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March 13, 2015




Please feel free to contact me with any concerns or opinions you might have.

Office Phone: (608) 266-7505
Toll-free Phone: (800) 361-5487



Mailing Address:

State Capitol
P.O. Box 7882
Madison, WI 53707




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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. 


Milwaukee County Winter Farmers' Market
Date: Now through April 11, Saturday mornings, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Location: Milwaukee
Description: The Milwaukee County Farmers' Market will be held again this year at the Mitchell Park Domes. The Farmers' Market gives Wisconsin residents a great opportunity to shop for local produce from the 35 weekly vendors. Vendors provide a wide selection of fresh fruit, vegetables, dairy, bakery, poultry and meats all winter long. Free parking spaces are provided.
CLICK HERE for more information.

Mitchell Park Domes (MAP)
524 South Layton Blvd. Milwaukee, WI 53215



49th Annual Shamrock Club of Wisconsin's St. Patrick's Day
Date: March 14 at Noon
Location: Milwaukee
Description: The Shamrock Club of Wisconsin's 49th Annual St. Patrick's Day Parade will take place on March 14th, starting at 3rd and Wisconsin and finishing at Water and Highland. Come and enjoy one of the best St. Patrick's Day Parades in the country! The parade will feature more than 140 units and includes local politicians and celebrities, floats, bagpipe and marching bands, and Irish and Celtic organizations. CLICK HERE for more information.

Downtown Milwaukee

3rd St. and Wisconsin Ave.
Milwaukee, WI 53203


Behind the Scenes Weekend at Milwaukee County Zoo
Date: Saturday, March 14, 2015 and Sunday, March 15, 2015
Location: Milwaukee
Description: Have you ever wondered what it would be like to go above the huge Lake Wisconsin Exhibit in the Aquatic & Reptile Center at the Milwaukee County Zoo? During the Zoo's Behind the Scenes Weekend, sponsored by Prairie Farms Dairy, visitors will be able to do just that, plus a whole lot more! CLICK HERE, for more information

Milwaukee County Zoo
10001 W Blue Mound Road
Milwaukee, WI 53226

Crossroads of Civilization at Milwaukee Public Museum
Date: Opens Sunday, March 15, 2015
Location: Milwaukee
Description: Experience the Milwaukee Public Museum's first new, permanent exhibition in more than a decade: Crossroads of Civilization. This exhibit, made possible by the Northwestern Mutual Foundation, explores how the ancient civilizations of Africa, Europe and Asia came together to form an epicenter of complex culture, creating not just a physical crossroads, but an intellectual one as well. Drawing on decades of Museum-led excavations, research and exhibit-building expertise, Crossroads of Civilization brings the ancient world to life by presenting over 200 artifacts from the Museum's collections alongside dynamic interactive technologies and all-new interpretive content based on emerging research. For more information, including exhibit highlights, CLICK HERE.

Milwaukee Pubic Museum
800 W Wells Street
Milwaukee, WI 53233


Dear Wisconsin Neighbor,


On Monday, Governor Walker signed the horribly regressive, so-called "Right to Work" (RTW) bill into law. I was disappointed that, after calling RTW a distraction less than a year ago, the governor chose to ignore the thousands who voiced their opposition to RTW and hastily sign the bill. RTW takes Wisconsin in the wrong direction, much like the governor's 2015-2017 state budget, which is wrong for Wisconsin in multiple ways.


In an effort to move Wisconsin education forward, my Assembly Democratic colleague, Rep. Mandela Barnes, and I introduced the Student Equal Opportunity Act, which will strengthen rights for students with disabilities in voucher schools. Read on for more on this proposal, the governor's anti-education budget, as well as opportunities for you to voice your opinion on the budget and other legislative priorities in the coming weeks.  


Chris Larson
State Senator, District 7



K-12 Education Budget is Wrong for Wisconsin

It is important for us to look back at Governor Walker's previous budgets to understand the current K-12 education budget. The 2011-2013 state budget not only divided Wisconsin, but also managed to gut $1.6 billion from our local public schools, which was the largest cut to education in Wisconsin history. This single cut translated to schools receiving about $550 less per student.

Then, in his 2013-2015 state budget, Walker continued down a path of unsustainable budgeting that failed families on education as well as failed to represent middle class values. For instance, the governor expanded the unaccountable, unproven voucher system statewide, which increased the per pupil budget for voucher schools by at least 9% for K-8 students and 22% for high school students. At the same time, he chose not to include the funding needed to make up for the massive cuts in his previous budget -- which would have required a $250 investment per student.

