Over the past couple years I have had the privilege of teaching a social science course to undergraduates in Milwaukee. Every semester I ask soon-to-be graduates about their job search, and more often than not I hear about interviews and placements in the non-profit sector. While social science students are likely more drawn to the sector than business or science majors, there is good evidence that non-profits have weathered the economic downturn better than the private and government sectors, particular when it comes to job growth.
Data from the National Center for Charitable Statistics indicate over 13,000 Wisconsin non-profit charitable organizations with combined revenues of $33,983,676,906 filed 990 tax forms this year. Though the number of non-profits in Wisconsin is down slightly from last year, total revenue in the sector is up. Indeed, total revenue in the sector has been increasing annually for years.
More interesting is a recent report from the Johns Hopkins’ Non-Profit Data Project showing the number of non-profit jobs in Wisconsin increased by 2.1% between 2007 and 2009. During the same timeframe the number of private sector jobs in Wisconsin decreased by 3.7%.
There are any number of possible reasons non-profits have fared better than the private sector in recent years. One may be an increased need for organizations that provide social services during difficult economic times. Another may the need to fill the gap in services caused by cuts to government. Or, perhaps, lower starting salaries and the absence of a fiscal profit motive give non-profit employers a competitive advantage in a down economy.
Unfortunately, the tax-exempt status enjoyed by non-profit organizations in exchange for providing a public benefit is becoming increasingly politicized. The basic critique is that some non-profit corporations, particularly those involved with religion and public policy, may not be holding up their end of the bargain.
I will leave the debate over which public charities are worthy of tax-exempt status to the IRS, however I do want to point out that taking funds out of the non-profit sector through the removal of public support seems antithetical to the goal of job growth. Right now, there is evidence that it is the one sector in Wisconsin steadily creating jobs.
WPRI polling from last year found the majority of Wisconsinites think jobs/economy is the most important issue facing the state. As state policymakers move forward to address this issue, they would be wise to include the non-profit sector as a key component of any plan for job creation.
Why would parents send their children across town to attend a school that is academically similar or worse than the school in their neighborhood? Are they ill informed, irrational, or something else? Consider Milwaukee’s Bay View High School.
I live in the neighborhood and attempted to answer my question anecdotally by asking one of my neighbors, an eighth grader at the local MPS grade school, where he was going to high school next year. He told me he applied to St. Francis High, Cudahy High, and South Milwaukee High. Like 8,000 other Milwaukee students, he plans to use the state’s Open Enrollment or Chapter 220 program to attend school in a suburban district.
The anecdote reflects the plain reality that for many Milwaukee families the neighborhood public high school is not a viable option. Recent improvements in graduation rates notwithstanding, it is hard to blame parents for shunning Bay View High. The school has an average composite ACT score of 14.9, and its test scores and graduation rates are comparable to or worse than MPS averages. The district’s most recently released value added analysis of Bay View high shows it to be a low-value low-attainment school, suggesting the school receives academically challenged pupils and fails to substantially improve their test scores.
Blogger and Bay View teacher Jay Bullock argues in a recent Journal Sentinel op-ed that Bay View High is showing signs of improvement. This is true and there certainly could be parents picking the school because of recent improvements. However, it is another statement from Bullock that I think better explains why parents are still choosing the school. He writes: “State testing data ranks Bay View, along with most of MPS, pretty low, yes.”
In other words, parents are not choosing Bay View High over other higher performing schools, but over other schools of similar quality. This reality is the reason well intentioned and worthy efforts to better publicize the performance of schools in Milwaukee is not enough to increase achievement levels. A fairly recent report from Chicago’s IFF demonstrates quite well that Milwaukee needs to increase its supply of high-quality schools to improve aggregate performance.
So why do parents, who say they want quality, choose low-performing schools like Bay View High? I suspect they don’t. Given options of similar academic quality they choose because a bus stops close to their home, because family and friends have attended in years prior, because of safety concerns, because a school is showing signs of improvement, or for any number of other perfectly rational reasons.
In 2008 I gave a presentation about education reform to a national gathering of state legislators in Salt Lake City. Unbeknownst to me, my boring little talk was apparently part of a larger plot to hand state government over to corporate interests. You see, the gathering of state legislators was a conference held by the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC.
What ALEC actually does is more benign than critics suggest. The organization holds gatherings where state legislators network, listen to expert speakers, and share policy ideas. ALEC also creates model legislation. This function in particular raises the ire of critics.
Some of the concern with ALEC model legislation is legitimate; the diverse needs and statutory environment of states demand more than cookie-cutter legislation. Any legislator that introduces model legislation without considering the reality of his or her state deserves criticism. However, the mere creation and sharing of model legislation is not a nefarious practice. There is a substantialacademicliterature on policy migration showing that formal organizations like ALEC, think tanks, government, and academia all facilitate the exchange of policy ideas between states.
And the facilitation of policy ideas is a positive thing. Good ideas do not originate out of thin air and certainly are not bound by geographic location. It is in the interest of legislators to know what is and is not working elsewhere.
