It is not at all surprising to me that a significant number of public employees signed petitions to recall Governor Scott Walker. So the recent revelation that UW-Madison spokesman David Giroux signed (an action he later deemed poor judgment) a recall petition does not come as a shock. Heck, even the more recent revelation that 29 Wisconsin judges signed petitions is causing me little heartburn. Public employee to public servant is not a huge jump.
Closer to home, I am fascinated by the pairings of political signs appearing in front lawns. In my neighborhood two aldermanic candidates with solid liberal (or at least Democratic) credentials are squaring off, yet I have seen both candidate’s signs paired with “Recall Walker” and “Stand with Walker” signs. My insightful conclusion? The perpetual recall has made us lose our collective political minds.
An engaged populace is necessary to civic life, but it seems the civic energy usually reserved for productive social capital building exercises has been diverted to politics. While politics is a necessary part of democratic life, it is not especially productive in the long-term. Every hour on the campaign trail is an hour not spent governing. Perpetual recall means perpetual campaigning, which means little time or incentive for elected officials to actually go about the business of governing.
And just when I thought the gubernatorial recall may be the end of it, activists announce their intentions to recall senators Dale Schultz and Bob Jauch for their opposition to mining legislation. Jauch and Schultz do not deserve to be recalled for their policy position on mining any more than the governor deserves to be recalled for his policy position on collective bargaining.
Kudos to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel for their endorsement of the Robin Vos effort to pass a constitutional amendment limiting the use of the recall. Reserving recalls for instances of extreme cases of corruption and malfeasance is a logical step toward improving Wisconsin’s broken political climate.
The sooner these recalls end, the sooner our discourse will stop being dominated by arbitrary political exercises like wondering who signed what, or questioning local candidates’ opinions on political issues irrelevant to the office they seek. I am not naïve enough to think Wisconsin ever was or ever will be a bipartisan utopia, but I do know the development of productive public policy at all levels of government is unlikely when the policy debate is overshadowed by a constant no holds barred battle for political survival.
A report released today by WPRI details the strong connection between early childhood education and economic development. The authors, Minneapolis Federal Reserve economist Rob Grunewald and former Wisconsin Legislative Audit Bureau analyst Don Bezruki, use existing economic research on early childhood education programs to inform a series of recommendations for increasing the economic development power of early childhood education in Wisconsin.
The authors review four key longitudinal studies on early childhood education and conclude that the return on investment in such programs can be “as high as $16 for every $1” spent. Looking specifically at Wisconsin’s YoungStar system, it is possible to estimate that the additional $20 million in incentive payments required from moving about 10,000 children into higher quality education centers would generate $60 million in future economic benefit.
The strength of this report goes beyond its quantitative foundation; it is rooted in common sense. Education is a lifelong process and it is easy to grasp that making the most of a child’s first exposure to formal education is crucial to future attainment and productivity. A troubling harbinger of Wisconsin’s economic future is the fact that we currently trail a majority of U.S. states in the percentage of our residents with a higher-education degree. Getting our youngest students off to quick start is a logical long-term approach to closing this attainment gap.
Grunewald and Bezruki conclude their report with a variety of ways to strengthen the quality of early childhood education so as to maximize its positive economic impact in Wisconsin. One recommendation is to consolidate several existing childhood education efforts into a single governance structure focused on economic development. Other recommendation include developing strategies to engage parents and the business community, and assessing the feasibility of improving the quality of existing early childhood education providers under the current YoungStar incentive structure.
A well-educated populace is necessary for Wisconsin’s future economic health. WPRI’s latest report highlights an oft-overlooked area of education with vast potential to deliver long-term benefits to the Wisconsin economy.
Secretary of Education Arne Duncan yesterday spoke out against the recent trend of publishing K-12 public school teacher rankings in major city newspapers. Duncan told Education Week:
“There’s not much of an upside there, and there’s a tremendous downside for teachers. We’re at a time where morale is at a record low. … We need to be sort of strengthening teachers, and elevating and supporting them.”
Unfortunately, the debate over whether to publicize the performance levels of pupils by teacher has become a bit of a distraction from the very real need to better measure the impact schools and individual teachers have on academic achievement. While it is of course true that test scores are not the only way to measure academic success, they can yield powerful information. Crucial to their value is collecting and measuring scores in a manner which makes them useful to those best positioned to impact student performance.
