October 31, 2013
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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.
21st Annual Dia de los Muertos Exhibition
Date: Now through Sat., November 16
This October marks 21 years of the Walker's Point Center of the Arts
celebrating Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), a rich Mexican
tradition. Curated by local art historian Juan Lopez, this traditional
celebration will include a touch of contemporary flavor with ofrendas
(altars/offerings) created by local artists of various backgrounds in
addition to sculpture and 2-D work related to the holiday. Dia de los
Muertos recognizes death as a celebration of life. It reminds one to
reflect on what they value through the commemoration of loved ones and
their lives, while at the same time generating enthusiasm for the
friends and family around us. As the celebration progresses, this
dynamic gathering of people transforms itself into a festivity of life.
Informational tours and culturally relevant crafts for kids are
available during the course of this exhibition. The opening reception
will be held on Friday, October 18 from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.
CLICK HERE for more information.
Sensibilities in Collage
Explore contemporary approaches to collage as informed by the digital
realm and a shift in the definition and cultural boundaries of art.
CLICK HERE for more information.
Romeo & Juliet
When a story is retold as often as Romeo & Juliet, how it is told is of
utmost importance. And nobody tells a story quite like Milwaukee Ballet.
7th Annual Turkish
Enjoy the Turkish Film Festival that is screened at the UW-Milwaukee
City of Oak Creek
Veterans Day Celebration
Veterans Day Parade
School's Annual Veterans Day Assembly
Date: Mon., November 11 at 7:30 p.m.
Description: Stephen Lang, award winning playwright, stage, and screen star, brings the stories of eight different men to the stage in a one-man show that will reach into your very soul and keep you thoroughly spellbound. Beyond Glory enjoyed a celebrated run on Broadway and in Chicago's Goodman Theater; Lang is now taking it coast to coast. Beyond Glory presents the stories of eight veterans from World War II, Korea, and Vietnam, rendering first-hand accounts of valor which resulted in the nation's highest military award, the Medal of Honor. A portion of all tickets purchased will be donated to The Milwaukee Homeless Veterans Initiative. CLICK HERE for more information.
Marcus Center of Performing Arts (MAP)
929 N. Water Street
I recently participated in the MPS Parade of Schools, an event that visits four neighborhood schools to get a real perspective of our children's educational opportunities. This week's newsletter will focus on that tour, as well as frac sand mining legislation that impedes local control, progression of a bill to prevent the mistreatment of animals, a proposed Constitutional Amendment that would alter the composition of the Wisconsin Supreme Court, and a petition to support the Higher Ed, Lower Debt bill. Continue reading for more on this and other important issues.
Visiting Our Local Schools
Last week, I participated in the Parade of Schools event hosted by Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS). This was a valuable opportunity to visit four neighborhood schools to learn more about the positive things they are doing to educate our children and how we can better support these efforts.
Tour Stops and Highlights
The tour began at Honey Creek Continuous Progress Charter School, which provides a quality educational experience to children from K4 through grade 5. This school offers a structured learning environment that utilizes proven strategies based on informed assessments. These efforts have shown tremendous success as this school ranks as an "exceeds expectations" institution. Further, these students are on track with the state's reading proficiency rate while exceeding the state's mathematics proficiency rate by over 10 percentage points.
The next stop on the tour was Audubon Technology & Communication Center Middle School and Audubon Technology & Communication High School. These schools provide an emphasis on STEM--science, technology, engineering, and mathematics--coursework. Further, the high school maintains a partnership with Alverno College. These unique offerings ensure that students are equipped with the necessary skills to succeed in a 21st century economy, whether they choose to seek employment after graduation or continue on to post secondary educational endeavors.
While at Audubon High School, I also had the opportunity to speak with some students about a school project they were working on. The four students (listed from left to right)--Rebecca Nelson, Timothy Barnes, Olivia Miller, and Adriana Maldonado--were working on their community service project, which involves holding a donation drive on behalf of the Homeless Veterans Initiative. So far, they are half way to their goal of collecting 1,500 items to donate.
The final stop on the Parade of Schools tour was Fairview School, which provides instruction to K3 through grade 8 students. This school boasts a wide range of educational opportunities to meet the needs of each student. Not only do they participate in Project Lead the Way by offering engineering and accelerated reading courses, but they also aim to provide a positive environment for students with disabilities through inclusion, as such students comprise approximately 26.4% of their population.
