Category Archives: Politics – Wisconsin

Governing is harder with diverse opinions

Here is my full column that ran in the Washington County Daily News yesterday. Given the election results, it seems well-timed.

Now that this election season is coming to a close, our soon-to-be newly elected, or re-elected, Wisconsin politicians must turn their attention to solving our state’s problems. If they think that this political campaign was hard, governing a state with such diverse opinions is harder.

Throughout the campaign, Wisconsinites have repeatedly called out the issues that need attention. Wisconsinites consistently identify education and the economy as top issues of concern. Unfortunately, most polls do not delve deep enough into the issues to uncover precisely what the perceived problems are that need addressing, but it can safely be assumed that Wisconsinites want a great education for their kids and a great economy.

When it comes to education, Wisconsinites rightly want our kids to get the best possible education at a cost that we can afford. In the most recent round of test results released by the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, less than half of students in third grade through eighth grade are proficient or better in English/language arts or math, and the average composite ACT score for 11th graders was 19.8. These statistics have been consistent for the past several years.

Interpreting test results always depends on one’s perspective, but the general perception is that Wisconsin’s education establishment can do a better job of educating our kids than that. Unfortunately, we have allowed politicians of both parties to fall into the lazy rhetorical position of substituting spending with accomplishments. Spending more money on education does not lead to better outcomes. If that were the case, then we would see it in the test results when we spend more. In fact, the kids who attend choice schools, which generally spend less per student than public schools, achieved higher test scores on average than the kids who attend public schools.

Instead of focusing on how much more we can spend on education, our politicians should advance policies designed to actually improve education. For example, if we look around the world at other educational systems that have better outcomes, they offer some insight into how to do things differently. In some countries, the curriculum is narrower, but deeper. The schools put all of their efforts into ensuring that the students have a deep understanding of core subjects instead of spending time on a more “wellrounded” education. Other school systems have also moved to all-year school to maintain momentum throughout the year. Still others have been aggressive in making sure that disruptive students are removed from the classroom to ensure a quality learning environment for the other students.

In short, in seeking policy prescriptions to improve education, Wisconsin’s politicians should be advancing actual data-driven ideas. Throwing more money into the same education machine expecting different results is lunacy.

When it comes to the economy, there is no dispute that it is booming in Wisconsin. Unemployment is hovering at a record low. Wages are increasing. Wisconsin’s historic economic engines, like manufacturing and agriculture, are strengthening again. Meanwhile, Wisconsin is attracting and growing new economic pillars like high-tech manufacturing and biotech. The biggest problem Wisconsin has right now is that there are more jobs than qualified people to fill them.

Economies are naturally complex and the reasons for the current boom are myriad. The policies and attitude of Wisconsin’s state government over the past few years can certainly claim some credit. Lower taxes, state agencies that strive to work with businesses, regulatory reforms, stable state finances, and a quality transportation infrastructure have all created an environment in which businesses can succeed.

When it comes to the economy, as with most things, the best government is the least government. As the state’s politicians enter the new year, they must not act to disrupt the economic policies that are working by introducing higher taxes, more regulations, or fostering an adversarial relationship with businesses. Instead, they should focus on the economic issues that need addressing, like attracting more workers to move to Wisconsin.

Most of all, as Wisconsin’s freshly elected politicians settle into their jobs, they must remember that not every problem requires a government solution. Most of the time, the best solution is for government to get out of the way.

Governing is harder with diverse opinions

My column is in the Washington County Daily News today. First, go vote. Second, tomorrow we have to start governing again. Here’s a taste.

When it comes to the economy, as with most things, the best government is the least government. As the state’s politicians enter the new year, they must not act to disrupt the economic policies that are working by introducing higher taxes, more regulations, or fostering an adversarial relationship with businesses. Instead, they should focus on the economic issues that need addressing, like attracting more workers to move to Wisconsin.