The way to do this is not rocket science. First, establish a baseline from which to measure individual student performance. Second, track student performance over time. Third, isolate the impact of a specific school or teacher on student performance by accounting for factors unrelated to their school or teacher.
Collecting data this way would be a huge improvement over current practice likely to benefit teachers and principals serious about improving student achievement. Currently, all Wisconsin pupils in grade 3-8 and 10 take the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Exam (WKCE) in the fall, but the results do not come back to a school and its teachers until the spring (right around now). In other words, schools and teachers get a bunch of test results late in the year that no doubt do nothing but confirm what they already know about their students. There is no way a math teacher, for example, needs a WKCE score to prove a child is good or bad at math after almost a full year of teaching that student.
I am holding out hope that the new state assessment system due to begin in 2014-15 will provide useful information that teachers and school leaders can use to improve their performance. Unless those best positioned to improve student achievement have useful information on which to plan education interventions, it is hard to disagree with Duncan’s opposition to publishing teacher evaluations and rankings. That step by itself does nothing to improve achievement levels, which should be the goal of every education reform.
Friday I had the opportunity to hear some excellent speakers at a Business Journal event on the future of downtown Milwaukee. Former Mayor John Norquist was as opinionated as ever, but I was most taken by Marc Marotta’s pitch for a new basketball arena downtown.
Marotta emphasized, as yours truly did in a commentary last week, the importance of a high quality of life in economic growth. He put the need for a new stadium in this context, arguing that having a professional sports team downtown brings great intangible benefits to Milwaukee’s economy.
It is an important point, because there is pretty substantial literature showing that stadiums and professional sports in general are a costly and inefficient way to boost the tangible indicators of economic growth. A 1997 report by economists Robert Baade and Allen Sanderson, for example, concluded:
“[C]ities should be wary of committing substantial portions of their capital budgets to building stadiums and otherwise subsidizing professional sports in the expectations of strong income and job growth.”
So what intangible benefits do professional sports bring to a place? The big benefit, nearly impossible to measure, is civic pride. John Gurda touched on this idea in his book, The Making of Milwaukee. He describes in detail the excitement in Milwaukee when the Braves came to town; residents saw their coming as proof that the city had finally made the big time. And civic pride is important, good luck getting outsiders to come to a place if longtime residents are down on it.
Another intangible benefit is even more basic than pride: unity. In our current political climate, it is invaluable to have reminders that there is more to Wisconsin and to being a Wisconsinite than recalls and partisan divides. Consider, for example, the Brewer’s run last year. The state was in political turmoil yet thousands of citizens of all political and demographic stripes found something common to care about.
At their core professional sports are trivial, but perhaps that is why they matter. Anything that can bring thousands of people who may disagree about all the serious stuff together even for a little while is worth supporting. That is why I hope Marotta and other stakeholders find a way to get their new arena and keep pro basketball in the state, not doing so would mean one less institution with the potential to unite Wisconsinites.
“The Governor should lead by example and link his pay to average worker pay,” Hulsey said. “Gov. Walker says teachers should be paid based on student performance, so his pay should be based on worker performance.”
See what Rep. Hulsey did there? Likely he’ll get some mileage out of this stunt. Certainly a speech on the Assembly floor attacking Republicans for being unwilling to tie their Governor’s salary to worker pay as well as mention or two on the campaign trail can be expected.
Legislators from both parties partake in this type of silliness, particularly when they are in the minority. Maybe it plays well in partisan caucus or helps with fundraising, but outside of these insular circles it looks like the legislature is more concerned with politics than legislating.
So what happens if the impossible occurs and Hulsey’s act become law? According to his own release, Governor Walker’s pay will be reduced to $117,312 from $144,000. To put it another way, time and energy would be spent to make a political point while exactly nothing addressing the economic and social needs of Wisconsin and its citizens is accomplished.
I find discussions of the per-pupil funding level of different types of Milwaukee schools usually turn into a debate on how to make a true apples-to-apples comparison of per-pupil support for the Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) and the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP). While basic differences in MPS and MPCP schools and their cost-drivers make any comparison imperfect, the following is what you might call a green apples to red apples comparison.
DISCLAIMER: if you not interested in school funding, prepare to be bored.
