A Capitol Update from State Senator Chris Larson

Dear Wisconsin Neighbor,

As all eyes seem to be on Washington and the attempts undermine health care there, it's important to keep an eye on our own state Capitol where Republicans can't find agreement on a different major bill that has huge implications: the 2017-2019 state budget.

Under Wisconsin law, our state biennial budget must be enacted by July 1 on odd-numbered years. If you've been following the budget process, you are likely aware the Senate and Assembly GOP continue closed door meetings on what will be in the budget, making it unlikely they will meet the statutory deadline of tomorrow at Midnight.

One portion of our state budget that appears to have Republicans at an impasse is how much our state should invest in our kids and their future. Since being elected to the Senate in 2010, I have made supporting our children's future by investing in our local public schools my top priority. Serving as the ranking Democrat on the Senate Education Committee, I continue to push for a better deal for our kids than the one they've been getting these last seven years.

This week's Larson Report will provide an update on the Democratic vision for supporting our schools and kids. In addition, We'll recap some of the education proposals I've been championing already this session, and ones that I will be introducing as session continues.


In Service,

Chris Larson
State Senator, District 7


State Budget Must Invest in our Kids

How we choose to invest in our children is one of the most important and critical parts of our state budget. Each and every one of our kids deserves a school that is fully able to meet their needs, but Walker and legislative Republicans have failed in this task and have instead focused on shifting more tax dollars to private, unaccountable voucher schools.

I strongly believe one of core pillars of what makes Wisconsin a great state is our dedication to a great education system, where every child has access to a quality education. It's such a part of who we are that it's actually in our state Constitution. Wisconsin must renew this value of supporting our local public schools, as it is crucial to strengthening our communities and state. Having strong neighborhood schools benefits everyone. Our kids will have more opportunities to live to their full potential. Even those who don't have children or whose children are grown enjoy the benefits of higher property values and community prosperity that come with having quality local public schools.

With Republicans at an impasse on the state budget that has a looming deadline, my Democratic colleagues on the Joint Finance Committee released a K-12 education plan that invests more than the governor's proposal and lowers property taxes by almost $25 million.

All of our children deserve a quality education. In order to achieve this goal, our schools must be a priority and be adequately and fairly funded. I'm proud to stand with my colleagues in standing up for our kids and fighting for their future.

The Dem education plan:

  • Puts an additional $514 million in the general aid formula, while implementing State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers' Fair Funding proposal, and ensures equal treatment of all districts.
  • Reduces property taxes statewide by increasing state support for schools. Compared to the governor's plan, Dem plan cuts property taxes by $25 million more.
  • Retains the $200/$204 per pupil aid increases for all districts.
  • Restores funding lost under Republican restrictions on low-spending districts in 2011, and increases funding for historically low spending districts beyond the Assembly Republican K-12 budget proposal.
  • Increases special education funding for the first time in nearly a decade by close to $90 million.
  • Restores $500 million in local revenue authority so districts can use the increased state funding for actual classroom instruction.
  • Allows local taxpayers to decide via referendum if they want local tax dollars shifted to unaccountable voucher schools.
  • Allows local communities to put in place school safety plans, save tax dollars with energy efficient projects, and combat alcohol and other drug abuse outside of spending limits.

Holding For-Profit Voucher Schools Accountable
The Dem education plan also incorporates key voucher accountability pieces from a bill that I introduced last session. We know that our students and neighborhood schools are still struggling to recover from the largest cuts to education in our state's history. The Dem plan recommits and invests in our kids and public schools, but also ensures that every school receiving taxpayer dollars is held to the same standards and accountability.

Under 2015 Senate Bill 3, and included in the JFC education plan, are the following provisions:

  • Requiring Licensure for Voucher School Teachers
    Require that all instructional staff of private schools participating in a choice program hold a license or permit issued by DPI.

