Filed under: Taxes — Christian Schneider @ 2:55 pm
My new commentary is up at the WPRI website. In an attempt to make myself the most hated man in Wisconsin (take that, Brett Favre), I argue that shifting government spending on to the property tax (in direct contradiction to everything the state has done in the past 100 years) might actually have some economic benefit.
Agree or disagree, it should be a thought-provoking read.
On Monday, WPRI released a report on ways Wisconsin can alter its probation and parole system to reduced recidivism. Last night, Channel 26 aired this report based on the study, authored by Kate Mize, J.D.
Granted, the report appears to miss the whole point of the study, and some of the facts are pretty loose, but it’s better to be on TV than not, I guess.
Filed under: Education — Christian Schneider @ 1:07 pm
This weekend, news broke that Wisconsin may not be eligible for certain federal education funds because of an interesting law on the state’s books. Under Wisconsin law, teacher pay cannot be influenced in any way by student test results – meaning, the amount we pay teachers are legally not allowed to have any relation to how much their students are learning. This may effect the state’s eligibility for $4.3 billion in federal “Race to the Top funds,” which will be distributed to the states “with positive records of what the [education] department considers school reform as well as plans for additional improvement.”
According to Chapter 118.30(2)(c) of the Wisconsin State Statutes, “the results of examinations to pupils enrolled in public schools, including charter schools, may not be used to evaluate teacher performance, to discharge, suspend or formally discipline a teacher, or as the reason for the nonrenewal of a teacher’s contract.”
Laws such as these that provide a firewall between teachers and student performance recently came under fire by President Obama’s education secretary, Arne Duncan. In an interview with the New York Times, Duncan specifically singled out Wisconsin for having such a law on the books:
“Believe it or not,” Mr. Duncan said, “several states, including New York, Wisconsin and California, have laws that create a firewall between students and teacher data. I think that’s simply ridiculous. We need to know what is and is not working and why.”
In fact, this issue was the subject of a WPRI report released in May by researchers Mark C. Schug Ph.D. and M. Scott Niederjohn Ph.D. Among their research and recommendations two months ago:
These effects can serve as measures of performance in performance-based compensation programs. To the extent that value-added testing does provide valid and reliable measures of performance, the argument for traditional salary schedules is nullified…
As indicated in our survey, many Wisconsin school districts have moved to embrace new trends in testing. Nonetheless, the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction has been slow in providing leadership in this regard. While the DPI has taken some positive initial steps toward a statewide value-added assessment system-including the development of a statewide data system, working with outside consultants to consider growth-oriented models and forming a technical advisory committee-Wisconsin lags behind many states in the implementation of new value-added testing methodologies. Wisconsin is far behind in experiments regarding pay-for-performance for teachers.
The state Legislature should act now to abolish statutory provisions that disallow the use of results from state testing in teacher evaluation. At a time when many districts have begun to use testing programs that go beyond the WKCE-CR, it makes little sense to prohibit them from taking into account the information they obtain from these programs in their evaluations of teachers’ effectiveness.
Of course, NOW people will start to listen, since there’s a dollar sign attached to the recommendations.
As it turns out, State Senator Randy Hopper (R-Fond du Lac) and State Representative Brett Davis (R-Oregon) are drafting legislation to allow the use of student testing data when determining teacher pay. They believe such a change could mean up to $612 million more in federal funds for Wisconsin.
Governor Doyle, on the other hand, believes the state already qualifies for the funds – despite being called “ridiculous” by the guy actually handing out the cash.
Mize’s report focuses on the devastating effects of recidivism on our state, and how the system can be changed to focus more on preventing criminals from re-lapsing. The current statistics are disturbing:
While the monetary cost of crime is high, the cost to public safety is also of concern. The Wisconsin Office of Justice Assistance reported 176,155 violent and property crimes committed in 2007. Based on research showing that 62% of all felony defendants have prior criminal convictions, we can attribute an estimated 109,216 of these crimes to recidivists. Using a conservative estimate that 21% of all Wisconsin felony offenders were on either probation, parole, or pretrial release at the time of arrest, recidivists under active community supervision account for 36,992 violent and property crimes over the course of one year. A 10% reduction in crimes committed by recidivists would save Wisconsin from nearly 11,000 violent and property crimes per year.
Among Mize’s recommendations for making Wisconsin safer:
First, the system should recast its orientation to focus on reducing recidivism.
Second, Wisconsin should improve the state bid process for community corrections services and initiate performance-based contracts to oversee both public and private providers. Performance-based contracts would include precise benchmarks and outcome-based measures of recidivism and public safety.
Third, it should move away from a system in which the public sector is the primary service provider. In the public sector there will be few consequences suffered if recidivism is not reduced. Contrast this with a private-sector service provider for which remuneration could be directly tied to recidivism rates. It is logical that the private-sector provider has more incentive to actually reduce recidivism. The United Kingdom can serve as a model in that it has moved away from a predominantly public system to one in which both public- and private-sector providers service the needs of community corrections. This blend of public and private providers should be used in Wisconsin.
