Monday, January 27, 2014

Capitol Update, January 27

Rural Schools Task Force

The Rural Schools Task Force met with the Department of Public Instructions’ Advisory Council on Rural Schools, Libraries and Communities for an informal discussion on Thursday.

Representative Rob Swearingen (R-Rhinelander), the Task Force chair, said that he considers transportation, broadband access and teacher retention as some of the main issues that need to be addressed. 

The importance of libraries, digital learning, and library media specialists were heavily discussed by the two groups, and Representative Swearingen called libraries the “nucleus of small towns.”

Kurt Kiefer, assistant state superintendent of the division of libraries and technology, spoke at length about the importance of digital learning in rural schools.  Representative Mary Czaja (R-Irma) expressed a lot of interest in digital learning programs being used across the state and asked for more information on what school districts are currently offering.  Representative Swearingen said that improving broadband access will be crucial to the success of digital learning for students when they are at school and in their homes.  Connie Erickson of CESA 11 asked that the Task Force find a way to provide more flexibility for rural schools so that they can schedule digital learning courses in the evening or on weekends.

The Task Force has two hearings left and hopes to issue a final report by March. Unfortunately, the Task Force is running out of time to pass legislation this session (which ends in March) and Rep. Swearingen said he hopes to begin working on legislation at the beginning of next session with the possibility of including some recommendations in the next state budget

State of the State

Governor Walker delivered the fourth and final State of the State address of his first term Wednesday evening before a joint session of the legislature. Walker used the speech to highlight his proposed $800 million tax cut plan, job creation news, workforce development initiatives, and investments in the agriculture and manufacturing industries.

Specifically, Walker called for a Special Session of the legislature to pass his tax plan and increase funding for the Fast Forward workforce training grants by $35 million.
Walker highlighted several of his education initiatives, including the expansion of the school choice program, increased funding for the Youth Apprenticeship program, the implementation of Academic and Career Plans for middle and high school students and the UW System tuition cap.

"We are proud of our positive reforms in education," said Walker. "ACT scores continue to be higher than the national average, graduation rates are better than when I took office, and also, third grade reading scores are up."

In concluding his speech, Walker called on the legislature to pass his tax plan and continue implementing his reforms.

Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca (D-Kenosha) delivered the minority response to the State of the State in which he called the Governor’s plan: “All talk. Anemic action.”  Barca called on the Governor to provide fair funding for public schools and provide good health care and  fair paying jobs for Wisconsin’s middle class.

Senator Alberta Darling: Statement on State of the State

Common Core

Governor Walker announced at the State Education Convention on Friday that he would like to create a commission to review the Common Core standards and make recommendations to DPI to develop Wisconsin-based model academic standards.  He said that “federal standards in education may be raising the bar in some states, but in Wisconsin, we can do better.”  Members of the commission would be appointed by Governor Walker, Superintendent Tony Evers and the legislature.

Internet Privacy

The Assembly passed a bill on Tuesday that prevents employers, landlords and colleges from asking applicants for their passwords to private social media and email accounts.  The only information they will be able to view is what is already made public on the accounts.

The bill was passed unanimously by the Senate last year, but the Assembly approved an amendment that allows employers to still be able to “friend” employees on social media sites, so the bill will be returned to the Senate for approval.

Voter ID

The committees in both the Assembly and Senate held public hearings this week for bills that would require proof of residence for all electors registering to vote unless they are in the military or living overseas.  This would be a change from current law that only requires proof of residence from those who register to vote by mail and have not voted previously in Wisconsin or for those who register after voter registration has closed.  Opponents of the bill are concerned that it may impinge upon some elector’s right to vote, especially the elderly and young voters who don’t always have the required proof of residence.


Representative Garey Bies (R-Sister Bay) has announced that he will not seek re-election.  Bies has served the 1st District in the State Assembly for the past 14 years.  He may potentially be joining the race for Secretary of State.

Julian Bradley, the current vice chairman of the 3rd Congressional District Republican Party has announced that he will run for Secretary of State.  Bradley says the he will make the duties of the secretary more transparent, open communication with state government and restore the former duties of the position.  Current Secretary of State, Doug La Follette, a Democrat, has not announced yet if he will run for re-election.

Jefferson County District Attorney Susan Happ, a Democrat, filed her registration papers to run for attorney general.  Three other candidates have already entered the race: Waukesha County District Attorney Brad Schimel, a Republican, Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne, a Democrat, and Representative Jon Richards, a Democrat.

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Jefferson County district attorney enters attorney general race

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