  • Administering Background Checks for Teachers, Administrators, and Staff to Keep Students Safe
    Require each private school participating in the voucher program to conduct a background check of each teacher and administrator employed by the private school. Require private schools to conduct a background check before extending an offer of employment to a new teacher or administrator in the school, and conduct background checks annually. Prohibit a participating private school from employing a teacher or administrator who would not be eligible for employment in a public school as a result of the background check.
  • Administer Early Reading Screenings
    Require private schools participating in a voucher program to administer an assessment of reading readiness to students in 4-year-old kindergarten through 2nd grade.
  • Create Similar Graduation Requirements as Public Schools
    Require private schools to develop a policy for granting a high school diploma to voucher students that includes the requirements applicable to public school students under state law.
  • Offer Due Process for Expelled Students
    Direct DPI to promulgate rules establishing a procedure for the expulsion of students attending a private voucher school, and ensure that it is similar to that of public schools.  
  • Ban Corporal Punishment
    Prohibit a private school participating in a choice program from subjecting a student to corporal punishment.
  • Require Building Inspections for Safety Purposes
    Require private schools located in a municipality that does not issue certificates of occupancy to annually obtain a building inspection of the school building before participation in the voucher program.
  • Protect our Tax Dollars by Enrollment Limits
    Ensure that Private Schools Participating in the voucher program only have 49% of their students receiving vouchers and specify that the total number of pupils residing in a district who can participate in the statewide choice program would be limited to no more than 2% of the district's prior year membership in 2017-18 and thereafter.

Budget and Beyond: Continuing to Fight for our Kids and Neighborhood Public Schools
As the lead Democratic member of the Senate Committee on Education, I have met with all of the 7th Senate District school districts as well as with educators, experts, other legislators, and advocates in order to come up with legislation that puts our kids on the road to opportunity and prosperity. As a public school parent, I remain committed to ensuring each child gets the education and opportunity they deserve.

In addition to fighting for our children's future to be a priority in the state budget, I have introduced several pieces of pro-public education legislation. For instance:

  • Bipartisan Character Education Bill (SB 329)
    Republican Senator Alberta Darling and I introduced a bill that provides funding to the Department of Public Instruction for awarding grants to allow for teachers and school leaders to participate in professional development training in character education.

    Our kids devote a lot their time in the classroom, which is a great opportunity to develop and reinforce the core values upon which character is formed.

    Character education is a learning process that enables students and adults in a school community to understand, care about, and act on core ethical values such as respect, justice, civic virtue and citizenship, and responsibility for self and others.

    Schools like Brown Deer Middle/High School and school districts like South Milwaukee have been named Wisconsin Schools of Character and have been recognized for their exemplary character education programs. In fact, South Milwaukee is even recognized as a National School of Character.

    This bill provides funding to the Department of Public Instruction for awarding grants to allow for teachers and school leaders to participate in professional development training in character education. This bill would also allow teachers and school district administrators to use their character education training toward any professional development requirements needed for their license.
  • Special Education Reimbursement Rates (SB 211)
    I introduced Senate Bill 211 to increase state aid to school districts for special education programs. Funding for special education categorical aid has been frozen since the 2008-09 school year. This bill would bring Wisconsin back to reimbursing special education rates to schools districts to 33%.

    State aid that supports the education of students with disabilities has remained frozen since the 2008-2009 school year, but the cost to provide this education has continued to rise. This results in a continuing slide in reimbursement rates for special education costs that school districts incur and forces our already underfunded schools to spread their resources dangerously thin to try and accommodate all of the students in the district. For instance, they may have to have one nurse be responsible for several schools. This is problematic because some students require medications be administered multiple times a day.

    The thinner vital school staff are spread, the more likely important student needs may not be met. In the very first year reimbursement rates were established, 1980, school districts were reimbursed at a rate of 66.1%. In the 1999-2000 school year, reimbursement rates were 34.3%. For the 2014-15 school year, the rate fell to just 26.8% of costs. We have an obligation to educate all students, including those with disabilities.

    The Special Education Restoration Act would give schools their fair share of funding by bringing us back to reimbursing districts at a very modest 33%.

  • Community School Start-Up Grants (SB 282)
    Senate Bill 282 to creates a community school start-up grant program, which would allocate funds to public schools that focus on improving student learning, strengthening families, and working with community partners to provide additional services to families in the district.

    Republicans have failed to invest in the services desperately needed in our schools and have neglected programming that is proven to be beneficial in supporting families and bolstering student achievement.

    The community schools model takes a wraparound approach, which allows for more comprehensive, individualized services for students, such as academic support and enrichment activities, including expanded learning time and summer or after school enrichment and learning experiences; programs that promote parental involvement and family literacy; job training, internship opportunities, and career counseling services; and health services, including primary health, services by a school nurse, dental care, mental health counseling, and nutrition services.