While I do not agree with all of the policy principals advanced by ALEC, I fail to see the evil underpinnings behind their work. I suspect the uptick in attention paid to the organization is nothing more than politics as usual. After all, the creation of boogiemen like ALEC and big labor allow one to dismiss political opponents as simple pawns of powerful interests rather than people with legitimately divergent views.
Filed under: Reports — Christian Schneider @ 9:36 pm
Yesterday, when the Milwaukee Journal Sentinelposted my op-ed describing the history surrounding enactment of the Wisconsin recall, I expected the usual suspects to flood the comment thread. The process usually goes something like this: I spend weeks swimming in microfilm and documents at the State Historical Society in order to produce a fact-based report. Then, anonymous commenters explain how wrong I am because, well, they know how to turn on their computer.
One comment early in the morning struck me, mostly because it contained complete sentences. The commenter’s name was “Fallone,” and criticized me for failing to mention the circumstances of the 1911 recall effort, in which the recall resolution was amended to exempt the judiciary from the recall process because some senators thought it would be abused by socialists. Of course, in the report that served as the basis for my op-ed, I talk all about the 1911 recall effort and the move to exempt judges; but given the limited space allotted to me by the Journal Sentinel, I didn’t mention it yesterday. The commenter ended his critique of me by saying “The Journal Sentinel does the public a disservice by printing polemics masquerading as objective history.”
By 4:34 P.M. , Marquette law professor Ed Fallone had read my original piece, and -oops – realized I discussed everything he wanted me to about the 1911 election in my “polemic” writings. But obviously, he had it out for me, so he needed a new specious line of argument, which he lays out on the Marquette University Law School Faculty blog. Not only is his critique of my research weak, it doesn’t even lay a finger on my central thesis; that the recall isn’t being used in any way envisioned by the constitutional amendment’s original authors.
Fallone begins with this questionable syllogism:
The original push to add recall provisions to the Wisconsin Constitution, conducted during the 1911 legislative term, was clearly modeled on the nationwide campaign to adopt recall provisions. I have previously written about the history of the recall movement here. None of the other states that recall advocates in Wisconsin looked to as models in 1911 had exempted executive branch officials from the recall power. Moreover, far from being directed at judges, the original provisions in 1911 were amended in response to criticism so that they exempted judges from the scope of the recall (see page 139 of this history by the Legislative Research Bureau).
Given this record, it is impossible to conclude that the original legislation adopting recall provisions was primarily directed at the removal of elected judges. However, the original legislation was rejected by the voters in 1914, and did not become part of the Wisconsin Constitution. Mr. Schneider appears to argue that when the recall provisions were introduced once again, in 1923 by State Senator Henry Huber, they were no longer intended to apply broadly to all elected officials. Apparently we are to believe that between 1911 and 1923 the intent of the recall provision had changed from an intent to apply the recall to all elected officials except judges to an intent to apply the recall provisions primarily to judges.
Is it really the position of a Marquette law professor that two legislatures, a dozen years apart and comprised by almost entirely different members, could come to two different conclusions about how the recall amendment should be drafted? The move to exempt judges in 1911 was due to the concerns of a handful of senators fearful of socialist dirty tricks; it’s impossible that either those senators were either gone, or their fear of socialists had been ameliorated? Is it far-fetched to think that in 1923, new legislators buoyed by the progressive surge in popularity, thought they could pass a more expansive recall amendment?
Take, for example, the issue of concealed firearms. A decade ago, legislators drafted a very modest proposal to allow concealed-carry. It never made it past the governor’s veto. Now, ten years later, emboldened by a changing political landscape, the GOP passed a much more expansive concealed-carry law, knowing many of their political obstacles had been eliminated. By Fallone’s reasoning, this new law never would have passed because it was rejected 10 years ago.
I have a mountain of evidence that suggests that the only real question on the ballot in 1926 was whether judges should be recalled. Fallone’s evidence is simply his confusion that different legislatures twelve years apart draft different constitutional amendments for different reasons.
Fallone also criticizes me because, in reaching my conclusion, I use statements by opponents of the recall:
Second, it is never proper to attempt to divine the original intent of a constitutional provision by relying upon the arguments of its opponents. Almost all of Mr. Schneider’s evidence in support of his proferred interpretation comes from editorials and statements of persons who opposed the ratification of the recall provisions. The statements of opponents are no evidence at all of the intention of supporters.
Of course, he ignores the sections where I use statements by supporters of the recall to demonstrate that it would be used almost solely against judges. Take this editorial from the Wisconsin State Journal, a paper that supported the recall of executive offices:
“Men and women of Wisconsin, going to vote Tuesday, will be confronted by the recall amendment. Do we want it?
This is not a very hard or complicated thing to understand. The proposal is that if 25 per cent of the number who voted for governor at the last election petition for it an election shall be held to say whether an elective officer stays or goes.