Here is graphical representation of what funding has looked like for the past 20 years:



So what does the 2015-17 state budget look like for our children's schools?


To be frank, it is quite bleak. The governor proposes several things that will have serious, negative impacts on our kids' schools and education quality. For instance, the state budget includes provisions that:

  • Continues to fail to invest in our kids' futures -- funding for K-12 will be reduced when inflation is factored in.

  • Cuts $127 million in per student aid next school year -- which takes away funds that schools would spend in classrooms to educate our kids. 

  • Removes the funding cap on taxpayer-funded voucher schools statewide, which will cost the state at least an additional $17.2 million, on top of the billion plus dollars already thrown at the experiment.

  • Creates a Charter School Oversight Board, to approve new independent charter school authorizers. The board will be made up of mostly political appointees, not experts in education. Essentially, the ability of the district, elected officials, students, parents, and taxpayers to have a say in how their local schools are run is completely taken away and handed over to an independent charter organization. It's expected this will cost the state $8.9 million.

  • Ignores the years of preparation, and money invested, to replace the outdated WKCE test with the new Smarter Balanced test, by preventing schools from using it and instead mandates tests that have yet to be created.

  • Denies needed funding to give children with disabilities, or English language learners, a quality education.

Governor Walker's budget also contains a number of policy items that are regressive, and have no place in the budget. If these ideas have merit, they should be debated as separate bills before the Legislature. For example, the governor's budget:

  • Makes significant changes to the school report cards, which will use A through F ratings instead of the current system that rates schools based on meeting expectations and performance. This means, under the current system, a school that is given a grade of �meets expectations� will now be given a �C� grade under the governor's budget, which has a negative connotation and will turn parents off to schools that are actually performing quite well.

  • Allows public schools and voucher schools to use different tests than one another, which will not allow for an apples-to-apples comparison of student achievement and will continue the cycle of not being able to accurately compare the performance of private voucher schools to traditional public schools.

  • Eliminates the ability of districts to use the Common Core State Standards which were developed by education experts from around the nation and have been shown to increase student achievement in reading and math, and actually prevents the State Superintendent from administering them.

  • Reduces teacher licensing requirements so individuals with no background in education, or knowledge of best-practices on how to teach, replace quality teachers.

  • Eliminates the Chapter 220 program, which allows racial and ethnic minority children, and children with a lower socio-economic status to enroll in traditionally more affluent schools. This will, unfortunately, create more segregation in schools, making them less diverse, and restrict the freedom of children who are looking to go to schools that they might not already be able to attend.

All of these provisions are troubling to say the least. It is clear that our children's education is not a priority in this budget or for this governor.

To summarize, Governor Walker's education budget cuts state support to public schools by $98 million over the biennium, freezes local support via the tax levy, and funnels more spending to private schools.



What is the overall impact of these cuts on our children's education?

According to the Wisconsin Budget Project, with the governor's cuts to public education in this budget -- on top of massive disinvestment in our traditional neighborhood schools that have occurred in recent years -- Wisconsin has already cut state support for public schools by at least 15% per student since 2008, a deeper cut than all but four other states. That 15% cut (in inflation-adjusted spending) means the state is spending $1,014 less on each student in fiscal year 2015 compared to 2008. This harsh reduction severely limits the educational opportunities we provide this generation of school children.

CLICK HERE to see the Wisconsin Budget Project article on school disinvestment over recent years.

The governor's budget does not accurately reflect our Wisconsin tradition of investing in our kids so everyone has the opportunity and freedom to pursue the American Dream. This budget takes Wisconsin in the wrong direction in widening the values deficit that the governor has created through his previous two budgets.

Please join me in standing up to the Republicans currently in power by asking for a strong long-term vision for our kids and our state�s future. We must start by correcting the continued injustice that the governor is forcing on our children.

CLICK HERE to add your name to the list of people who oppose Governor Walker's budget.



Ensuring the Rights of Children with Disabilities in Voucher Schools

This week, Representative Mandela Barnes and I introduced the "Student Equal Opportunity Act." This legislation will strengthen rights for students with disabilities in voucher schools, as well as make sure they have proper teachers licensed and trained to educate children with special needs.

