“I don’t think you can honestly say that 25,000 students are using the Milwaukee Parental Choice program because they’re somehow being duped by big money politics. They’re using the program because they find it successful.”
I’ll reiterate that I am not naïve about the very real role of money in politics, nor am I opposed to the transparency work of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign (WDC). I think the work of the WDC is important; people have a right to know how much and where money is being spent in electoral politics.
“After 23 years, you’d think that if a state program failed to deliver the promised results and had a checkered management history to boot, lawmakers would be talking about ending it. Instead, they are debating its expansion.”
There is so much to counter in the commentary it is hard to know where to start. McCabe writes that advocates said the program would “not only boost the achievement of students benefiting from the public vouchers paying for them to attend a private or religious school, but would also lift all boats by creating competition among schools,” but concludes it “hasn’t happened.”
“the voucher program has been plagued over the years by story after story after story of poor performance, safety code violations, mismanagement and fraud.”
This statement is just irresponsible. Is he referring to David Seppeh, the former principal who stole from the program in 2004, who was caught and sent to prison? Seppeh, according to former Journal Sentinel writer Gregory Stanford, was caught “thanks to new standards voucher proponents helped draft.” If a few isolated cases of criminal fraud warrant eliminating a public institution or program we’d have to get rid of the public school system too.
Many things should be part of the debate on voucher expansion. Part of the debate should be the extensive research on the results of the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP). Part of the debate should be the evolution of the MPCP over its existence. School choice in 2013 looks nothing like school choice in 1990, especially in terms of the effectiveness of its accountability framework. And part of the debate should certainly be the motives of those advocating for school choice…and against it.
When it comes to local government my bias is towards local control. I initially opposed the mayoral takeover of the Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) a few years back because of this bias. Why go out of your way to eliminate or limit representative democracy at any level of government?
Though I never changed my position on mayoral control of MPS I did soften it as the debate unfolded. If the mayor or someone else offered a compelling alternative that promised to better fulfill the mission of MPS, I as a Milwaukee citizen needed to at least consider it. No compelling alternative moved me in that particular debate.
Which brings me to the current debate over the pay and status of the Milwaukee County Board. Admittedly my interaction with the County Board consists of a single pleasant conversation with by Board Supervisor, Jason Haas, as he initially campaigned door-to-door for his seat. Though I am certain we differ on many points, it was clear Mr. Haas cared a great deal about the community, which struck me as the most important attribute for a representative in local government. The question posed by Chris Abele and others is whether Mr. Haas and his colleagues should continue to receive full-time pay?
According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the state legislature is considering legislation to ask Milwaukee County voters, via referendum, whether to reduce Milwaukee County Supervisors to part-time status, and lower their annual salary from about $50,000 to $15,000 a year (plus eliminate their benefits).
There seems to be a legitimate argument from both sides of the fence on this one. Supporters of a full-time board argue that cutting the salary and benefits will prevent anyone but the wealthy from running for a board seat because $15,000 annually is not enough to live on. Proponents of a part-time board argue that money currently spent on board salaries and benefits would better be used on county services.
I am not sure where I land on this one. But I am interested to know where Milwaukee County residents stand on the issue of a referendum; are people concerned about the full-time board? I also need one of the sides to offer a compelling answer to the simple crucial question: Is the position of Milwaukee County Supervisor a full-time position? Does it require 40+ hours a week? It seems to me the side with the best answer to that question is the side that ought to win.
First off, my predictions were one for two. Obama’s win in Wisconsin did not surprise me, but Tommy Thompson’s loss did. It should not have given Charles Franklin’s (who is really great at his job by the way) latest poll, but Tommy Thompson losing a Wisconsin race did not seem possible until it actually happened.
So, given the state of the American economy, how did Obama pull this off? First, it is clear that the presidential election, despite the efforts of Mitt Romney, was not a referendum on the economy or any other single issue. According to reports exit polls indicated voters still blame George W. Bush, in part, for the struggling economy. So what was the election about?
I think it was about the long-term national values of the United States. Whatever its flaws, President Obama did pass a significant health care reform law. I think most understand that America’s current health care system is lacking, and given a choice between a candidate working to change a flawed system (with a plan most do not understand) and a candidate looking to repeal that reform without a specific replacement, it’s not at all surprising more chose the reformer.
