Larson Report 
NEWSLETTER

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 A Capitol Update from State Senator Chris Larson

Dear Wisconsin Neighbor,

I hope you are enjoying the warmer weather we're finally getting. The weather looks great for this weekend, Opening Day is just a week away, and there's green stuff starting to appear from under all that snow. After a few false starts, it's finally starting to feel like spring!

This week, we'll be taking a deeper dive into education in this budget. Investing in our kids is investing in our future and this budget finally restores much of the funding that had been slashed the last eight years. Much of these cuts were made with the excuse that "we're broke." This while the state budget reached record highs in spending. Now, like a majority of states across the country, the economic recovery of the last six years has given us a projected surplus. Wisconsin politicians have no excuse not to invest in our future.

If you have thoughts on this budget, please reach out to let me know. We'll soon be announcing our listening sessions so I can hear directly from you, too.

In Service, 

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Investing in Our Kids is Investing in Our Future
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More than any other issue, I have had numerous questions from neighbors about what's going to happen to our neighborhood schools in this budget. As a father of two and a member of the Senate Committee on Education for six years, I deeply care about our children's education.
When Governor Evers gave his budget address, I was happy to hear him specifically point to a renewed investment in our neighborhood public schools as a cornerstone of his budget. It is important to note that this is the same education budget that Governor Evers was proposing last year, before the election and many of the same reinvestment priorities were partially endorsed by then-Governor, Scott Walker. If there is one place that Republicans and Democrats should be able to find some common ground, it is in education spending. Voters from both political parties expect it.

Throughout my time in the State Senate, I have fought to ensure that all kids have access to quality education, no matter their means or where they happen to live. We know that investing in our children and ensuring that their public schools are not cut to the bone will also ensure a strong Wisconsin well into the future.

This budget represents a return to Wisconsin's values. We will once again be placing the highest value on educating all of Wisconsin's children and making sure that our educators are treated with dignity and respect. This budget signals to every parent and teacher that we are again taking education seriously in Wisconsin. So, let's get into the details. 

First, it is crucial that we acknowledge that during the Walker years, education was cut by over $1 billion and that entire sum was never restored. Just this last November, local school districts were forced to ask residential property taxpayers for  $1.4 billion in referenda funding to aid their public schools. Time and again local school districts that were left woefully underfunded by GOP legislators had to go hat in hand to voters to beg for funding; this budget reverses that terrible trend. Below are some of the highlights for Governor Evers' budget as it relates to reestablishing Wisconsin's traditional value of funding our public schools. 

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One of the hallmarks of public education is the outstanding job that our teachers do in educating those with special needs.
 Unlike private institutions and voucher schools, public schools cannot cherry pick which students they will accept and which students they will not.

Because of that fact, Governor Evers' budget again invests in public special education. This budget brings state support for special ed up to 60% by the second year of the biennium — totaling $606 million. Currently, at the statewide level, local districts spend over $1 billion annually covering the cost of special ed. This budget would restore the state investment to levels not seen since the 1980s, freeing up much-needed funds at the district level.

In addition, under the governor's proposed budget the state would also increase the reimbursement rate for high-cost special needs students (cost over $30,000 per student) to 100%. This clearly demonstrates our Wisconsin value that every student should receive the highest quality education — even those with special needs.

Mental Health and Education

As we better understand the positive impact that access to mental health services can have we also understand the immediate positive impact early intervention has on the lives of our kids. Governor Evers' budget would invest $22 million in each year of the biennium to reimburse schools for student mental health services. 

The budget would also invest $7 million in both years to increase grants that are specifically aimed at connecting schools and students to community health agencies in order to improve access to mental health services. This budget also invests over $2.5 million each year to expand school district staff training in mental health strategies.

This includes:

  • Trauma-sensitive schools
  • Mental health screening
  • Brief intervention and referral for treatment
  • Youth Mental Health First (seminar designed to educate teachers on how to help youth in crisis)

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A quality education should never depend on the zip code of the student. While it is important to recognize the many factors that present challenges to education, government should never write off our largest school districts. I know that there is a common negative stereotype some GOP politicians use to paint urban school districts (such as Milwaukee) with a broad brush and denigrate the good work that our teachers and administrators do.

We are fortunate Governor Evers is a life-long educator who understands the complexities of the modern education environment. It's because of this understanding that Governor Evers is proposing investments in our largest school districts (at least 18,000 pupils) in order to set our districts up for success. 

This budget would allocate $5 million in each budget year for quality early childhood education in Wisconsin's five largest school districts. This investment is an acknowledgment that quality early childhood education is a crucial first step to a lifetime of learning for our kids. On top of this, Governor Evers has allocated additional funding for 4K programs throughout the state, allowing kids to attend a full day of school.

I am particularly excited that this budget allocates over $1 million to attract highly qualified teachers to high-poverty urban districts. We know that a great public school can be a cornerstone of a neighborhood and investing in attracting highly qualified teachers to urban areas is a great investment in Milwaukee's future.