The Student Equal Opportunity Act does three basic things:


  1. Requires voucher schools to employ licensed special education teachers or therapists (if pupils needing such service attend the voucher school)

  2. Requires voucher schools to comply with Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990

  3. If the private school fails to satisfy these requirements, it allows the Department of Public Instruction to prohibit a private school from participating in the taxpayer-funded program

Just over a month ago, Senator Harris Dodd and I introduced Senate Bill 3, which would apply many of the same standards of accountability and transparency we expect of public schools to voucher schools as well. The level of discrepancy in how we hold these two separate, but both publicly funded, school systems accountable is astonishing. Senate Bill 3 includes some very basic items that would hold voucher schools accountable to the public, such as:

  • Requiring background checks for teachers and administrators

  • Requiring graduation standards

  • Requiring teachers be licensed

  • Requiring they follow open records laws

  • Abiding by seclusion and restraint laws

  • Offering due process for expelled students

  • Administering early reading screenings

  • Requiring building inspections for safety purposes

That bill, however, did not address creating equal access to services and protections for children with special needs. Most people don't realize that private voucher schools, even though they may be 100% voucher-funded -- meaning publicly funded -- are not required to abide by Title II of the American Disabilities Act, or even have teachers on staff who are trained or licensed to teach children with special needs. Yet as the graphic below shows, almost 50% of voucher schools in the Milwaukee voucher program are 100% taxpayer-funded. To Representative Barnes and I, and the 33 other co-sponsors of the "Student Equal Opportunity Act," those school are essentially public schools and should be held to the same standards, especially when we are talking about children with special needs.



That is why the "Student Equal Opportunity Act" is so important. I know the majority of our neighbors believe children with disabilities deserve to receive a quality education -- tailored to their needs -- from their school, be it public, charter, or voucher. Our bill is a first step in providing those protections to children with disabilities in Wisconsin's publicly funded voucher schools.

Allegations of discrimination and mistreatment of students with disabilities in voucher schools is extremely alarming and has been happening for years, but now, thanks to Congressman Mark Pocan, voucher schools are now being investigated by the U.S. Department of Justice. Passing our bill will be a great leap forward in ensuring all of our children receive the quality education they have a right to under our State's Constitution. We must put an end to the cycle of discrimination and mistreatment of special needs students in voucher schools.

As my colleague and co-author of the bill, Rep. Barnes, said, "Access to quality, discrimination-free education is a freedom and right that every child deserves, and Wisconsin students with disabilities absolutely should not be denied the opportunity to achieve and succeed in schools because of inadequate standards in any publicly funded schools. Especially given that our publicly-funded vouchers schools are being investigated for complaints of discrimination against children with disabilities, this common-sense legislation is necessary to ensure basic accountability for students with disabilities who attend publicly funded schools and taxpayers who support them with their hard-earned money."

It is our hope the Republicans in the Legislature value the well-being of all of our children and will be willing work with us to pass this bill in the upcoming months.




Ask Chris

I often have neighbors contact me looking for my perspective on various local and state issues. I very much appreciate our neighbors' questions and want to dedicate a portion of my newsletter to common questions that I hear to maintain an open dialogue. Please continue reading for this week's question.

Q: I am currently a member of the Include Respect I Self-Direct (IRIS) program. I love being in the program because it gives me flexibility in determining who I employ for the services I need. I have heard the governor eliminated the program in his most-recent state budget. Can you provide an update on what is happening with the IRIS program? 

A: In the 2015-17 state budget, the governor eliminates the IRIS program, which currently serves almost 12,000 of our friends, family, and neighbors who have long-term care needs. The program was created to enable people to self-direct the services they need. What's worse, the governor is wrongly misleading people into thinking they will maintain the same type of flexibility through Family Care. To imply individuals will have the same level of self-direction even if IRIS is eliminated is a completely false, and is unfair to our neighbors who depend on, and love, this program.

Click here for a factsheet that outlines the differences in self-direction between IRIS and FamilyCare.

IRIS is a model program that has been successful in giving our older neighbors and neighbors with disabilities autonomy in their long-term care needs, while also being cost-effective, as it helps keep people in their homes and avoid costly nursing homes and institutionalization. People in the IRIS program have the flexibility to self-direct their plan -- within an authorized budget -- based upon identified needs and outcomes. IRIS allows individuals to have a choice in what services and supports will help them in their daily lives and makes it possible for participants to successfully live, work, and participate in their communities.

Shifting people from the IRIS program into a managed care option could have detrimental effects on those currently served in the program. For instance, it could cause them to have to change the doctors and caregivers they know and trust -- without any justifiable reason.

