administration in Wisconsin in order to use the system most intelligently and strategically.

Andrew Peterson is president of the System Board. Touting the significance of tech colleges, he says over 84 percent of their graduates remain in the state. He calls it the “reverse brain drain.”

State Representative John Nygren (R-Marinette) is chair of the Joint Council Legislative Study Committee, which met Thursday at the Capitol. He says the ever-growing tech college property tax levy has contributed to Wisconsin’s high property tax burden relative to other states — a burden, he says, on families and senior citizens living on fixed incomes. It also negatively impacts economic growth and home ownership in our state.

Nygren believes the goal of the study committee should be to explore ways to reduce the tech college tax levy while protecting the critical link between tech colleges and communities, employers, economic development associations, and K-12 schools.

UW System president touts UW research

UW System President Raymond Cross

UW System President Raymond Cross

The President of the University of Wisconsin System called on technology business and education leaders to promote UW research.

Speaking at the Science and Technology Symposium held at UW-Eau Claire, UW System President Ray Cross said university-based research affects our daily lives in many ways.

Cross said the research is a major factor in the state’s economy, drawing nearly $790 million in federal and private investment last year. “Using a conservative economic multiplier the economic impact of that investment in university-based research for just one year was more than $1.4 billion.”

Cross called on the business and education leaders to help form a coalition to convince the public and lawmakers that supporting research is one of the most transformative investments they can make.

Dan Lea, WAYY

Evers defends Common Core

State Superintendent Tony Evers (Photo: DPI)

State Superintendent Tony Evers (Photo: DPI)

As Republicans echoed Governor Scott Walker’s call for the Legislature to take action quickly next session to repeal the use of Common Core educations standards in Wisconsin, the state’s chief education official argued for the need to stay the course.

In a statement released Friday morning, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers says that Wisconsin’s Common Core Standard in English language arts and mathematics still have strong support among K-12 education leaders, teachers, and the business community. Evers says “Wisconsin’s teachers, parents, and children have spent the past four years implementing these standards, which our educators indisputably agree are more rigorous than our previous standards and still provide districts with the ability to select a local curriculum that fits their needs.”

Evers chalked up the renewed call to repeal Common Core, which came in a one line statement released by Governor Scott Walker on Thursday, to campaign season. “Not surprisingly,” Evers says, “politics trumps sound policy.”

Walker and opponents of Common Core have argued the state should abandon the national standards and craft a system that is tailored specifically for Wisconsin. However, Evers says “the notion that Wisconsin could simply repeal our standards or take a two year time out on our assessments not only runs counter to both state and federal law, it jeopardizes important reforms like educator effectiveness and school and district accountability. But most importantly, it brings chaos to our children and our classrooms.”

Evers says he will continue to stand with the state’s educators and focus on doing what’s best for Wisconsin students. “It’s time to keep politics out of the classroom and remain focused on what’s most important — delivering a college and career ready education to Wisconsin’s students.”

Walker calls on lawmakers to repeal Common Core

WRN file photo

WRN file photo

Governor Scott Walker says he wants lawmakers to move quickly next year to repeal the use of Common Core education standards in Wisconsin. In a one line statement put out late Thursday afternoon, Walker called on “members of the State Legislature to pass a bill in early January to repeal Common Core and replace it with standards set by people in Wisconsin.”

Wisconsin endorsed Common Core several years ago, but the debate over it didn’t heat up until last year — when tea party conservatives argued it could lead to a national education system. Other critics say Common Core departs from traditional methods of teaching math, it relies too heavily on student test scores, and smaller schools may not have the technology to administer the new online tests that are due to begin next spring in Wisconsin. Supporters say the tougher standards are needed to get students ready for a more complex world.

Majority Republicans in the Legislature proposed multiple bills this spring that would have repealed Common Core, although all of them failed to win the support needed to pass in both chambers.

As expected, Walker’s request was met with a largely partisan response. A spokeswoman for Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) said “the Speaker supports Governor Walker’s call for strong Wisconsin-based standards. This past session, several reforms were put forward after a special task force met and took public input. The Speaker was disappointed the proposals didn’t pass. He looks forward to working again on replacing Common Core with higher standards that are developed in our state.”

Assembly Democratic Leader Peter Barca (D-Kenosha) said the request is a sign that Walker is out of touch with Wisconsin educators. The Kenosha Democrat accused the governor of “playing to extreme elements in his party,” and argued that lawmakers “should not politicize our education standards to cater to extreme political viewpoints. Our future depends on our students’ ability to succeed in higher education and their careers in this 21st Century economy. We need to make sure that each and every student has the tools to succeed and compete against our neighboring states and the world.”

Supreme Court says protester can be banned from UW campuses

The Wisconsin Supreme Court (Photo: Andrew Beckett)

The Wisconsin Supreme Court (Photo: Andrew Beckett)

The State Supreme Court has ruled that student-protester Jeffery Decker can be banned from University of Wisconsin campuses. However, the court also agreed, in its unanimous ruling handed down Wednesday morning, that an injunction from a Dane County judge was overly broad and must be re-written.

Decker, the son of former state senate majority leader Russ Decker, has protested the way the UW system uses student fees. He claims the money is inappropriately used for construction projects and other items that should be funded through the regular university budget. UW officials said Decker’s protests included a series of threats and amounted to harassment.

In one instance, UW officials claimed Decker was seen stabbing a stack of papers using a pen as a knife during a signing ceremony, while the UW also claims his emails demanding meetings with university officials were threatening. Decker has also attended some events in a homemade dragon costume to protest.

Decker re-enrolled in 2010 to give him access to the campuses to protest. University officials expelled him. In 2011, the UW went to court and won an order barring him from all school grounds. Decker has been removed from UW property several times since the injunction was issued.

Decker maintains his position and innocence, despite today’s ruling.