Most of all, as Wisconsin’s freshly elected politicians settle into their jobs, they must remember that not every problem requires a government solution. Most of the time, the best solution is for government to get out of the way.

Evers Says he Won’t Raise Taxes

If there’s one thing we’ve learned about Evers, it’s that he still isn’t used to people actually listening to what he says. He seems to just say whatever he thinks is convenient to the person he’s currently talking to – apparently unmoored by his previous statements or actual thoughts and intentions. If you believe that Evers won’t raise taxes if he’s elected, I have a bridge to sell you… brand new!

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Democrat Tony Evers, who has said he would consider raising the gas tax if elected governor of Wisconsin and has campaigned on ending a tax break primarily benefiting manufacturers, told a newspaper that he’s not planning to raise any taxes.

Evers, the state schools superintendent, is challenging Republican Gov. Scott Walker, with the most recent poll showing the race tied. Walker has vowed not to raise taxes. Evers has been open to a variety of tax hikes while vowing to cut income taxes for the middle class by 10 percent.

Evers planned to pay for that tax cut with $300 million gained by eliminating the manufacturing and agriculture tax credit program, a move Walker has cast as a tax increase on beneficiaries of the program.

But in a Washington Post story published Thursday, Evers said, “I’m planning to raise no taxes.”

Evers spokesman Sam Lau offered little clarity Friday on the contradiction. Lau said that Evers was referring only to his plan for the middle-class tax cut.

“Those details have not changed,” Lau said.

Election Predictions

Right Wisconsin is out with their pundit panel of predictions. I’m horrible at predictions, but I am feeling optimistic about tomorrow’s results. Perhaps that optimism is irrational, but I’m in line with this prediction:

James Wigderson: Looking into the crystal martini pitcher, I think my prediction from the beginning of the year stands. Governor Scott Walker will win narrowly despite the last-minute claim by Tony Evers he will not raise taxes. Looking at the right track – wrong track numbers, it’s hard to see a scenario where Walker loses.

Unfortunately, Walker’s win is too narrow to help state Sen. Leah Vukmir (R-Brookfield). The hope that a Republican woman candidate could negate the gender gap has not borne out and Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D), one of the most liberal U.S. Senators, will win re-election pretty handily. Republicans will wonder how they let Baldwin win.

Attorney General Brad Schimel will actually have the best night of the GOP candidates, getting a higher percentage of the vote than Walker. Josh Kaul will move to Washington after the election. Democrat Sarah Godlewski will defeat Republican Travis Hartwig for state treasurer.

In other races, voters in the 1st congressional district will reject Randy Bryce, leaving Democrats to wonder why they nominated the wrong candidate. Every other member of Congress from Wisconsin wins re-election, including Rep. Glenn Grothman. Republicans hold onto the Wisconsin Senate by one vote and lose four Assembly seats. Former state Rep. André Jacque is unsuccessful in his attempt to defeat Sen. Caleb Frostman, but state Rep. Dale Kooyenga (R-Brookfield) prevails in the ugliest election of this cycle.

Then again, Wiggy is almost as bad as I am at predictions.

UW Issues Voting Cards Without Verifying Citizenship

Win at all costs

For the state’s voter ID requirement, student ID cards don’t count, because they don’t have an expiration date. And so, any student can go to the union, present their student ID, and get a special student voter ID card.

When the university introduced the cards in 2016, Chancellor Rebecca Blank claimed, “For those non-Wisconsin students who are U.S. citizens but who don’t have a passport, the university will provide a voter ID card that complies with state law.”

However, as MacIver News discovered, the university makes no attempt to confirm students are U.S. citizens before providing them with voter ID cards.

After receiving the letter and ID card, students still need to officially register before they can vote. The university warns students they have to be 18 and a US citizen to vote.

Final Marquette Poll Before Election

As everyone has predicted for months… it’s going to come down to the wire and turnout will determine the outcome. All of the candidates should be spending their time getting their supporters to vote instead of trying to convince people to change their minds.