Turning MPS Around Despite Challenges
MPS has faced a number of significant challenges in recent years. In 2011, legislative Republicans passed Scott Walker's first budget as governor, which decreased state aid support for Wisconsin's neighborhood schools by over $800 million. Unfortunately, many schools will fare even worse this school year under Governor Walker's second budget. While general school aid statewide increased overall by 1.1%, much of the increase is being diverted to private voucher schools as a result of Republicans expanding the program statewide. According to recent estimates by the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI), more than half of Wisconsin public school districts will receive less general aid in the 2013-2014 school year than they did for the 2012-2013 school year. In fact, 229 of Wisconsin's 424 school districts, or 54%, will receive less general aid in the current school year. This includes MPS, which saw a decrease in state aid of $1,407,778 this school year. In contrast, schools in the voucher program will see an astronomical increase of up to $1,414 per pupil. These cuts have meant larger class sizes and decreased program options at our local schools, including those that I visited.
Additionally, MPS also has a staggeringly high population of students with disabilities, economically disadvantages students, or students with limited English proficiency. For example, 89.7% of Audubon Middle School students are economically disadvantaged, which means more students suffering the effects of poverty, such as lack of proper nutrition, which can make it difficult to focus in school and learn the material being taught. These factors create a more challenging environment for teachers who are trying to ensure that each and every child is adequately prepared when they graduate.
Despite these problems, MPS has worked
hard to improve the quality of their educational institutions. The proof
that these efforts are succeeding is shown in their enrollment rate and
parent satisfaction. Enrollment in MPS grew between the 2012-13 and
2013-14 school year, reversing a decline that lasted nearly a decade.
Parents have also proven to be satisfied with MPS. According to a
2012-13 Climate Survey of parents, 93.2% of parents say their schools
have friendly, welcoming atmospheres; 90.6% of parents agree that their
schools make sure classrooms are safe and orderly; and 89.4% of parents
believe students are given challenging work.
The dedicated teachers, faculty, and staff within these MPS schools also play a crucial role in the growing success of MPS schools and its students. Sarah Berndt, a ninth grade Spanish and introductory international baccalaureate class teacher at Ronald Reagan College Preparatory High School, recently received a 2013 Milken Educator Award. This award is given by the Milken Family Foundation to mid-career teachers who have made a significant impact and have promising futures in teaching. Berndt was one of 40 award recipients named across the United State this year.
Berndt is not alone in being awarded for her commitment to our children through teaching. Three teachers at ALBA School, a bilingual K-5 elementary school in MPS, also received an award for their efforts, this time from People magazine. Brenda Martinez, Radames Galarza, and Elissa Guarnero won the award as a team for their work in running the school, which does not have a principal, and teaching in a way that has helped to close the racial achievement gap within MPS.
I would like to thank MPS for making this Parade of Schools tour possible. This was a valuable opportunity to see first-hand how our local schools have aimed to improve and succeed despite facing such things as funding cuts, the expansion of the voucher program, the loss of quality teachers, and the potential sale of MPS buildings. I will continue to do what I can in my role as state senator to fight for the necessary tools these schools require to properly prepare our children for success in our 21st century economy.
New Mining Bill Restricts Local Control Across Wisconsin
Senate Republican, who authored the open-pit iron mining bill, has
written another proposal that sweeps away local control of public health
and safety regulations. This time he wants to take away the ability of
municipalities to enforce their own standards on nonmetallic mining
companies, most notably, frac sand mines. The proposed measure would
pre-empt local regulation of air quality, water quality, use of
explosives in mining, quarrying, and highway use contracts by local
governments. Appallingly, this senator's district is in northeastern
Wisconsin--an area of the state where frac sand mining is least
Frac Sand Mining Growing Exponentially
In the past three years, the number of
frac sand mine operations in Wisconsin has jumped from 10 to over 100,
with the vast majority of them being in western Wisconsin. This boom was
prompted by oil and gas companies that use the mined sand in a drilling
process called hydraulic fracturing. To meet those companies'
specifications, sand mines have had to remove more clay and unusable
sand than they initially projected. The unusable sand is washed away
from usable frac sand. Mining companies then treat the murky wash water
with chemicals that cause suspended particles to sink so the water can
be reused. The clarified water is then used to wash more sand, while the
bottom sludge is piled as waste material and then plowed back into the
ground where sand was excavated. This process has created unstable piles
of waste and wastewater runoff. In addition, heavy rains have combined
with sand-processing water to overflow holding ponds on several mining
sites. The breaches have dumped sandy sediment into public waters, where
(among other things) it can suffocate aquatic life and destroy the
habitats of reproducing fish.