The repeal of don’t ask don’t tell was also significant. I am going to be a little audacious by claiming to speak for most Millennials here, but opposition to marriage equality and equal rights regardless of sexual orientation makes little sense to younger Americans. Repealing don’t ask don’t tell was a fairly easy gesture that made many young voters see more of themselves in Obama than in Romney.
Also, as I have written before, the lack of a coherent conservative urban policy is hurting Republicans. America is becoming more urban, yet many Republicans continue to reflexively oppose urban issues like public transportation. I came across a fairly sickening conclusion by a commentator this morning that argued minorities voted for Obama in huge numbers because skin color is the only issue minorities consider. That is ridiculous. A significant portion of America’s minority population lives in cities, as do a significant number of single women and young people. All of these groups turned out for Obama.
Finally, when Americans are struggling economically arguing against a social safety net makes no sense politically. I do not think I am alone in wanting to live a society that is able to care for its needy. Out of context or not, the 47% video was a killer for Romney. It shifted the public narrative away from a legitimate debate on entitlement reform (a Paul Ryan strength) and towards a debate on whether we need a social safety net at all.
I think the lesson from last night is that the country is becoming more diverse, more open-minded, and more urban…and Republican policies are not. Ok, I admit that last sentence is not totally fair. Much of my critique is based on the caricature of Conservatives that dominates the American political discussion. Regardless, it is up to Conservatives to proactively address that caricature. The example of Scott Walker is instructive. Though the passage of Act 10 was controversial and messy, Walker was rewarded for his boldness by a majority of Wisconsin voters.
This morning my wife and I were discussing Tuesday’s election (without the benefit of the Sunday Crossroads section, come on Journal Sentinel!), and, less than 48 hours from Election Day, I admit that what I am feeling most about Tuesday is apathy. Perhaps the reason is simple fatigue.
I’ve been following the presidential race since the days of Pawlenty, Bachman, and Perry, and my attention span may be all used up. Or, perhaps a regularly scheduled election just doesn’t do it for me anymore. The recall elections were new, exotic, and accompanied by all kinds of protests and original political theatre. An election on a November Tuesday preceded by modestly attended political rallies seems quaint, and little boring.
Or maybe the lack of a competitive local election is keeping down my level of enthusiasm. Molly McGartland may shock Chris Sinicki in the 20th Assembly District, but the absence of any literature or visible door-to-door campaigning from either candidate makes me think it is not likely.
So why am I apathetic? I think my wife nailed it this morning. She said to me. “No matter who wins on Tuesday you are still getting no sleep for the foreseeable future.” See I am the father of two young boys (age 9 months and 3 years) who, to paraphrase Jim Gaffigan, take shifts in keeping my wife and I up all night. Saturday night was particularly cruel, as no one notified my children that turning the clocks back meant an extra hour of sleep, not a 4:15 wake-up.
This leads me to the title of this blog post, “Ambien for Toddlers.” If either Romney or Obama were proposing some sort of initiative where it was both medically safe and socially acceptable to give our nation’s young sleeping aids, I’d have been much more enthusiastic this morning. I guess that makes me a voter most concerned with self-interest in the near-term. Well, at least I was at 5:30 this morning.
Tuesday’s outcome will hinge, like all presidential elections, on how voters answer two questions:
Are you more concerned with the immediate problems facing our country, or the country’s long-term trajectory? and
Which candidate, Obama or Romney, do think has the better short or long-term plan (depending on how you answered question one) for our country?
Every year the state tells school boards the maximum amount of funding they can raise via their property tax levy. After their receive this information boards must make a choice, do they:
Tax to the max;
Set the levy below the maximum amount; or
Ask the voters for permission to exceed the maximum levy?
Earlier this month I examined the characteristics of Wisconsin school districts that under-levied – those that raised less education dollars from local taxpayers than they were allowed. The only real differences I found between districts that under-levied and those that taxed to the max was in size, (tax to the max districts were smaller), and state support (tax to the max districts received a comparably smaller percentage of state aid). Today’s post takes a look at the districts that successfully passed referenda to exceed their maximum allowable tax levy, or revenue cap.
So what should we expect districts that pass referenda to look like? One possibility is that they serve more disadvantaged groups and feel they need more money do so. Not so. Districts that passed referenda and those that did not look demographically similar; both groups serve similar percentages of low-income, special needs, and minority pupils.
Another possibility is that wealthy districts, by virtue of having a stronger tax base, are more comfortable asking their voters for more funds. Also not so. The per-capita income in both groups is pretty similar, as is their level of state support (which is an indicator of district property wealth).