MILWAUKEE – A new Marquette Law School Poll of Wisconsin voters finds a tie in the state’s race for governor, with incumbent Republican Scott Walker and Democrat challenger Tony Evers each receiving 47 percent support among likely voters. Libertarian candidate Phil Anderson receives 3 percent, and only 1 percent say they lack a preference or do not lean to a candidate. One percent declined to respond to the question. Likely voters are defined as those who say they are certain to vote in the Nov. 6 election. In the most recent Marquette Law School Poll, conducted Oct. 3-7, Walker was supported by 47 percent, Evers by 46 percent and Anderson by 5 percent among likely voters.

In the race for Wisconsin’s U.S. Senate seat, Democratic incumbent Tammy Baldwin leads among likely voters with 54 percent supporting her, while 43 percent support Republican challenger Leah Vukmir. Only 2 percent say they lack a preference or do not lean toward a candidate and 1 percent did not respond. In early October, Baldwin was supported by 53 percent and Vukmir by 43 percent.

In the race for Wisconsin attorney general, Republican incumbent Brad Schimel is the choice of 47 percent and Democrat Josh Kaul is the choice of 45 percent of likely voters. Seven percent lack a preference in this race and 2 percent did not respond. In the early October poll, Schimel held 47 percent and Kaul 43 percent of likely voters.

Keep Wisconsin moving forward

Here is my full column that ran in the Washington County Daily News yesterday.

Early voting has been underway in Wisconsin for several weeks, but the end of the election season is rapidly approaching. Nov. 6 is the final day to vote. As a free people, we have the hardearned right to set the course of our public affairs for years to come. We must choose wisely.

There are many important choices on the ballot, but the three at the top of the ballot are paramount for the future of our state. Brad Schimel is asking for a second term as Wisconsin’s attorney general and he has earned it.

In his first term, Schimel has launched programs to support victims of domestic abuse and violent crime, fought the opioid abuse epidemic, supported local law enforcement, fixed the rape kit backlog that he inherited and much more. Schimel has led the Department of Justice as it should be run — as a no nonsense, law and order shop.

This stands in stark contrast to what his opponent, Josh Kaul, wants to do with the office. Kaul is part of the massive liberal effort, spearheaded by former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, to elect rabid activists as attorneys general across the nation. Their objective is to use the power of the office of attorney general to wage liberal havoc against their enemies. For the sake of law and order, Wisconsin must reelect Attorney General Brad Schimel.

State Sen. Leah Vukmir is challenging U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin. This race is a contrast in work ethic as well as ideology. Baldwin is completing her first term and one struggles to come up with a single accomplishment to her name. Backbenching inaction has been the hallmark of Baldwin’s entire political career. In almost six years as Wisconsin’s junior senator, the only thing that is remarkable about Baldwin’s tenure has been that she is a tremendously reliable vote for the Democratic leaders and every lefty cause they dreamt up.

During the exact same time, one could find Vukmir at the center of every major reform enacted in Wisconsin. Vukmir was at the center of Act 10, advancing school choice, reforming welfare, lowering taxes, health care reform, expanding civil rights and has been instrumental in advancing the reforms that have led to an economic renaissance in our state. Wisconsin is dramatically better off than it was when Vukmir first stepped into the state Legislature. We need a senator like Vukmir who will actually work for Wisconsin’s interests in Washington.

Finally, Gov. Scott Walker is asking Wisconsin for a third and final term as our governor. He has certainly earned it. Perhaps the easiest way to measure Walker’s tenure is by asking the old question, “are you better off ?” By virtually every measurement, the answer is, “yes.”

When Walker first assumed office, Wisconsin’s unemployment rate was 8 percent. Now it is less than 3 percent for the eighth month in a row. Before Walker became governor, businesses were fleeing Wisconsin. Now businesses like Foxconn are clamoring to set up shop in our state. Before Walker, taxes were going up every year at almost every level with no end in sight. Now Wisconsinites have enjoyed a decrease in the tax burden and the elimination of the state property tax.