Rebalancing Wisconsin's Voucher/Charter Experiment

voucher chalkboard.jpgFor too long Wisconsin has been funding three separate school systems, in which only one of them truly serves the public. The unaccountable statewide voucher program and the Milwaukee and Racine school voucher experiments have consistently pulled valuable resources from the public school system that serves all Wisconsin students. Recently, I asked my constituents how they would like the state to deal with the voucher experiment and they responded overwhelmingly to phase out the programs. Out of 853 respondents, 532 wanted to see the programs eliminated or phased out, 175 wanted them to continue in their current form, and 146 had no opinion.

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Governor Evers' budget reflects that sentiment as he recommends capping enrollment in voucher programs and ending admittance of new students into the Special Needs Scholarship Program starting in 2021.

As many of you know, voucher schools have not lived up to the hype. In fact, despite many studies, there has been no evidence to suggest that a voucher school provides a better outcome for a child over a traditional public school. What we do have proof of is that voucher schools have been riddled with ill-trained teachers, financial problems, and are responsible for diverting massive amounts of public funds away from public schools. 

According to the Department of Public Instruction, in the 2017-2018 school year, Wisconsin taxpayer's paid $269.7 million to private voucher schools, while at the same time 230 of Wisconsin’s 426 public schools districts received less state aid in 2017-2018 than they did in 2016-2017. In addition to this, it is shocking to know that 84% of children receiving vouchers through voucher programs in the 2017-2018 school year were either already attending private schools, homeschooled, or new to Wisconsin schools. It is clear that we cannot afford to continue to support the failed voucher experiment as it currently exists.

Reinvesting the UW System For a Strong Future  

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Our university system has been overlooked and underfunded for the last eight years. In fact, from 2011 to 2019 our UW System saw a net loss of $130 million from state aid. The damaging policies enacted under Governor Walker and legislative Republicans have sent many of our beloved academic institutions to the brink of crisis in regards to class offerings, accreditation, and staff retainment. Over Walker's disastrous reign, the universities saw a decline in enrollment, as well as a state-imposed freeze on in-state student tuition. As enrollment declined and universities were not able to make up shortfalls with tuition increases, they turned to the state to "fund the freeze." Walker never did. In addition to this malfeasance, Walker rejected many requests for capital improvements meant to update system buildings that had been neglected for decades. 

With 26 campuses and nearly 175,000 students, the University of Wisconsin System has been granted a much-needed reprieve by Governor Evers' budget. Evers has pledged to reinvest in the UW System by increasing general funding by $150 million. This includes $45 million for student success and attainment initiatives, $50.4 million over the biennium to fund the tuition freeze, $17.3 million over the biennium for need-based Wisconsin Grants, and $18 million in general aid increases for our technical colleges.

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 has also provided new investments to the UW System through the state building capital budget that will bring many campuses into the 21st century. Locally, the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee has been allocated $130 million to construct a desperately needed new chemistry/biochemistry facility

These investments will serve our state as an assurance that our commitment to the next generation is strong. Wisconsinites know that investing in lifelong education is the way that we will continue to move our state, our economy, and our children forward. 
 

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Early voting has started in Milwaukee and across the state — check with your local municipalities for further details. You can take action this week by going in and voting early in the spring elections. 

Go to myvote.wi.gov to check your registration status, see sample ballots, and get information on what forms of ID are acceptable at the polls. Make sure that you have everything in order to make your voice heard.

Every election is an outstanding opportunity to have an impact on your community and spring elections tend to affect many local issues.

Take this opportunity to take action and get out to vote early!

Election Day is Tuesday, April 2nd

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The Larson Report strives to provide up-to-date, in-depth information to you. Between editions, a lot happens in Madison and around the country. I want to make sure you know the most pressing issues facing our neighbors and friends across the nation. Below are some of the top stories from the past couple of weeks. 

Milwaukee Picked to Host the 2020 Democratic National Convention!

I can’t wait for Milwaukee’s day in the sun in 2020! We’ve always known that our city is something special and now it will be showcased on the national stage. This is excellent news for our city and the surrounding area. This decision is a testament to the hard work of all who have pushed to draw the DNC to MKE!

Having the DNC in Milwaukee gives our area the opportunity to showcase everything that makes Milwaukee special to an estimated 50,000 new visitors bringing an estimated $200 million in economic impact. From our business district, Miller Park, and the Bucks Arena to the Art Museum and the Public Market, we are ready to roll out the barrel for the DNC.

 

President Trump Slashes Funding for Great Lakes in New Federal Budget Proposal

Early last week, President Trump announced he was proposing to slash funding for the Great Lakes from $300 to $30 million. To put that in perspective Governor Evers is proposing $25 million in bonding for clean up efforts for the Great Lakes basin. 

This slashing of funds represents a continued dangerous slide in the wrong direction from President Trump on issues concerning our shared environment. We can not afford to continue down a path that ignores the science of good stewardship and expect our natural resources to be there for our children and grandchildren.          

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