Senator Kathleen Vinehout's blog

Teacher Shortage: Who Will Teach the Children?

Kathleen Vinehout

Senator Kathleen Vinehout


“Please sound the alarm,” Superintendent Mary Baier wrote to me. “We are not able to find people to fill positions in Wisconsin.” She needed a special education teacher and only one applicant had applied to her rural Plum City district.

When the school bells ring across Wisconsin, parents expect classrooms to be filled with qualified teachers. But a dramatic decline in education majors at university-based programs and an exodus of both newly minted and experienced teachers have left Wisconsin parents asking, “Who will teach our children?”

The “impending crisis” is here.

Health still a top political issue

Kathleen Vinehout
August 26, 2015
 
Health Still a Top Political Issue
By
Senator Kathleen Vinehout
 
“ObamaCare must be repealed immediately,” begins Governor Walker’s health plan for America.
 
Recently the governor unveiled his health plan to eliminate the Affordable Care Act (ACA). He chose Minnesota as the backdrop - a state whose state-based marketplace offers health premiums to families that are over three hundred dollars less a month than Wisconsin’s federal marketplace according to research by the Commonwealth Fund.
 
In his new plan, the governor would give states the ability to create high-risk insurance pools – something Wisconsin had and Walker repealed in his 2013 budget. If we had kept this high-risk pool for a few more years, premiums in Wisconsin – for those who buy insurance on their own or as a small business – would have likely been lower.

Lack of Rural Broadband Frustrates Fairgoers

Kathleen Vinehout
August 19, 2014
 
Lack of Rural Broadband Frustrates Fairgoers
by
Senator Kathleen Vinehout
 
“It’s pedal to the metal on broadband policy—for both consumers and competitors,” said Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Tom Wheeler at a recent address to the Brookings Institute as reported on a Brookings website.
 
Internet in rural Wisconsin is closer to Pony Express than “pedal to the metal.”
 
That’s the general consensus of folks at the Pierce County Fair.
 
“AT&T is the largest carrier in the world and they won’t come to my house,” Tammy Tollefson told me. AT&T provided phone service to her rural Pierce County residence but not broadband. “We are literally the last mile,” she said.

Should Tax Dollars Go to Companies Just to “Create Jobs”?

Kathleen Vinehout
 
Should Tax Dollars Go to Companies Just to “Create Jobs”?
By
Senator Kathleen Vinehout
 
Imagine how private firms do business with the State of Wisconsin. The companies provide something of value for taxpayers and, in return, receive state money.
 
This happens all the time in state government: private companies build roads, computer systems, pay Medicaid bills, and even educate children.
 
What if the sole reason tax dollars went to a company was to create jobs?
 

County Fairs: Time for Creativity and Critters, Friends and Family

Kathleen Vinehout
County Fairs: Time for Creativity and Critters, Friends and Family
by
Senator Kathleen Vinehout
 
“We were working on a peach pie at 11:00 pm last night,” a 4-H mom whispered. “We were working on brownies at 2:00 am,” said another mom who overhead the conversation.
 
We were outside the 4-H food judging at the Pepin County Fair. You could have heard a pin drop inside the room as the judges sampled the entries. “What a great job,” I thought. “Dessert judge at the county fair.”
 
County fairs have a deep tradition in our state. Thousands of families, FFA members, 4-Hers and other youth poured their time, energy, talent and creativity into projects exhibited at Wisconsin’s many county fairs.
 
“Did you see the chicken made of egg shells?” the superintendent of crafts and woodworking at the Trempealeau County Fair asked as I walked through the craft building. He led me over to the top prizewinners on special display.
 
Indeed, there was a chicken made of broken brown eggshells. Each flawlessly placed shell piece matched the shade and shape of the shells around it and covered the perfectly shaped chicken.
 
“How did she get the beak to fit together?” I wondered out loud. “It’s a Styrofoam mold underneath that she carved,” the superintendent explained. I very much admired her amazingly detailed work.

Art Mirrors our Environment

Kathleen Vinehout
Art Mirrors our Environment
by
Senator Kathleen Vinehout
 
“If you came to Stockholm today, you came up or over a river,” musician Julie Patchouli told the folks gathered at the 42nd Annual Art Fair. The musical group, known by Julie’s last name, began a rousing river song as part of the celebration of art in the village of Stockholm, Wisconsin.
 
Stockholm is a picturesque Mississippi River town of 66 individuals (not counting the dogs and cats) that swells by many hundreds on art fair day. Most of the art fair is in the scenic village park on the riverbank of Lake Pepin – the widest spot in the Mississippi.