Do not adjust your computer screen. You have not accidentally run across the One Wisconsin Now website, or even the Capital Times editorial page. (If you were the guy that reads Cap Times editorials, you’d probably have the munchies and have lost interest by now, anyway. Wait – is Matlock on?)
Last week, legislative Democrats took a hit on the Wisconsin State Journal editorial page over a reduction in state aid for Madison area school districts. The State Journal argued these points:
1. School districts were told that none of them were going to get a cut of more than 10% from the state, and yet some districts are getting cuts of up to 15%.
2. Legislators were too busy packing the budget with policy items to realize that the cut would be much greater.
Over the weekend, Democrat State Senator Mark Miller took to the airwaves to explain what happened. Here is Miller’s (albeit clumsy) explanation of why Madison area districts are taking a big hit in this budget, from the “Here and Now” show:
Now, the pages of this blog have not been very friendly to Miller and his cohorts during the budget process. But on this one, I think he’s getting a bad rap – and explaining why helps illustrate the constant struggle the state has with the school finance formula.
(CAUTION: What follows is an attempt at explaining school aids, and may be dreadfully boring. If it gets too bad, feel free to go over and read the Dogs With Mustaches blog and come back in 15 minutes.)
Let’s look at the purpose of the school aid equalization formula. As its name suggests, it exists to “equalize” the relative wealth of districts. The theory behind the formula is that kids in property poor districts should have access to the same resources as kids in property rich districts (like Madison), even if the local district doesn’t have the same property values on which to draw. Thus (and this is a substantial generalization), the state grants more money to property poor districts and less money to property rich districts.
(For a full explanation of the complexities of the school aid formula, take about four caffeine pills and read this.)
For example, take a school district like Peshtigo, with per pupil property values of $275,466. Peshtigo receives about 81.6% of their budget from the state. On the other end of the scale, the Madison Metropolitan School District boasts property values of $844,000 per student, and thus receive about 41.25% of their budget in state aid. (Since you were wondering, the Geneva J4 school district, with per pupil property values of $3.3 million, receive the lowest in state aid, at 16.9%. Beloit gets 85.1% of their budget paid for by the state, since apparently you get a free abandoned warehouse there with every purchase of a happy meal.)
For years, this attempt at “equalizing” school aids (and therefore educational opportunities, if you believe the two are related), has angered school districts across the state. Actually, the mere fact that it seems to hack off school districts uniformly may be evidence that it is working. For the most part, school board members don’t really understand how the formula works – all they know is that it is keeping them from their rightful (read: larger) share of the state equalization aid pie. Many school districts argue that while their property values may be artificially high, it isn’t a good indicator of the wealth in their district – incomes may still be low, and thus they should get more aid. (I will address this in a future column. I expect you to wait right there at your keyboard for me to post it.)
Naturally, these school districts go to their editorial boards to complain about the formula. So we get dozens of columns per year urging changes in the formula, without any actual recommendations on how to make it better. Under any scenario of changing the way the school district keg is poured, there will be winners and losers. So who should win more? And who should lose more? These are the questions newspapers never seem to want to answer. And state lawmakers want to answer them even less, which is why the current aid formula has stood the test of time.
But back to the original point – the State Journal seems to want changes to the school aid formula. They think it’s unfair that Madison area districts are taking a larger cut, relative to other school districts. But why is that the case?
Let’s go back to the school aid formula. Local districts around the state have been rapidly losing property value as the economy has cratered. Madison property values, on the other hand, have held up pretty well. We have seen what this does to the formula – as other districts look poorer and Madison treads water, Madison loses more aid relative to the rest of the state. The formula rewards districts that aren’t holding their property values, and Madison takes the hit.
So how exactly would the State Journal rectify this situation? There seem to be two options – lower Madison’s property values (something state government can’t do), or rig the school aid formula to give more money to a relatively rich district. Wouldn’t that be the same type of pork that the State Journal (and this blog) has decried in this budget? How well do they think it would go over if Joint Finance Co-Chairs Mark Miller and Mark Pocan decided to doctor the formula in favor of a wealthy district? Think the other 425 districts would have something to say about that?
The State Journal may be right in its criticism of legislative leaders for telling school districts that none would take a cut of more than 10%. Perhaps the newer property value numbers weren’t available (Miller says they weren’t.) Making such a proclamation would be pretty wrongheaded, as nobody really knows what the numbers are even after the budget is signed. But having the updated numbers wouldn’t have changed the current aid numbers by a cent – it merely would have managed expectations more reasonably.
This budget is an atrocious document, filled with job-killing taxes and nonfiscal special interest pork. But Democrats should get a pass for not reaching into the school aid cookie jar to rig the system for their own benefit. (UPDATE: As I was writing this, State Senator Kathleen Vinehout posted a column explaining how she would “fix” the state funding formula: Give her districts more money. The column might as well have been titled “How they Bought My Budget Vote, by Kathleen Vinehout.”)