Before Walker, tuition at the state’s universities were going up faster than inflation. Now Walker has frozen tuition at UW schools and students can more easily afford a higher education. Before Walker, the state was running a deficit in the billions of dollars. Now the state regularly runs a small surplus that has been used to give money back to taxpayers or bolster the state’s rainy day fund.

Before Walker became our governor, the DNR was feared by businesses, homeowners and conservationists alike. Now the DNR works to help people comply with environmental regulations. Before Walker, our civil rights to keep and bear arms were unreasonably restricted. Now Wisconsinites enjoy the liberties to which we are entitled. Before Walker, some of Wisconsin’s workers were forced to be members of a union if they wanted to work. Now every Wisconsin worker enjoys the right to freely associate.

By virtually every measurement — economic, civil rights, taxes, regulatory climate, etc. — Wisconsin is much better off than it was before Walker took office. Unless you want to see all of our progress come to a screeching halt, vote for Walker.

Walker, Vukmir and Schimel have all helped make Wisconsin a great place to live and work. They deserve our votes. More importantly, we deserve to have them continue to work on our behalf.

Keep Wisconsin moving forward

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online. Here’s the thrust:

Walker, Vukmir and Schimel have all helped make Wisconsin a great place to live and work. They deserve our votes. More importantly, we deserve to have them continue to work on our behalf.

Liberals are Cautiously Optimistic in Wisconsin

Let’s get out there and vote.

Most describe a mood of cautious optimism. Democrats in Wisconsin maintain a tight but narrow lead in the governor’s race, seem to be runningaway with the Senate race, and even feel they have an outside shot at the seat of the outgoing House speaker, Paul Ryan, in which Racine sits. Things look good. But they have been here before.

Most progressives here have a story of waking up the morning after election day two years ago to find Wisconsin had not only voted Republican for the first time in more than 30 years – it had voted for Donald Trump. For many it changed what they felt about the state they had lived in all their lives. “I remember being in public spaces and looking around and thinking, ‘Which of these white people voted for that crazy person who hates everything that I am?’” said Cruz.

To understand the source of their caution one has to go back further. Eight years ago, in the wake of the financial crisis, Walker was elected governor and almost immediately sought to end collective bargaining rights for public sector unions and cut local government workers’ health benefits and pension entitlements in order to balance the budget. “Wisconsin was a testing ground for some extreme Republican policies,” explained Forrest. “Organisations like Alec [a rightwing lobbying group] and people like the Koch brothers wanted to use Wisconsin to see how far they could go.”

[…]

The energy from the Madison protests was poured into an effort to recallWalker – a provision some states have for effectively demanding a revote. But Walker not only beat off the recall, he was returned with a larger majority and then re-elected in 2014. Then came Trump’s victory in 2016.

So the caution arises not simply from not winning, but having felt the camaraderie of mass protest only to be followed by electoral defeat: it’s not just the depths to which things have fallen but the heights from which the mood fell. So in Wisconsin particularly, when they see four of the five of the largest marches in American history take place in the last two years and sense increased enthusiasm they don’t assume that this will translate into a blue wave. They’re not jaded. But they are reflective.

What the Heck is a “Negative Savings”?

Heh

WEST BEND — After 12 months of collecting data from employees and their families regarding the onsite health clinic, officials have received information they hope to use to mitigate rising health care costs for their workforce.

Sara Stiefvater, the client operations manager, along with Regional Medical Director Dennis Schultz, both from Quad Medical, presented results of the operations for the onsite health clinic Monday to members of the Common Council.

[…]

She also provided information regarding the clinic’s profitability when combined with Washington County since the clinic is shared between their employees.