The one major difference I found between the two groups was size. Districts that passed referenda served an average of 1,402 pupils. Those that did not served an average of 2,198 pupils. The districts that passed referenda were also much more likely to be rural.
It is just informed speculation, but both of these differences suggest that economies of scale is an issue in Wisconsin school finance. Smaller rural districts are the ones asking for, and receiving funds in excess of what the school aid formula determines they are entitled to.
I plan on digging more into this topic in the near future, specifically exploring differences between districts that pass recurring and non-recurring referenda, and the characteristics of districts that attempt and fail to pass referenda.
Both Romney and Obama support high standards. President Obama defines high standards specifically as the common core standards that Wisconsin and dozens of other states have committed to, while Romney refers to high standards generically. Regardless, both advocate for something that most states have already agreed to.
Both also say they support parental choice. President Obama specifically supports charter schools, which Romney supports charters as well as vouchers. Romney even calls for the use of Title 1 funds earmarked for low-income children to be used to pay private school tuition. A federal voucher program has been proposed before, only to go nowhere. Such a fate likely awaits Romney’s idea given the overwhelming precedent of vouchers being a state-specific policy.
The candidates also sound the same when it comes to teachers. Though Romney downplays any connection between spending and outcomes and Obama argues for increased investment in teachers, both favor the concept of merit pay and say they want to reward good teachers while taking poor ones out of the classroom.
2. Wisconsin’s Approved No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Waiver
It is possible that President Romney would pursue reauthorization of NCLB, thereby replacing the waiver, but a divided congress and NCLB’s hugely unpopular legacy makes such a move highly unlikely.
3. K-12 Education Remains a State and Local Issue
The bulk of funding for K-12 education comes from local and state government. As the expansion of the Milwaukee voucher program recently demonstrated, state and local opinions on education reforms are much more important than the opinion of the President. The passage of Act 10 (assuming it is eventually upheld) gives even more power to local school boards. The federal government may provide some finding and guidance, but the real power remains with those closest to the actually delivery of education.
It cannot be overstressed how much the unrealistic accountability provisions of NCLB influenced renewed skepticism of federal intervention in K-12 education. I think this is a positive, the diverse challenges facing Wisconsin school districts requires local approaches to education. While the education positions of the President mean something to the students using the Washington D.C. voucher program (which Romney supports and Obama opposes), they mean little for Wisconsin residents.
So what is wrong with our state? Are we just easily influenced by political ads? Some have suggested that Tammy Baldwin’s recent uptick in advertising combined with Tommy Thompson’s silence is responsible for the latest Marquette numbers. Maybe, but I am inclined to believe that citizens of our hyper-politicized state don’t simply vote for the candidate the TV most recently told them to.
Perhaps the Marquette numbers are skewed. As my wife informed me years ago as we looked for a storage space for our respective Political Science and Nursing degrees, social science (which includes polling of course) is a soft science. Charles Franklin’s numbers could be off. However, given his past accuracy I am inclined to trust the Marquette poll.
I think the explanation for the new Marquette numbers is pretty simple: Wisconsinites like Barack Obama better than Mitt Romney. Such an unsophisticated explanation likely confuses and angers pundits and party operatives eager to separate our country into two opposite political camps. After all, how can the same people who elected Scott Walker twice in one term support Barak Obama or Tammy Baldwin? Well, shockingly the political preferences of most people cannot be explained through a simple red-blue dichotomy.
If someone tells me they agree with 100% of what Mitt Romney stands for I assume A) I am speaking with Mitt Romney or his wife, or B) I am speaking with someone who is lying to me. As I have written many times over, no party has a monopoly on good ideas; hence the evolving preferences of Wisconsin voters is both healthy, and to be expected.
It is a long time until November and when looking in my crystal ball, I fully expect Wisconsin’s electoral votes to go Barack Obama while Tommy Thompson wins yet another statewide race. But, it’s Wisconsin, so who the heck knows.
As the whole world knows by now, David Corn of Mother Jonesprocured secret video footage of a private Romney fundraiser that captures the candidate in an unusually perturbing and candid light. “There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president [Obama] no matter what,” Romney declared. He went on to declare that these entitled folks feel themselves to be victims, and the coup de grâce, that “my job is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.” He simply writes off skeptical voters, and with that, forfeits any pretense of uniting a country that so desperately needs it after President Obama’s failure to do so.