Concerns Not Limited to Environmental Issues
Beyond environmental concerns, there
are very troubling health concerns with the fine dust that the mines
create. While it is documented that mine workers are exposed to very
serious health hazards, including lung disease and lung cancer, much
less is known about how the health of nearby communities is affected.
People who live close to these mines have reported having increases in
asthma attacks and trouble breathing. Some school districts have even
had to upgrade their air filtration systems.
I think it is important that we allow
local governments to make their own decisions around the well-being of
their citizens. For example, Trempealeau County recently voted to
temporarily stop mining operations so they could further study the
health effects of such operations. This new bill would completely
eliminate the capacity for that type of local control.
To be clear, this bill is much more
far reaching than decisions impacting frac sand companies. It would
overturn a recent state Supreme Court decision which determined that
Wisconsin towns without zoning authority can regulate nonmetallic mines
using traditional police powers. Passing this proposed legislation would
restrict local governments from setting any environmental standards or
monitoring beyond what is in place at the Wisconsin Department of
Natural Resources. This is a clear power grab against communities in
each part of Wisconsin.
Thankfully, Republicans have admitted
that this bill is flawed and have said that they do not want to vote on
it until next year. Even though it is somewhat heartening to see
Republicans hold off on a bill that so broadly encroaches local control,
the initial speed and carelessness with which these bills were written
and sent to a committee is disconcerting. Why are these bills being
drafted with such little thought and precision? There is growing concern
that Tea Party Republicans are more focused on pushing through
ill-conceived, partisan ideas or special interest proposals than on
implementing good, quality policies.
Hearing on Saving Mistreated Dogs
As shown in a recent WISN 12 News Investigation, 20 dogs are currently being kept at the Milwaukee Area Domestic Animal Control Commission as evidence in dog fighting cases. Under current Wisconsin law, these dogs must be euthanized, regardless of their disposition.
However, legislation that aims to end
this cruel punishment against mistreated animals is currently
progressing though the legislative process. Senate Bill (SB) 191 and its
companion, Assembly Bill (AB) 230, would give dogs taken into custody
the opportunity to live a full and healthy life. This proposal would allow Humane Society workers the ability to
declare an animal fit for adoption if they believe the dog would be a
suitable candidate for a family. In other states, it is becoming obvious
that dogs rescued from fighting rings often make very good companion
animals, with some even becoming therapy dogs. These bills take away the
arbitrary death sentence that many of these dogs are currently facing
and gives them a chance to find suitable homes.
It is my hope that one of these proposals will make its way to the Senate floor for a vote, at which time it will have my full support.
Constitutional Amendment Would Further Divide the Courts
This week, Republicans in the Senate Committee on Judiciary and Labor voted in favor of Senate Joint Resolution (SJR) 57, legislation that would change the Wisconsin Constitution regarding how the chief justice is chosen.
This proposal is concerning for a number of reasons. First, this Constitutional Amendment is a gross overreach by the Legislature and ignores that we maintain a separation of powers for a reason. Additionally, having the justices elect their leader will only serve to further divide the court. The seven-member court has four conservative justices and two liberal ones. Justice N. Patrick Crooks tends to side with conservatives on criminal cases, but has joined with the progressive bloc in some of the court's other high profile cases in recent years. The proposed amendment would likely remove longtime Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson, a progressive, from her position as chief justice. After Abrahamson, the next most senior justice is fellow progressive Ann Walsh Bradley and then Crooks. In other words, the four conservatives on the court, with David Prosser at their head in terms of tenure, have the least seniority. As it currently stands, court members of different persuasions of thought are forced to work together. However, this Constitutional Amendment would allow these lesser experienced justices to single-handedly control the operations of the court, which could mean all but ignoring the other justices that do not always vote with them on court cases. The court has already been plagued by bitter divisions, this bill will only exacerbate those issues rather than solving the problem.
