Sunday, October 30, 2011

Issue #31 October 30, 2011- Good Intentions, Education Reform and More

Issue #31- October 30, 2011
In this issue: More on the Economy, Recalls, Occupy, Education Reform and Good Intentions

It's the Economy, Stupid…
As we get closer to the anticipated kick-off of the effort to recall Governor Walker it becomes more important that news about the effects of his policies are made available to the general public.  For those of us who are public workers or who live in communities like Madison the information is readily accessible.  However, there are large numbers of Wisconsin citizens who never get the full picture of what is happening here.  This is true in all areas of the state and is a fact for a number of reasons. 

Whatever the reasons for lack of information the fact remains that a majority of voters will either not vote in the recall or will vote based on a few issues.  It is vital to the success of the recall that progressives are able to assertively frame the debate and call attention to the ways that Walker's policies impact common citizens.  We know that both sides will be flooding the airwaves with ads and the candidates will be trying to find that sound-bite to capture the voter's support.
Because the incumbent has an advantage in the media and Walker will get huge amounts of money for advertising we must start early in our efforts to educate the population of Wisconsin about the realities of the Walker Agenda.

As in any election, the economy will be the primary issue in the minds of the voters in the recall election.  People vote for the candidates that they feel will give them the best chance of being successful in efforts to support themselves and improve their economic standing.  To be sure, there are other issues on the minds of voters, but a look at election results through history show that the other issues don't have the same impact as the economy does.

This poll shows some interesting results about what Wisconsin voters think as we head towards the recall and the 2012 Presidential Election.  The poll shows a division in opinion and the importance of educating the public before the elections occur.          

Education and access to information is vital because the message that will be shared by Republicans is simple, things will be fine for everyone if we just cut taxes and government regulation.  It is also important to get a variety of reports out to the public because we know that economic data can be manipulated to show virtually anything. 

One are where this is especially true is the area of public education.  The WPRI poll shows that many Wisconsinites feel that their schools haven't been adversely affected by the Walker Budget.  In some places that is true for this year, but the fact is that most districts are looking at long term budget issues that won't be addressed by the tools available to them.  At least not without significantly impacting the services and programs provided by the schools.  The same facts hold true in most other areas of public service as well. 

The Merrill Courier reported on September 23rd, that the 2012 Lincoln County budget will be about $300,000 short of their goal to have a no-dollar tax increase.  This is true even though they got a $1.8 million dollar boost from employees who pay more for their benefits.  As Finance Director Dan Leydet said, "Even with all of those savings we only lowered the mil by 1/3 of a cent."  Supervisor Jim Alber said, "We're out of tools in our race to the bottom."  County Supervisor Ron Mittelsteadt commented, "Next year is going to be the worst year of our lives."  I thought the tools provided by Walker were supposed to fix these problems.

How will we attract quality employees for public service jobs if there is no financial incentive to work for the state?

The connections between big money and political actions need to be made clear for everyone. 

Walker's policies aren't working as well as he said they would, and I don't see that changing much in the future either.

Good News Anyone?…
There is positive news from around the nation.

As always keep an eye out for places to spend money that are progressive.

Here's another way to protest that anyone with a mailing address can do.

Here's a well thought out, simple and irreverent idea to keep Wall Street occupied. Send back their junk mail. It provides a little revenue to the postal service, allows for "dialog," and might eventually do something to slow the waste of trees we call "direct marketing."!

Recall Walker…
Recalls shouldn't become common political actions, but there are a lot of positives from the current politics here in Wisconsin.  The level of political participation needs to increase for our democracy to continue to be successful.  The recall movements have gotten more citizens involved in talking about, thinking about and acting in politics.

Keep an eye out for ways to get involved in the recalls.

Obviously Walker has started campaigning already.