    Through the holistic approach of community schools, our schools will have the tools to address the complex range of factors that contribute to student learning.

    See a video of the press conference unveiling SB 282, here.

  • Public Education Reinvestment Act (PERA) (LRB 0996)
    This legislation, proposed by Rep. Brostoff and me, would expand a smaller class size model statewide across all K4-12 grades, through the proven Student Achievement Guarantee in Education (SAGE). The benefits of having smaller class sizes are far-reaching and include students scoring higher in reading, language arts, and mathematics as well as evidence of higher graduation rates.

    SAGE was established in 1996-97 school year and currently allows a teacher-to-student ratio of 18:1 for grades K-3. This bill would expand the program to 4K-12. Our bill would also invest an additional $2,250 for each eligible low-income student.

    Smaller classes provide more opportunities for teacher-student interaction, with fewer disciplinary disruptions and allow teachers to tailor instruction to student needs. SAGE has been shown to result in students scoring significantly higher in reading, language arts, and mathematics.

See a video of the press conference unveiling LRB 0996, here.


Take Action:

Preserving access to the American Dream starts with investing in the future of our children and communities through quality and accessible education in our local public schools.

Unfortunately, after years of intentional and harmful underfunding, our neighborhood schools continue to suffer under Walker and legislative Republicans.

Contact the Co-Chairs of the Joint Finance Committee and let tell them:
Education is a right that should be afforded to every Wisconsin child. Senate and Assembly Democrats have an education plan that will invest more than the governor's proposal and lower property taxes by almost $25 million. Support the Dem education motion in the Joint Finance Committee.

You can reach Senator Darling at 608.266.5830

You can reach Representative Nygren at 608.266.2343

In Case You Missed It
Each week, the Larson Report strives to provide up-to-date, in-depth information to its readers. Between editions, a lot happens in Madison and our Wisconsin communities. I want to make sure you know the most pressing issues facing our neighborhoods across the state. Below are some of the top stories from the past couple of weeks:
  • U.S. Supreme Court to Hear Wisconsin Redistricting Case
    Attempts to suppress the public's voice by politically gerrymandering districts to weaken the voting power of targeted groups is a betrayal of our fundamental democratic freedoms and values.

    The Assembly district maps that were crafted in secret by Wisconsin Republicans were declared unconstitutional last November in federal court. That legal ruling recognized the Republican abuse of power went too far in shutting out our neighbors' voices in elections.

    Voters should choose their politicians; politicians shouldn't choose their voters. While Walker and state Republicans have shown they'll do anything to hold onto power, I believe that justice will prevail and that the U.S. Supreme Court will confirm what we already know: the legislative district maps are unconstitutional and must be changed. Click here for more information.
    Also, check out this Wisconsin State Journal editorial regarding the case.

  • Neighbors Voicing Concerns about Health Care
    Our neighbor, Ellen, called the office last week. Her son is ill and depends on our state's Medicaid program (BadgerCare) for basic health care. In fact, she was heading to take him to the doctor later that day but called my office first because she is worried that he may lose his coverage if the Affordable Care Act is repealed.

    Like Ellen's family, many of our Wisconsin friends, families, and neighbors depend on the protections of the Affordable Care Act and our Medicaid program. Stripping away these basic, but life-saving, services leave our community dangerously vulnerable. It is wrong and immoral.

    With estimates of Wisconsinites at risk of losing their health care coverage exceeding 300,000, Ellen's concern is certainly warranted. We must stand firm against efforts to destroy a system that our neighbors depend on for their quality of life and health. We deserve better than a partisan scheme crafted behind closed doors, and now being rushed through the process. As referenced in the article below, the Senate Republican health care plan may come up as early as next week and be debated for less than a day.

    I'm proud that Senator Tammy Baldwin has stood firm in protecting our health care options from day one.

    However, Senator Ron Johnson has waffled back and forth. Call and tell him to protect health care for our neighbors by rejecting any efforts to gut the Affordable Care Act. You can reach Senator Johnson at 414-276-7282. Click here for more information about the proposed federal cuts to Medicaid.