Finally, this proposal would undermine the role carved out for the chief justice in the Wisconsin Constitution. Our Constitution states: "The chief justice of the supreme court shall be the administrative head of the judicial system and shall exercise this administrative authority pursuant to procedures adopted by the supreme court. The chief justice may assign any judge of a court of record to aid in the proper disposition of judicial business in any court of record except the supreme court." Clearly, the person who would be best able to fulfill these obligations is the justice that has been around the longest and is familiar with the administrative procedures, rather than someone who was selected through a popularity contest.
Wisconsin has had a rich history of implementing good government policies. Legislators should be continuing to look at ways to take the politics out of governing by pursuing such things as campaign finance reform and overhauling the redistricting process rather than supporting proposals that increase the already staggering political divide. This proposal is not the Wisconsin way.
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.
First, I encourage you to contact your local elected officials directly including your Assembly representative, state senator, and the governor via email, phone, or letter, whether they agree or disagree with your perspective. Doing so officially guarantees your contact and position are recorded and that these officials have a more accurate idea of how their constituency feels on a particular issue, such as making higher education more affordable.
Click here to type in your address and find out who represents you.
Exponential increases in tuition and
fees coupled with challenging economic times over the years have made it
nearly impossible for students to work their way through school, as was
commonplace in the past. In fact, nearly 40 million Americans now hold
over $1.2 trillion in student loan debt nationally.
Some issues related to student loans
can only be dealt with at the federal level. Unfortunately, Congress'
current partisan gridlock leaves little hope for real relief for student
loan borrowers in the near future. We cannot wait for Congress to act.
It is time for innovative, common sense solutions that will provide real
relief for Wisconsin's student loan borrowers.
As you can see, this legislation offers common sense solutions for real savings on behalf of Wisconsinites managing student loan debt. I hope legislative Republicans will see the economic value of moving forward with such a proposal. Therefore, I encourage them to join me in supporting the Higher Ed, Lower Debt bill. Wisconsinites cannot afford to wait any longer for more affordable college education and decreasing their debt burden.
Did You Know...?
You may be aware that the Wisconsin Badgers Football Team plays the University of Iowa Hawkeyes this Saturday at 11 a.m. But did you know that a popular song at these football games titled "On, Wisconsin!" is also our state song?
The music for "On, Wisconsin!" was
composed in 1909 by William T. Purdy with the idea of entering it in a
contest for the creation of a new University of Minnesota football song.
("Minnesota" would have replaced "On, Wisconsin" in the opening lines.)
But Purdy was persuaded by fellow composer Carl Beck, who helped in
writing the song's lyrics, to dedicate the song to the University of
Wisconsin football team instead. The song was introduced at the Madison
campus in November 1909.
Hoan Bridge Construction Beginning
week, crews began preparing Milwaukee's Hoan Bridge for a two-year
project that includes redecking and, unfortunately for commuters,
closing off lanes during construction.
|October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month|
Held each October, National Disability
Employment Awareness Month is a national campaign that raises awareness
about disability employment issues and celebrates the many and varied
contributions of America's workers with disabilities. The theme for 2013
is "Because We Are EQUAL to the Task."
Survey on K-12 Education Available
Investing in quality education is a shared Wisconsin value that many of us highly treasure. Our next generation of workers are in Wisconsin schools right now, and their success or failure will likely dictate whether Wisconsin will succeed or fail in the years to come.
As a result, the statewide expansion of the private voucher program and the reduction of state aid to the majority of our local public schools for the 2013-2014 school year have become increasingly hot topics. Therefore, I would like to hear your thoughts on K-12 education in Wisconsin. I have created an online survey to learn more about you and your perspective. Please take the time to fill it out. I look forward to hearing back from you on the important issue of K-12 education in Wisconsin.
Take the 2013-2014 Neighborhood Survey
I created a survey for the 2013-2014
Legislative Session asking about various issues that are important to
our community and our state. The input of neighbors is greatly
appreciated. My staff and I will be working hard to deliver as many
surveys door to door as possible before winter arrives. In addition, I
have also made this survey available online.
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