In the aggregate, officials experienced a negative savings for the first year by slightly more than $22,000. The total estimated savings was about $332,000 while the expenses, which includes staff as well as the payment to the vendor for operating the clinic, was about $355,000.

That’s the oddest way to say that… “experienced a negative savings” of $22,000. In the real world, we would day that it “costs” $22,000. This is significant because the whole point of the county and city providing a clinic is to bring down the overall costs. Otherwise, it’s just an additional benefit to government employees.

The impact the clinic will have for the city and county, at least in terms of savings and cost, is significant because that is the primary reason that administrators and leaders established one.

The clinic opened during the summer, marking the completion of a project that required about two years inthe hopes of slowing the increasing rate associated with health care costs.

“Over the course of three years, the projection is about $1 million (saved),” Human Resources Director Todd Scott said during a July 2017 interview. “It is really going to be based on participation. How many people use the clinic and what type of services. That is where the savings is going to come from.”

If the goal is to save $1 million in three years, then the clinic needs to save $511,000 each of the next two years. I don’t see that happening.

That being said, I would consider the clinic a success if it saves some decent amount each year. For example, if it saves the taxpayers $50,000 per year and provides a better healthcare alternative to employees, then it’s a net benefit worth keeping. If it is just going to be another perk for employees that costs taxpayers even more, then it fails to meet its stated justification and should be shut down.

Let’s give it another year and see how it goes.

Liberal Activist Segway Boy is Arrested for Trying to Buy Radioactive Material

What a piece of garbage.

According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), 30-year-old Jeremy Ryan was arrested in the 700 block of Mills Street in Black Earth.

According to court documents, Ryan attempted to buy a lethal dose of a radioactive substance online in March and October 2018 to kill an unnamed person.

Following Ryan’s arrest, agents searched his home in the 300 block of Munn Road in the Town of Madison. Agents with the Hazardous Evidence Response Teams (HERT) from the Milwaukee and Chicago field offices searched the home Wednesday night.

[…]

Ryan was also active in the ACT 10 protests in 2011. At the time he was known as “Segway Jeremy.” He aggressively protested Republican lawmakers inside the Wisconsin Capitol.

According to online court records, in 2016, Ryan pleaded guilty in Dane County Circuit to a maintaining a drug trafficking place charge.

Conflict in Washington County

Here is my full column that ran in the Washington County Daily News yesterday.

Before he became the father of Texas, Stephen Fuller Austin served for a time in the territorial legislature of Missouri. He was a savvy, energetic legislator whose personal interests often aligned with the interests of his home district of Washington County.

For example, Austin aggressively pushed for a tariff to protect lead mining, the primary business in his district and his family’s business. He also advocated fiercely to get the government to grant a more favorable charter to the Bank of Missouri, of which his father was a founding director. Both efforts were intended for the benefit of his district and Missouri with the convenient side effect of directly benefitting Austin and his family.

The blurring of public and personal interests by elected officials is as old as representative government itself. This blur came to the fore in Wisconsin’s Washington County and has resulted in county leadership essentially forcing a supervisor to resign.

When the Washington County Board supervisor for District 11 moved away a few months ago, the County Board appointed a replacement, William Blanchard, to serve out the rest of the term. On Oct. 3, Blanchard submitted his resignation “under duress” due to an insurmountable conflict of interest.

At issue is the fact that Blanchard’s daughter receives significant care from various county departments. Upon investigation, county officials determined that because so many departments were involved, the only way to avoid the potential conflict of interest was for the county to outsource his daughter’s care to another county, at significant expense, or for Blanchard to resign.

The Washington County Ethics Board issued an opinion that although there was no “wrongdoing or ethical violation … there is a conflict of interest,” and “Blanchard should resign.” To that end, County Board Chairman Don Kriefall, County Administrator Josh Schoemann and County Attorney Brad Stern told Blanchard that he needed to resign.