I want to suggest a better line of rhetoric for the GOP than the brash mention of those who do not pay income taxes and the extolling of individual responsibility by “pulling yourself up from your bootstraps.” The GOP would do well to take a small lesson in political theory, particularly in social contract theories. In past eras, it was far easier to implore conservatives to heed the advice of their best political and historical minds. Alas, today this is not so. Yet, I believe that reopening the pages of the great conservative Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790) could help salvage much of the GOP’s rhetoric from a disastrous inability to connect with American voters.
Burke’s concept of the social contract is an intergenerational one. It is staunchly against the explicitly “statist” contracts of Rousseau or Locke and Hobbes before him. In these statist models, the people come together laterally and agree to the formation of a state and sovereign with limited, and often times enumerated powers. Burke’s contract ignores largely the state, focusing instead on “partnership” between generations. He says:
“One of the first and most leading principles on which the commonwealth and the laws are consecrated is, lest the temporary possessors and life-renters in it, unmindful of what they have received from their ancestors or of what is due to their posterity, should act as if they were the entire masters, that they should not think it among their rights to cut off the entail or commit waste on the inheritance by destroying at their pleasure the whole original fabric of their society, hazarding to leave to those who come after them a ruin instead of an habitation—and teaching these successors as little to respect their contrivances as they had themselves respected the institutions of their forefathers.”
Quite simply, society is a contract. “The state is a partnership not only between those who are living, but between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are to be born.” Precisely where the GOP could earn points, especially with young and middle-aged voters often skeptical of their policies, is in explicating the profound transfers of fiscal burden that entitlement programs represent, and the shocking and unprecedented betrayal of Burke’s “societal partnership” between generations of the present and the future. (Professor Niall Ferguson suggested just this in his recent BBC Reith Lectures.) The most important remedy the GOP may offer is a solution to restoring the social contract between generations, a flaw of democracy that worried deeply that most observant and trenchant of commentators on American democracy, Alexis de Tocqueville. Aristocrats think and operate with a sense of their ancestors and their bloodlines, he said, while citizens of democracies live entirely and dangerously in the present.
The United States’ national debt is symptomatic of something that is terribly awry with our current representative government, i.e., decision-making ceased long ago to have any temporal frame of reference whatsoever. No notion of future generations exists, precisely because they are not represented; lacking Burke’s vision of the social contract, it is too easy to defer difficult decisions in the present and pass the bill to a future generation not yet represented. Ferguson hits the nail on the head in one of his lectures: “a pretty blithe disregard for the legacy of the past characterizes, it seems to me, a great many legislators. But perhaps more seriously, a real neglect of the interests of future generations…and that’s really the problem.” Representative government must operate with a greater sense of continuity between generations.
Best yet, such a line of rhetoric could appeal to a broad base of the American public, not just in terms of age but also across political parties. The GOP could earn electoral credentials with conservatives by presenting credible (and specific) plans to preserve and save entitlement programs for future generations; the GOP would need to defend these proposals from demagoguery for electoral gain by arguing that such an approach is a reckless path to bankruptcy. But the Burkean social contract rhetoric could also appeal to many Democrats and Independents who worry about the increasing fissures between the wealthy and not so wealthy. It is no wonder, many of them would say (not unreasonably), that there is no social contract between generations of Americans when wealth inequality has risen to an unprecedented level. The daily routines of some Americans make it almost impossible for them to sympathize with the long-term interests of other Americans once their kith, as Charles Murray shows in Coming Apart. In all, the GOP would do well to revisit the political thought of their great thinkers like Edmund Burke, and there was once a time when such obvious statements could go unstated.
Two days ago, the US Justice Department informed the state of Virginia that it would not challenge its new voter identification law. Utilizing the Voting Rights Act, the Justice Department has challenged recently the voter ID laws of a number of states. Virginia is one of sixteen states with histories of voter discrimination that must gain federal approval before changing state statutes regarding voting and voter eligibility. Newly approved, Virginia’s law should be in effect for the November election.
Republicans, who mostly championed the requirement, are giddy that the Justice Department upheld their efforts (rare for a southern state with a history of slavery and racial injustices). Virginia’s law is moderate in terms of what it allows as a legitimate form of legal identification (the law actually expanded the definition); nevertheless, the GOP sees this as imperative to ensuring the integrity of the voting process and ensuring the “one-person, one-vote” principle. Democrats, meanwhile, have cried foul in voter ID cases across the country. They claim that voter ID laws unnecessarily curtail turnout, especially amongst minority voters (who happen to lean heavily Democrat). This development—the implementation of a voter ID law in perhaps November’s second-most competitive and important swing-state—led me to revisit Nate Silver’s excellent piece on the New York Times’ Five Thirty Eight blog. How much do voter ID laws actually suppress turnout?