Per-pupil support for MPS
Please note I am not trying to calculate per-pupil education funding or suggest that this is the amount of money that actually reaches a school or classroom; it is a simple global picture of how much public revenue exists per-pupil in MPS. Below are the relevant numbers for 2012, from MPS documents:
Total MPS budget: $1,172,528,931
Total private grants to MPS: $6,061,140
MPS extension fund: $21,505,353
MPS non-public schools spending: $20,354,270
Total MPS sites enrollment excluding Chapter 220 pupils: 86,089
First, I subtract private grants, the extension fund (which pays for recreation activities that benefit the community at large), and MPS non-public schools spending (which is money sent to private schools) from total MPS spending to get the numerator for my per-pupil support calculation. Using enrollment as the denominator I calculate per-pupil MPS support for 2012 as $13,063 ($1,124,608,168/86,089).
Per-pupil support for the MPCP
The choice program is a little simpler because the state sets the maximum voucher amount at $6,442. However, private schools also receive funding that flows through MPS. I estimate the amount of money per-pupil flowing through MPS to private school students by dividing the non-public schools spending in the MPS budget by the number of private school students in Milwaukee: $20,354,270/29,756 = $684.
Adding the money from MPS to the maximum voucher payment ($6,442 + $684) suggests a reasonable estimate for per-pupil MPCP support in 2012 is $7,126.
It should be noted that like MPS, MPCP schools receive funding from private sources. The latest available data indicate that MPCP pupils on average have a per-pupil cost $1,153 above the maximum choice payment; suggesting on average schools raise $1,153 per-pupil in non-government revenue to close the gap between public funding and actual cost. Like the private grants to MPS, I did not include private funds in the per-pupil public support number for the MPCP.
Though not perfect, I think $13,063 (MPS) and $7,126 (MPCP) are reasonably comparative per-pupil public support numbers for MPS and the MPCP.
University of Wisconsin School of Education dean Julie Underwood does not think much of conservative views on education, writing in TheBadger Herald:
“Public education currently stands under twin towers of threat — de-funding and privatization. This is consistent with a conservative agenda to eliminate many public programs — including public education.”
I have always been irritated by this line of reasoning, is it really that far-fetched that those who support school choice actually care about education? And who stands to gain if public education is destroyed?
One longstanding criticism of voucher programs is they are part of a plot to allow private entities to profit off of K-12 education. If true, there should be a profit seeking school sector pushing vouchers for their own benefit. But is there one in Milwaukee?
To get at this question I examined the non-profit status of private schools in Milwaukee’s voucher program. First, I put the Archdiocesan, WELS, and Missouri Synod schools tied to parishes in the non-profit column. Second, I cross-referenced the names and addresses of the non-Catholic and non-Lutheran schools in the choice program against a database of Wisconsin non-profit corporations I obtained from the Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions.
I was able to matchup all but six schools; which suggests at worse six of the 106 schools enrolling 929 out of 23,198 student in the Milwaukee voucher program in 2012 may be for-profit entities. And these numbers are probably high. Three of the schools are connected to the Seventh Day Adventist church; it is likely I was simply unable to identify their parent organization in the database. Take away those three schools and the three remaining suspects are:
Early View Academy of Excellent: 432 pupils
Travis Technology High School: 235 pupils
Texas Bufkin Christian Academy: 101 pupils
Again, I cannot distinguish for sure whether these three schools are for-profit entities, or if I simply failed to identify them as non-profits.
Regardless, this exercise shows that if the goal of Wisconsin conservatives and school choice advocates is to turn public education over to for-profit entities, we are failing miserably at it. At most, 4% of the pupils in the Milwaukee voucher program are attending for-profit schools.
***Update: A 2000 Legislative Audit Bureau report identifies the non-profit status of three of the six schools I could not locate in the database. Sharon Junior and Early View Academy are identified as non-profits, and Texas Bufkin as a for-profit. Assuming these schools have not changed their status since 2000, at least 101 choice pupils (0.44% of total choice enrollment) and up to 487 choice pupils (2.1% of total choice enrollment) are attending between 1 and 4 for-profit schools.
Politically the rejection of anything relating to job creation is strange. WPRI’s latest public opinion poll shows the majority of respondents (52%) think “jobs/economy” is the most important issue facing state government in Wisconsin. No other issue cracks 20%. Given that short of hiring people there is little government can do to directly create jobs, Gogebic should have been a slam-dunk.