This raises all kinds of questions. What constitutes a conflict of interest? According to the county’s code of ethics, a conflict of interest results from an official’s “action or failure to act in the discharge of his or her official duties which could reasonably be expected to produce or assist in producing a substantial economic or personal benefit.”

In this case, the potential conflict of interest exists if, and only if, Blanchard uses his office or votes on issues related to services that his daughter receives. The simple solution, which Blanchard offered to do, is for him to recuse himself from such votes. This is common and routine for elected officials. The Washington County Board, like every elected board, is riddled with conflicts. Supervisors and their families work for the county, use county services, serve on municipal governments, work in businesses that do work with the county, etc. It is impossible to have an elected county government full of citizens who do not actually live in the county.

For Blanchard, county officials insisted that they would need to outsource services for his daughter to avoid a potential conflict. Why? Again, the simple and cheap solution is for Blanchard to recuse himself if there is a conflict of interest. Outsourcing services to another county just to avoid a potential conflict of interest with one supervisor is an expensive overreaction. It is not the county’s duty to avoid the conflict. It is the supervisor’s. If the supervisor commits an ethical offense related to a conflict of interest, then the County Board can take action.

What is concerning about this is that county officials constructed an unreasonable standard to force an elected official out of office. Blanchard was faced with either resigning or being responsible for forcing the taxpayers to pay thousands of dollars of additional costs to care for his daughter. He was forced into this decision even though the simple act of recusing himself from relevant votes would have adequately sufficed to avoid a potential breach of ethics.

The downside of Blanchard’s potential conflict of interest is that he may have to skip a lot of votes. This would bring into question whether or not he is adequately representing the citizens of his district. But that decision is not for the county administrator, county attorney or County Board chairman to decide. That decision is up to the voters of District 11.

In a representative government, elected officials only have one boss — the people. Barring criminal corruption in office, which would justify removal from office, it is up to the people to decide who they want to represent them. If Blanchard recuses himself from a lot of votes, it is up to the people to decide whether that is good enough or not. And frankly, given that Washington County has a ridiculously large board with 26 supervisors, and it is exceedingly rare for any vote to come down to a single supervisor’s vote, it is unlikely that Blanchard’s vote would ever result in a “substantial economic or personal benefit.”

Washington County’s leadership undermined the tenets of representative government when they forced Blanchard to resign. It wasn’t their call. It should have been left for the voters to decide.

Bernie Evers Wants $15 Minimum Wage

Minimum!

MacIver News Service | Oct. 22, 2018

By Bill Osmulski and Chris Rochester

MILWAUKEE – Tony Evers stole Bernie Sanders’ socialist spotlight in Milwaukee on Monday when he told supporters that when it comes to the minimum wage “we’re going to $15 an hour minimum. Minimum.”

Sanders was in Milwaukee to rally the Democrat base around the party’s top candidates in next month’s election. Tony Evers, Gwen Moore, Randy Bryce, Tammy Baldwin, and Mandela Barnes were all there at the UWM student union. Several hundred people attended.

Given the location at one of the UW System’s top universities, Evers thought it was also a good time to admit being on the board of regents is “the worst part of my job.”

Nothing says “economic growth” like bone-crushing government regulations.

Conflict in Washington County

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online and in print today! Go pick up a copy. Here’s a taste.

Before he became the father of Texas, Stephen Fuller Austin served for a time in the territorial legislature of Missouri. He was a savvy, energetic legislator whose personal interests often aligned with the interests of his home district of Washington County.

For example, Austin aggressively pushed for a tariff to protect lead mining, the primary business in his district and his family’s business. He also advocated fiercely to get the government to grant a more favorable charter to the Bank of Missouri, of which his father was a founding director. Both efforts were intended for the benefit of his district and Missouri with the convenient side effect of directly benefiting Austin and his family.

The blurring of public and personal interests by elected officials is as old as representative government itself. This blur came to the fore in Wisconsin’s Washington County and has resulted in county leadership essentially forcing a supervisor to resign.