Unfortunately, at the Joint Finance Committee agency briefing, Department of Health Services Secretary Kitty Rhoades had no tangible answers for what IRIS members should expect in the coming months. What is clear, however, is Wisconsin legislators should reject the governor's changes and keep the current models for long-term care in Wisconsin intact.


The stories from our neighbors who have been successful in IRIS speak volumes to the effectiveness of Wisconsin's long-term care programs, like IRIS and Family Care, but in case there is a need for further affirmation, here are some quick facts, based on documentation from Wisconsin Long-Term Care Works:

  • IRIS is the largest self-determination Medicaid waiver program in the country

  • The nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau projected in 2013 that expanding Family Care and IRIS statewide (using the current models) over the next ten years would save Wisconsin taxpayers approximately $34 million.

  • In contrast to the savings projections under the status quo, there are no clear indications that the governor's changes will produce any additional savings -- a gamble Wisconsin cannot afford to take with our looming $2.2 billion deficit.

  • With IRIS being eliminated, and the Family Care program being changed as we know it, there will no longer be a cap on profits in our long-term care system. The current expectation for managed care organizations in the system is that annual surpluses must be below 2%. Under the governor's budget, there is no cap on profits for the insurance companies poised to take over these programs.

In the past few weeks, I have heard from many of you about what the crucial role IRIS plays in the everyday lives of its participants. One IRIS member in our neighborhood said, "It is important I know and trust the person who is caring for me." Should the budget pass with this provision unchanged, it would be devastating to the lives of almost 12,000 of our community members.

Would you be affected by the IRIS changes? CLICK HERE and share your personal story.


Voice your Opinions on the State Budget
Given the significance of the 2015-17 state budget, it is incredibly important to provide everyone in our local communities an opportunity to speak directly to their elected officials and engage in meaningful and productive dialogue.

The Joint Finance Committee will be holding public hearings as they review the budget, and will make changes over the coming months, before approving a final version to be voted on by the full Legislature, which typically occurs in June.

It is important for our neighbors to attend the hearings, to make sure their views and thoughts are taken into consideration as the state budget moves forward. Below are the details for the public hearings.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015
Time: 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Location: Brillion High School
Endries Performing Arts Center
Address: W1101 County Road HR
Brillion, WI 54110

Friday, March 20, 2015
10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Location: Alverno College
Pitman Theatre
Address: 3400 South 43rd Street
Milwaukee, WI 53234

Monday, March 23, 2015
10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Location: University of Wisconsin-Barron
County Fine Arts Theatre
Address: 1800 College Drive
Rice Lake, WI 54868

Thursday, March 26, 2015
9:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
Reedsburg High School
CAL Center Auditorium
Address: 1100 South Albert Avenue
Reedsburg, WI 53959

If you are unable to attend one of the public hearings on the state budget, you can also provide input by sending your comments to the Joint Finance Committee. Comments can be emailed to the Committee at, or sent by mail to:

Joe Malkasian
Room 305 East, State Capitol
Madison, WI 53702.

Additionally, I will be holding town hall meetings -- with other local elected officials -- in our own community, to gather input and hear concerns from neighbors about state and community issues. Below, you will find the dates and locations of these town hall meetings. 

Monday, March 30, 2015
5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Location: South Milwaukee Library
Address: 1907 10th Avenue                    
South Milwaukee, WI 53172
Who: Senator Chris Larson and South
Milwaukee Mayor Erik Brooks

Tuesday, March 31, 2015
5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Location: Urban Ecology Center
Address: 1500 E. Park Place
Milwaukee, WI 53211
Who: Senator Chris Larson, Representative
Jonathan Brostoff, and Alderman Nik Kovac     

Wednesday, April 1, 2015
5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Location: South Shore Park Pavilion
2900 South Shore Drive
Milwaukee, WI 53207
Who: Senator Chris Larson, Representative Christine Sinicki



Deerfield Elementary Participates in 2015 Capitol Concerts

The Deerfield Elementary Choir, from Oak Creek,  performed on Tuesday, March 10, 2015, from noon to 1 p.m. on the first floor Capitol Rotunda as part of the Wisconsin Music Educators Association (WMEA) 2015 Capitol Concerts.


Each year, WMEA sponsors school music group concerts in the Capitol Rotunda during March and April. Capitol Concerts offers groups an opportunity to perform in our beautiful Capitol building. The concerts kick off as a celebration of the National Association of Music Education's Music In Our Schools Month, an annual celebration during March which engages music educators, students, and communities from around the country in promoting the benefits of high quality music education programs in schools.



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