  • Local Elected Officials Taking Lead on Climate Change
    Mayor Tom Barrett showed his leadership in fighting against climate change by joining over 298 mayors in committing to the principles of the Paris Climate Agreement. Mayor Barrett also joined 13 other U.S. cities in republishing the EPA Climate information that was removed from the federal website by the

    Trump administration, which can be found at the link below.
    With the Trump administration backing out of our commitment to globally reduce the dangerous effects of climate change, it is up to state and local governments to lead the charge in the fight for a better, more prosperous future.

    I am proud of Mayor Barrett for taking strong, fast action and taking a stand for our shared values.

    Like Mayor Tom Barrett, 35 State Representatives and 11 State Senators know that climate change is real, it is happening, and we must participate in, if not lead the worldwide efforts to combat it.

    That's why my Democratic colleagues and I sent a letter calling on Governor Walker to have Wisconsin to join the bipartisan United States Climate Alliance and recommit our state to our tradition of conservation by developing and implementing a state-based plan to fight climate change. Click here for more information.

Events in our Community -- Fourth of July Edition

Supporting our neighbors and being involved in our community is of the utmost importance. Some community events that might be of interest to you and your family are listed below.


Tuesday, July 4, marks the 241st anniversary of our nation's Declaration of Independence. It is a day of celebration with family, friends, and neighbors. We must also remember the sacrifices of those who came before us, in securing our nation's freedoms, as well as the service of our military men and women in uniform who cannot spend this holiday enjoying barbecues or fireworks with their families. We owe them for everything they do to keep us safe.

Around the state, local communities will be hosting parades, ceremonies, and fireworks to celebrate the Fourth of July. Continue reading to see what events will be going on in the Milwaukee area.

I'll be marching in the Bay View and Cudahy parades and would love to have you join me! If you are interested in marching in either or both parades, please contact Nick Janis for details at 414.368.0135 or Nick.Janis@Legis.WI.Gov

If you are looking for fireworks in communities outside of the Milwaukee area, click here.

Spend July 3, at the Lakefront for the Fireworks Kite Festival beginning at 11 a.m. and for fireworks at dusk (about 9:25 p.m.) "Watch the skies light over the lakefront in Milwaukee for 60 minutes of 'oohs and aahs'." Plan to arrive early.

Click here to learn more about this event.

Since 1911, the city of Milwaukee has hosted safe and friendly celebrations for families and friends to enjoy. In parks across the city, neighbors and visitors come together for picnics, games, parades, and more. These celebrations will take place Tuesday, July 4, and are capped off by fireworks bursting all over town.

Click here to visit the Fourth of July Commission website to find a celebration in a park near you.

South Milwaukee
South Milwaukee will be hosting the Mayor's Picnic (free hot dog lunch for all attendees), and there will be a Fourth of July Celebration at Grant Park at the Brown Pavilion, areas 5 & 6 that will end with a Fireworks display at 9.30 p.m.

Click here to visit the city of South Milwaukee's website for more information.

The city of Cudahy will be celebrating the Fourth of July on Packard Avenue. Starting at Grange and Packard at noon, the celebration will include an opening ceremony and performances by high school groups such as the Cudahy Bull Dog Cheer Team, Cudahy High School Pom Pons, and CHS Varsity Cheer Team. Fireworks at approximately 9:20 a.m. at Sheridan Park.

Click here to visit the city of Cudahy's website for more information.

Oak Creek
Oak Creek will be celebrating the Fourth of July this year beginning with a parade at 8 a.m. at E. Groveland Drive and S. Verdev Drive. The events of the day include free ice cream and games for kids, a "Pay It Forward To Our Veterans" performance by the Oak Creek High School Marching Band, and fireworks at dusk.

Click here for a flyer and schedule of events.

St. Francis
This year the St. Francis Fourth of July celebration will include a parade, judging of bikes/trikes/wagons, a horseshoe tournament, a dance off at the band shell, live music, and fireworks at 9:15 p.m.

Click here for more information on the St. Francis Fourth of July Celebration.

Plan to attend Franklin's Four-Day Civic Celebration in Lions Legend Park. The celebration begins Friday, July 1, at 1 p.m. and ends on the Fourth of July with fireworks at 9:30 p.m. Food, carnival rides, kids' activities, and entertainment will be provided.

Click here for more information on the 2017 Franklin Civic Celebration.


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Madison, WI 53707

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(800) 361-5487

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