Senator Stroebel Leads on Referendum Reform

It’s hard to argue with any of these reforms… but I’m sure liberals will fins a way.

I have advocated, and will continue to advocate, for reforms to provide greater transparency in the referendum process and to remove policies that incentivize overspending. Among these reforms are:

  • requiring ballot questions to show the total actual cost of referendums with projected debt service
  • requiring borrowed money to be spent on what is listed on the ballot
  • making referendum costs non-shareable, so that one school district’s taxpayers do not subsidize another’s referendum
  • requiring public bidding of school district projects
  • and clarifying what communications are allowable information to voters and what is illegal electioneering with public money.

The size and importance of these expenditures demands no less from our public officials.

First Debate Between Evers and Walker

Since nobody actually watched the debate live because it was on a Friday night during a Brewers playoff game and a Bucks game, here’s a recording of the debate.

Tony Evers Heavily Plagiarized in Official Budget Request

Way to set an example for the school kids, Tony.

MADISON – State schools Superintendent Tony Evers submitted a budget request as his bid for governor heated up in September that included sections plagiarized from Wikipedia, a blog by an intern at a think tank and two other sources.

[…]

Evers’ budget request includes a 15-paragraph section on the benefits of summer school programs that is nearly verbatim to a blog post written by a Thomas B. Fordham Institute intern.

A section on the benefits of having students work matches nearly word for word a publication by the National Collaborative on Workforce and Disability. That section includes two paragraphs and a list of four benefits of having students work.

Two other paragraphs appear to be taken verbatim from other sources — one from the Afterschool Alliance and one from Wikipedia.

And this is telling…

A spokesman for Evers’ Department of Public Instruction acknowledged that “proper citation use was missed in certain places” of the budget request. Staff will be retrained but Evers does not plan to discipline anyone, according to the department.

Clearly there isn’t a culture of accountability in Evers’ DPI.

Getting Better Educational Outcomes

Maybe it’s not all about “finding yourself” and class size.

Today Singapore’s education system is considered the best in the world. The country consistently ranks at the top of the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), a triennial test of 15-year-olds in dozens of countries, in the main three categories of maths, reading and science. Singaporean pupils are roughly three years ahead of their American peers in maths. Singapore does similarly well in exams of younger children, and the graduates of its best schools can be found scattered around the world’s finest universities.

The island-state has much to teach the world. But other countries are reluctant pupils. One reason is that Singapore favours traditional pedagogy, with teachers leading the class. That contrasts with many reformers’ preference for looser, more “progressive” teaching intended to encourage children to learn for themselves. Although international studies suggest that direct instruction is indeed a good way of conveying knowledge, critics contend that Singapore has a “drill and kill” model that produces uncreative, miserable maths whizzes. Parents worry about the stress the system puts on their children (and on them, even as they ferry kids to extra classes).

Yet Singapore shows that academic brilliance need not come at the expense of personal skills. In 2015 Singaporean students also came first in a new PISA ranking designed to look at collaborative problem-solving, scoring even better than they did in reading and science. They also reported themselves to be happy—more so than children in Finland, for instance, a country that educationalists regard as an example of how to achieve exceptional results with cuddlier methods of teaching. Not content with its achievements, Singapore is now introducing reforms to improve creativity and reduce stress (see article). This is not a sign of failure, but rather of a gradual, evidence-led approach to education reform—the first of three lessons that Singapore offers the rest of the world.

[…]

The third and most important lesson is to focus on developing excellent teachers. In Singapore, they get 100 hours of training a year to keep up to date with the latest techniques. The government pays them well, too. It accepts the need for larger classes (the average is 36 pupils, compared with 24 across the OECD). Better, so the thinking goes, to have big classes taught by excellent teachers than smaller ones taught by mediocre ones.

I’d like to hear more ideas like this out of Evers and Walker instead of “we’re going to spend more on the same thing.”

