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March 13, 2015
Please feel free to contact me with any concerns or opinions you might
Office Phone: (608) 266-7505
Toll-free Phone: (800) 361-5487
P.O. Box 7882
Madison, WI 53707
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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.
Winter Farmers' Market
Date: Now through April 11, Saturday mornings, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
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
Shamrock Club of Wisconsin's St. Patrick's Day
Date: March 14 at Noon
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.
3rd St. and Wisconsin Ave.
Milwaukee, WI 53203
Scenes Weekend at Milwaukee County Zoo
Date: Saturday, March 14, 2015 and Sunday, March 15, 2015
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
10001 W Blue Mound Road
Milwaukee, WI 53226
Crossroads of Civilization at Milwaukee
Date: Opens Sunday, March 15, 2015
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
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.
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
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.
$127 million in per student aid next school year -- which takes
away funds that schools would spend in classrooms to educate our
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
The Student Equal Opportunity Act does three basic things:
Requires voucher schools to employ
licensed special education teachers or therapists (if pupils needing
such service attend the voucher school)
Requires voucher schools to comply
with Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990
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
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
Abiding by seclusion and restraint
Offering due process for expelled
Administering early reading
Requiring building inspections for
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
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.
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
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,
Click here for a factsheet
that outlines the differences in self-direction between IRIS and
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
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
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
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
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
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
Time: 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Location: Alverno College
Address: 3400 South 43rd Street
Milwaukee, WI 53234
Monday, March 23, 2015
Time: 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Location: University of Wisconsin-Barron
Fine Arts Theatre
Address: 1800 College Drive
Rice Lake, WI 54868
Thursday, March 26, 2015
Time: 9:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
Location: 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
BudgetComments@legis.wisconsin.gov, or sent by mail to:
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
Time: 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
March 31, 2015
Time: 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
and Alderman Nik Kovac
Wednesday, April 1, 2015
Time: 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Location: South Shore Park Pavilion
Address: 2900 South Shore Drive
Milwaukee, WI 53207
Who: Senator Chris Larson,
Representative Christine Sinicki
Participates in 2015 Capitol Concerts
The Deerfield Elementary Choir, from
Oak Creek, performed on Tuesday, March 10, 2015, from noon to 1
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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