The short answer is “not by much.” To be sure, voter ID requirements affect some would-be-voters, but not all of them Democrats. Most studies focus on the percentage of registered voters that would be turned away with voter ID laws, or forced to cast provisional ballots, rather than the electoral consequences to particular political parties. But if, say, educational attainment was the key factor in deciding the likelihood of having a valid identification—as some studies indicate—white voters lacking college degrees, who tend to vote Republican, would also be affected.
Silver notes that most voter ID studies indicate that a stringent voter ID law may curtail, at most, about 2% of the registered voting population. Whether this is statistically significant is a different matter, depending upon the size of the sample or registered voting population. But it is well below the 9% proffered by many vociferous opponents of Pennsylvania’s new law. I think several truths mitigate the 9% figure:
- A vast majority of adults have some form of identification that can pass for voting purposes, and most states, with the exception of Pennsylvania, have moderate forms of voter identification requirements (Virginia’s new law expands the list of acceptable forms of ID to include utility bills, paychecks, bank statements, government checks, and college ID).
- Many people who do not have proper identification are not registered to vote and are unlikely to turn out to vote if they are registered.
- Poll workers may not enforce consistently voter ID laws at the local level.
- In most states with voter ID laws, voters without proper identification may cast provisional ballots, counted later in the event of a recount, dispute, or upon subsequent presentation of proper ID.
- Political campaigns may educate their supporters about voter ID requirements and engage in grass-roots operations to obtain proper documentation.
- Only two presidential swing-states have enacted voter ID laws to date: Pennsylvania, and now Virginia.
In all, Silver concludes, “it wouldn’t take that much in terms of increased voter engagement—and increased voter conscientiousness about their registration status—to mitigate them.”
“Good bye to 1/2 of the black representation in Wisconsin’s [legislature] and the progress of my elders”
The above quote comes from Sen. Lena Taylor’ Facebook page. Race certainly played a prominent role in Milwaukee’s spring primary. Yesterday’s results guarantee that for the next two years the Milwaukee delegation will be less racially diverse than the city’s population as a whole. Two white candidates, Sandy Pasch and Evan Goyke, prevailed in minority majority assembly districts.
Does this matter? There is research out there on political representation (see this study by Melissa J. Marshall for example) showing that Black and Hispanic constituencies have higher government satisfaction levels when represented by Black and Hispanic officials. I also agree with Sen. Taylor that, given our nation’s sordid racial past, the paucity of minorities in the state legislature is troubling. However, both Pasch and Goyke were elected by their constituents. If residents of the 10th and 18th Assembly District have problems with Pasch and Goyke they can vote them out in 2014.
Narrative 2: The Purge
Jason Fields and Peggy Krusick are both veteran Milwaukee politicians, and both lost to challengers from the left. A look at their records show both Fields and Krusick to be reliable Democratic voices, however their willingness to buck party orthodoxy on school choice and voter ID respectively became issues in the primary campaign. If this narrative is correct, expect to see less voting disunity within the Milwaukee caucus.
Narrative 3: The Power Struggle
South side Sen. Chris Larson endorsed Sandy Pasch, Nikiya Harris, Mandela Barnes, and Evan Goyke in Milwaukee primaries. All won. North side Sen. Lena Taylor endorsed Millie Coby, Elizabeth Coggs, and Jason Fields in Milwaukee primaries. All lost. The active participation of Taylor and Larson and the victory of Larson’s preferred candidates suggest he is now the most powerful member of the Milwaukee legislative delegation. No doubt the prospect of Chris Larson being a successor to Gwen Moore in Congress just became more realistic.
Narrative 4: A Message to National School Choice Advocates
The national American Federation for Children was involved in supporting Jason Fields, Millie Colby, Jarrett Fields, Elizabeth Coggs, and Tracy Dent. All five candidates lost after the involvement of the organization itself became a prominent campaign issue. The disconnect between Milwaukee public opinion on school choice and the position of Milwaukee elected officials suggest school choice is not the deciding issue for many voters. Still, the future involvement of national school choice advocates in Milwaukee elections is something to watch.