Alas, Wisconsinites also like the environment. The same WPRI poll shows a majority of respondents (51%) think environmental regulations “should not be weakened” to create more mining jobs in northern Wisconsin. The senate vote certainty suggests that when it comes to the competing issue of jobs and the environment, the environment wins.
Which is why I found it humorous that the same state senate that rejected streamlining environmental regulations for jobs approved legislation (by a 24-9 margin!) allowing Wisconsinites to hunt wolves with traps, guns, bows, and crossbows. I know I know, wolves are no longer endangered and pose a legitimate threat to livestock, but the optics sure look strange to this city-dweller.
Maybe the real issue is government power. Poplar Senator Bob Jauch alludes to this, telling WLUK in Green Bay that he wants the jobs but does want the Department of Natural Resources to have its “tools limited.”
More important than why the bill failed is the disappointing end result: 700 mining jobs are not coming to Wisconsin. But hey, at least the senators saw fit to give us a wolf hunt.
They bring up legitimate questions on study attrition but go off the rails when completely dismissing the voucher program as the cause of reading gains for choice pupils. Molnar and Welner point to the experience in Chicago where the introduction of high stakes testing caused a one-time bump in test scores. Great.
If you actually read the studies by the School Choice Demonstration Project (SCDP) you’ll see that the SCDP study team did acknowledge that the introduction of high-stakes testing might have played a role in test scores gains. In other words, the SCDP team, as they have throughout the evaluation, took a cautious and critical eye to what they were finding. In contrast Molnar and Welner feel comfortable dismissing the role of the voucher program on reading gains because of the Chicago anecdote, writing:
It is the implementation of test-based accountability in voucher schools during the final year of the evaluation that is most likely responsible for the entire bump in reading test scores.
They later conclude:
As this evaluation confirms, students who receive vouchers probably don’t do any worse or any better when they move to private schools.
Simply, no, that is not what the evaluation found.
Further, it is mind-boggling that the headline to Molnar and Welner’s piece calls the entire evaluation “inconsequential.” Because of this evaluation, the public knows more about the impact of the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program than just about any other major education reform effort in U.S. history. The merits of vouchers should be debated, but dismissing the evidence informing the debate as inconsequential is ridiculous.
If education reform efforts are not guided by evidence, how will they be guided?
Another weekend, another fight involving the Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS). The latest incident was a near-brawl that forced the early cancellation of a Rufus King – Riverside boys basketball game. Unfortunately, incidents like this reinforce the common outstate perception that Milwaukee is in a complete state of dysfunction.
I assure you, it is not.
Today, like every other day, thousands of Milwaukee residents are going about the daily minutiae of urban life without incident. While understandable that day-to-day life in Wisconsin’s biggest city does not generate headlines, it is an important point to remember when examining the very real problems facing Milwaukee.
School violence, persistently low-levels of K-12 achievement, black male unemployment, and co-sleeping deaths are all are symptoms of entrenched pockets of dysfunction that demand attention. These pockets of dysfunction, however, do not define Milwaukee or its citizenry.
The city’s cultural attractions, neighborhoods, universities, and corporate centers are as much a part of Milwaukee as its social problems; which is why the recent criticism of Tom Barrett’s support of the residency rule for City of Milwaukee employees is misguided. The general critique is that Barrett would rather trap people in the city than work to make Milwaukee a place where people want to live. I am not often defending Mayor Barrett, but this line of criticism ignores a basic truth: People actually do want to live in the city.
Last May, Alderman Willie Hines pointed out that the most recent recruitment for new Milwaukee firefighters and police officers generated 5,000 and 3,500 applicants respectively. All of the applicants knew about the residency rule and wanted the job anyways.
More philosophically, allowing organizations to set terms of employment is perfectly in line with free market principals. Employers have a right to set their terms and employees have a right to take, or not to take a job. As Barrett stated (I am paraphrasing), city employees not wanting to live in Milwaukee are free to leave the city, and their jobs.
No doubt Milwaukee needs work (A list of proposals in a 2004 WPRI report is a great place to start), but it is not on life-support. People of all stripes make their home in the cultural and economic center of the state not because they must, but because it is where they want to live.