Governor Walker’s Vetoes Remove Legislative Oversight

Kathleen Vinehout
Governor Walker’s Vetoes Remove Legislative Oversight
by
Senator Kathleen Vinehout
 
“I object to the infringement on gubernatorial power and duties,” wrote Governor Walker in his veto message. By his budget vetoes he made it clear he did not want legislative oversight.
 
The governor removed at least 15 portions of state law passed by the legislature that provided legislative authority or provided oversight of the executive branch.
 
Remember your 4th grade civics class lessons about the delicate balance of powers between the three branches of government – the governor (and executive agencies,), the legislature, and the judiciary. The power of the people lies in the power of their elected officials. The peoples’ representatives are their most direct line of power. When legislative power is undermined, so is the power of the people.
 
The governor began the budget process by taking away powers given to the people and the legislature. For example, the citizen board members of the Departments of Natural Resources and Agriculture lost all their policy-making powers in the governor’s budget. The legislature lost its oversight of state building projects in the governor’s changes to the Building Commission. The people lost budget restrictions in the governor’s gutting of the cost-benefit analysis requirements. These powers were all restored in action by the legislature.
 
However, through his vetoes, the governor again limited the power of the people through their legislature. For example, the legislature held onto funds the governor put in the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) budget. The very troubled jobs agency was to submit policy changes to the legislature. Presumably, those funds could be released funds if the budget writing committee members were satisfied progress was made. The governor took the funds set aside by the budget committee through his veto pen.
 
The budget writing committee made changes in the requirements for agencies writing budgets – requiring more information be sent to the legislature on budget options. Lawmakers also set executive restrictions on short-term debt. The use of this type of debt (known as ‘commercial paper’) has long been unrestricted by lawmakers and invisible to the public.
 
The governor vetoed both of these common sense budget oversight provisions.

A Flurry of New Policy Slipped in by Budget Committee

Kathleen Vinehout
A Flurry of New Policy Slipped in by Budget Committee
By
Senator Kathleen Vinehout
 
I didn’t expect to look up telephone laws reading the state budget.
 
Snuck in the end of the Joint Finance Committee’s work is a law change that could affect the safety of rural residents. It had me asking, “What if you picked up the phone to call 911 and heard no dial tone?”
 
Rural residents rely on small legal protections to keep a dial tone on their landline phones. Thousands of rural residents live in an area where cell phones do not work and cable services do not exist.
 
We rely on landlines for business, neighborliness, family communication, and emergencies and safety.

Four (Not so Easy) Ways to Balance the Transportation Budget

Kathleen Vinehout
 
Four (Not so Easy) Ways to Balance the Transportation Budget
By
Senator Kathleen Vinehout
 
“If it was up to you,” the Chamber of Commerce moderator asked area legislators, “How would you solve the transportation problem?”
 
Budget talks are stalled. Legislators can’t seem to find a way through the labyrinth of interests stalking the Capitol halls. One main sticking point is how to balance the transportation budget.
 
Governor Walker left lawmakers with $1.3 billion in new debt to pay for roads over the next two years. Among many decisions the governor made was to increase spending in the Major Highway Development Program by $100 million or over 13%. He borrowed $109 million to pay for this spending.
 
One decision the governor did not make was to take any of the two-dozen suggestions of his Secretary of Transportation to make possible changes in revenue – new taxes or fees.
 
Of course, borrowing $1.3 billion to pay for spending means someone in the future would have to increase taxes and fees. This is true because, by the end of the budget nearly a quarter of the spending on transportation is on debt service –an unsustainable amount.
 

State Health Marketplace Needed to Protect Wisconsinites

Kathleen Vinehout
State Health Marketplace Needed to Protect Wisconsinites
by
Senator Kathleen Vinehout
 
“Wisconsin has relied heavily on the exchange to expand health insurance coverage,” wrote President Eric Borgerding of the Wisconsin Hospital Association (WHA). In a recent letter to Legislators, he warned a looming Supreme Court decision “could strike down premium assistance.”
 
Many Wisconsinites are waiting to hear if they will still be able to afford their health insurance bill.
 
The U.S. Supreme Court will soon rule on the legality of health insurance subsidies for those living in states that did not create a state-based health insurance marketplace.
 
The WHA estimates over 180,000 Wisconsinites receive tax credit assistance from the federal government for health insurance purchased through healthcare.gov, the federal marketplace. That is roughly like the population of Green Bay and Racine losing an average of almost $3,800 a year.

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