Income taxes are down 8%, sales and use taxes are down 3.8%, and corporate taxes are down 21.7%. The only tax revenues that increased over the past year are excise taxes, presumably due to a $1.00 increase in the cigarette tax passed in the prior budget. (Additionally, excise taxes make up a small percentage of total receipts.)
All total, general fund revenues dropped by 7% in the past year.
With corporate tax receipts hemorrhaging, it seems to be a good time to mandate businesses pay more for health care, no? Maybe stick them with hundreds of millions of dollars worth of new taxes to drive them from the state?
Perhaps her lunch didn’t sit well with her that day, but watch as State Senator Lena Taylor uses an… interesting way of getting her point across at a meeting of the Special Committee on Strengthening Wisconsin Families on July 15th.
Casually convening in their boardroom late on the afternoon of Thursday, Sept. 18, 2008, the Milwaukee Area Technical College board appeared blissfully unconcerned with all that was amiss in the outside world.
Earlier that week, Lehman Brothers had stunned Wall Street by declaring the biggest bankruptcy in U.S. history; then the federal government had bailed out insurance behemoth AIG and engineered a fire sale of Merrill Lynch. The stock market was gyrating wildly.
There was an enormous amount at stake that afternoon. MATC has a budget of well over $300 million and employs more than 2,000 people. Salaries, wages and fringe benefits constitute by far the biggest chunk of the school’s spending-and were already eye-poppingly generous.
Consider salaries: In the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2008, the average full-time teacher at MATC had total earnings of $98,204, according to an analysis performed by the college at the request of Wisconsin Interest. That is tens of thousands of dollars more than most full-time faculty members could earn at other technical or two-year colleges in Wisconsin.
In fiscal year 2008, 249 of 580 full-time MATC faculty members made more than $100,000, according to college salary data. Twenty-nine made more than $130,000, and one earned $153,174.
Of course, the Board took all of four minutes to approve a generous new pay package for the system’s 2,000 employees, despite the worsening economy. Nichols’ article details how the members of the tin-eared MATC board found their way on to the Board, and the damage they have done as unelected members. A worthy read from beginning to end.
For months, people around Wisconsin have been anticipating the opening of the summer blockbuster “Public Enemies.” A large chunk of the movie was shot here in the Dairy State, and our tax dollars subsidized filming it to the tune of about $5 million.
Seeing as how we are a full service free market think tank here at WPRI, I used this specious connection to go see the movie to determine whether it was tax money well spent. I feel I am doing a public service to the taxpayers to report on the fruits of their generosity (and, I admit, I was excited to see if I knew anyone in the movie, and I have an unnatural man-crush on Christian Bale.)
I was actually surprised that they made me pay for a ticket, seeing as how my tax money has made me a co-producer of this film. In fact, I’m still waiting for my director’s chair and bullhorn, and anticipate they will show up at my house any day now.
So here’s the quick synopsis of the movie:
It’s bad. Really, really bad. Closing in on awful.
It is apparent that about 20 bucks of our $5 million was spent on a script. The movie meanders along, without any interesting dialogue or insight. At 2 hours, 15 minutes, it’s about 45 minutes too long. Johnny Depp, who plays John Dillinger, seems almost to be embarrassed to be in the movie at all. Characters talk to each other with canned speeches that don’t even approach plausibility. By the time the inevitable end came, I had checked my watch about 10 times.
Perhaps the most grating aspect of the movie is Oscar winning French actress Marion Cotillard, who’s about 15% as hot as an actress that should be playing that role. Even worse is her attempt to speak English without a heavy French accent. It comes and goes, which is interesting, considering she’s playing a character who’s half Indian and who grew up in Wisconsin.
In fact, isn’t there a big movement up at the Capitol to prevent the state from contracting with foreigners for government business? There were a hundred American actresses that could have played that part – we should crack down on the OUTSOURCING OF OUR HOT ACTRESSES! (Holding hand over heart while the Star Spangled Banner plays in the background.)
For me, the only cool parts of the movie were the ones that took place in the Capitol, where I worked for 8 years. I immediately picked out the North Hearing Room, where a lot of the partisan caucuses used to take place. And I got the chills when the characters walk around the inside the Capitol.
I certainly don’t mean to dissuade anyone in Wisconsin from going to see the movie, especially if you recognize some of the sets in Columbus, Oshkosh and elsewhere. But it really is a crushing disappointment. I am amazed that big budget movies this bad can actually get made. But who cares if Wisconsin taxpayers are out $5 million for a terrible movie? SOME PEOPLE GOT TO WAVE TO JOHNNY DEPP!
In fact, conservatives have an opportunity here – if government-subsidized movies are this bad, imagine how bad government health care will be. If people draw the connection, single-payer government health plans will be dead within a week.
In this most recent budget, Governor Doyle scaled back the film tax credit to $500,000. It’s a good thing for supporters of the credit that he did so before seeing “Public Enemies.” If had seen the movie in advance, he may have actually started charging movies to film here.
Perhaps most importantly, why didn’t anyone tell me that this guy from “Dazed and Confused” was in Wisconsin filming the movie?