I’d note that Singapore spends about $10k/year for high schoolers and about $7,700 per kid for elementary schoolers. Wisconsin spends about $11,500 per student. So Singapore is spending a good amount, but less than Wisconsin on education and getting far better results for their kids. Could it be that the answer to better education in Wisconsin isn’t about spending more money? The answer is changing the way we educate kids.

Cedarburg’s Pro-Referendum Propaganda at Taxpayers’ Expense

A few weeks ago, I wrote a column about the sham referendum process in Cedarburg. Part of that process was the survey sent out by School Perceptions that was designed as propaganda – not an honest query of the community. MacIver took a closer look and has revealed just how shady that survey was.

Staff and parents of CSD students were emailed links to an online version of the survey, and then emailed multiple reminders to complete it.

Meanwhile, most local residents got a paper version via the U.S. Postal Service. The district mailed out 8,400 of the surveys—which many discarded as junk mail, according to the local newspaper.

While staff and parents got multiple emails linking directly to the survey and were encouraged to give their paper copy to another adult, everyone else had to go out of their way to request copies using snail mail.

To some, the heads-up to stakeholders more likely to support the ballot question feels more like a statistics trick than an unbiased effort to gauge public opinion. A MacIver News Service investigation in August raised concerns about bias in the district’s information-gathering effort.

“If there is a strategy behind the survey, then it isn’t really a survey and we shouldn’t call it one,” Cedarburg School Board member David Krier wrote in an April 22 email to Superintendent Todd Bugnacki.

Despite Krier’s protest, in two email blasts in the closing weeks of the survey, CSD officials urged parents and staff to fill out the survey online.

The May 22 and 29 emails signed by Bugnacki and the Cedarburg School Board encouraged staff to complete the survey electronically—and give their paper copies to another adult and have them complete that.

“If you reside in the District, you will receive a mailed survey as well and should encourage another adult (eligible to vote) in your home to take the Mail survey,” the email states.

“The involvement of our staff is critical in this process.”

Krier was concerned staff and parents, more likely to green light the referendum, would be able to skew the survey’s findings. Sending them links to the survey would boost their response rate compared with others in the community, like senior citizens.

But that was always the plan, Bugnacki said in a reply to Krier.

“The plan all along was to email the survey to parents, teachers, and staff. All residents within our school district boundaries have or will receive the survey via the mail. Additional surveys are available for families if needed,” Bugnacki wrote in a May 9 email.

Remember that the West Bend School District also used School Perceptions for their propaganda survey.

School Districts Fight to Avoid Tax Cut

From MacIver

[Madison, Wisc…] Homeowners in 148 school districts across Wisconsin will be getting an unexpected tax cut next year, but many of those districts would prefer to keep that a secret – and backfill those savings with new spending.

The reason for the tax cut is the termination of the Energy Efficiency Exemption (EEE). This loophole allowed school districts to raise taxes for supposed energy efficiency projects without going to referendum.

The energy savings on many of these projects is negligible. It will be decades before the savings justify the expense – which was considerable. Last year alone, districts collected an additional $92.3 million through the EEE. With the program eliminated, property taxes in those 148 school districts will automatically drop $92.3 million.

However, 21 of those districts see this as an opportunity to downplay the true tax impact of their referendums on next month’s ballot. For example, the Hartford J1 School District has a referendum for $5.5 million. According to the district’s website, “If the referendum is approved, there would be no impact on current school tax rates over the life of the 15-year borrowing term.”

Southern Door County Schools has a $6,270,000 building referendum that “would not increase your taxes over current levels.”

The Edgerton School District has been more transparent about this tactic than most. It’s trying to convince local residents that a $40.6 million building referendum plus a $1.25 million recurring annual operating referendum will only raise their tax rate by less than a dollar. The finance director, Todd Wehner, openly describes this tactic as a “levy opportunity or a levy shelf.”