In Wisconsin, this would amount to little in the case of any official except a judge. For the men who propose it have hedged it with such conditions that an official could not be recalled until he had been in office at least 13 1/2 months. What was left on a 2-year term would not be important enough to hold a recall election on…
The best thing the proposers of the recall seem able to bring up is that they have so hedged it with restrictions that it would be hard to use. A fine reason surely! If a recall is needed, it ought be made easy to use – not so hard that only wealthy interests or organizations which have piled up large funds for political purposes can employ it.”
A later editorial explains that while they favor the idea of the recall, they oppose the way it would affect judges:
“In our judgment, [the recall] is an instrument of popular control of public administration which is useful as applied to executive officials. Its use as to these, we believe, is in its potentiality more largely than its practice, because the frequency of our elections of administrative officers gives the whip-hand over them in any case, and so the recall as it affects them serves more than anything else as an admonition.
We believe the recall as applied to the judiciary, however, positively to be detrimental to public service…”
Virtually every account of the recall amendment in major Wisconsin newspapers in October and November of 1926 referred to it as the “judicial recall,” or the “recall of judges.” If Fallone would like to do his own research to prove otherwise, he is welcome to it. Here are just a few:
Furthermore, if Fallone would like to point to any politician in the state with a 2-year term who has been recalled, or who has even been the subject of an attempted recall, even in the height of recall fever in which we find ourselves right now, I’d be happy to correct myself. But all the evidence shows that it was the understanding then, has been the understanding throughout the state’s history, and is currently the understanding that it is implausible to recall politicians with 2-year terms.
We get it. Ed Fallone likes the recall. In his own derivative history of the recall, Fallone cites the need to lessen the influence of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which has become a shibboleth for individuals who are either anti-Scott Walker or who don’t have proper ventilation in their offices. The only people who say ALEC is secretly pulling Scott Walker’s strings are people who are trying to defeat Walker. But wait – weren’t we supposed to not draw conclusions based solely on someone’s opponents?
I am willing to show my work. The professor has none to show.
Why July 1, 2013? That is the day after the current MTEA/MPS contract expires, and the first day the MPS board can invoke Act 10 and stop collectively bargaining anything aside from base wages.
Like other financially harmful policies in the MPS teacher contract, the second pension actually made some sense when it began in 1982. According to MPS, its original purpose “was to offset the [Wisconsin Retirement System] early retirement penalties to incent retirements at a time when there was a surplus of teachers to avoid teacher layoffs.”
In other words, MPS had a surplus of teachers because older teachers were not retiring so as not to lose state pension benefits. Hence, a second pension to offset any loss was created. However, since 1982 the early retirement penalty for teacher has been reduced or eliminated, turning the second pension into an additional benefit which MPS states it had “no intent to establish.”
The moves by the MPS board last week and earlier this year show a willingness to make necessary changes to move the district in a more fiscally sustainable direction. Freezing the second pension for new hires will reduce the district’s overall $133 million unfunded liability for the second pension by $20 million over the next five years. The change will also reduce MPS’ annual contribution to the second pension by $5 million, meaning another $5 million a year will be available to spend on something else, like education.
Despite these moves, MPS’ fiscal picture remains hugely challenging. In thirty years, a billion-dollar unfunded health care liability is still projected to remain. However, collective bargaining reform has enabled MPS to reverse several negative fiscal trends for the first time in years.
Admittedly, the topic of unfunded liabilities and the details of collective bargaining can be eyes-glaze over boring. However, the ability of MPS and other districts to make decisions that shift resources from legacy costs to classrooms can go along way to making public education a more sustainable and more successful institution.
The Milwaukee Teachers Education Association (MTEA) Children’s Week concept was a noble one. The idea was to have Milwaukee teachers, as well as high-profile business and community members, donate a week of their salary to the Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS). Union members, however, rejected the idea on a 2,296 to 1,635 vote.
I call the effort noble for several reasons. First, it would have put a little more money into classrooms at a time when MPS’ budget situation is dire. The district soon will be paying almost $50,000 per-employee in health care benefits for current employees and retirees. The legacy costs in particular are responsible for a perverse situation where MPS’ per-pupil costs (over $14,000 according to DPI) far exceed what a classroom or school actually receives for education purposes. MTEA’s proposed gesture would have at least given classrooms additional resources next year.
It was also noble because a multi-year salary freeze for teachers is already coming down the pike. Teacher salaries will be frozen when MTEA’s current contract expires in 2013 until 2015. In other words, current teachers will soon be financially burdened by necessary district efforts to address unfunded liability costs. A vote for Children’s Week was a vote to move up the timeline by giving back the last pay raise before the freeze.
There was also of course a public relations component; blogger and MPS teachers Jay Bullock called it “the last, best opportunity for the Milwaukee Teachers Education Association to build goodwill in the community.” While union rejection of an effort called Children’s Week might be an ironic example of MTEA priorities, the fact that a majority of employees at an organization voted against forgoing a pay raise is not surprising and certainly not shocking.
The whole affair is rooted in the larger unanswered community question; what needs to be done to make public education in Milwaukee sustainable? Right now, as WPRI and others have pointed out, it is not.