Intent vs. Result…
Many voters are confused.  They hear Republican candidates talking about…
-Giving people more money to spend by reducing taxes.
-Making it easier for small businesses to function by cutting red tape.
-Patriotism and public safety.
-Holding public employees accountable in a variety of ways.
-Making all citizens be accountable for being productive and positive members of society.

On the surface there isn't anything wrong with any of these concepts.  No one wants excessive regulation or wasteful spending.  People want to be safe and feel good about their country/state/municipality.  Everyone should have an opportunity to improve their socio-economic status and should do their best to take advantage of their opportunities. 

However, before everyone rushes out to vote Republican it is important to look at the results of their actions.  I won't begin to argue intent, I'm simply going to assume that most political figures do believe in what they are trying to do.  I want to believe that our elected officials have the best interests of the people they represent at heart.  The argument can be made that they may be representing other interests, but that is difficult to prove and in some ways counterproductive. 

The fact remains that political actions and policies have impacts on our lives, some are intended and some are not.  While it is acceptable and expected for a nation as large and diverse as ours to have many different viewpoints, what matters is that we have ways to express our views and be heard.  It is this process of debate that (while frequently slow and frustrating) allows our leadership to make informed decisions and avoid potential negative consequences that may have been unforeseen.  

There are countless examples of legislation and how unintended effects have adversely affected individuals, groups and the environment.  Here are a few from recent reports.

The main concern that I have with the current state of politics in Wisconsin isn't the policies proposed by the Republican majority.  I strongly disagree with much of what they are doing, but the real problem for me is the lack of respect for dissenting voices and the uniting of so much power in the executive branch of government.  If only one side has any power to make decisions we no longer have a democracy.  Just look at how the GOP wants to change the legal system.

Wall St. and Protests…
I would be remiss if I didn't comment on recent actions regarding the Occupy protests.  I'm sure all of us are concerned that the protests provide opportunities for violence.  The news from Oakland shows just how dangerous a situation we have developing around our nation.  Our history is full of violent protests, especially centered around workers rights and social classes.  As the frustration with our ever growing social and economic inequity continues to build it only seems more likely that violent interactions will escalate as well.

To date most of the violence has been instigated by the authorities.  We need to be sure to keep it that way.  The use of violence will only inflame situations that are already volatile.  Now is the time where we need true leadership in our government and our grassroots movements. 

Once again information and education is vital to a productive protest.  Common citizens need to understand why the Occupy Movement is a real protest and not just a collection of "deadbeats" and "whiners".  To quote Martin Luther King Jr.,
"Public relations is a very necessary part of any protest…  The main objective is to bring moral pressure to bear upon an unjust system or a particularly unjust law.  The public at large must be aware of the inequities involved in such a system.  In effect, in the absence of justice in the established courts of the region, non-violent protesters are asking for a hearing in the court of world opinion."

Education "Reform"…
The compatriot of the testing and accountability reforms to education is the idea of school choice.  There are a wide range of educational methods, philosophies and strategies that exist for educators to use.  Different skills and ideas are valued in these approaches to educating students.  The idea that different schools would employ these different approaches is not a new one.  America has had a wide range of public and private schools in place for our whole history. 

Over time we developed a system of public education that was accessible to all families and this system has grown into one that is familiar to most Americans.  This is not a perfect scheme for educating all children.  Many families have opted out for a variety of reasons.  These families chose to send their children to other schools that may have been religious or perhaps provided some alternative programming not readily available in the public school system. 

The debate that has increased in intensity recently is the idea that families should be given public money (vouchers) to attend these private schools.  As more pressure has been brought to bear on public schools, the idea that our public school system is "failing" has increased the call to give families more choice in their children's educational opportunities.  Families should be able to send their children to a school where they will be most successful.
That idea of choice is not in itself an unreasonable idea.  Supporters of school choice will talk about the rights of all people to attend any school they want.  They point to the inequity where wealthy families send children to private schools that poorer families can't afford.  However, this is one area where the intent clearly doesn't match up with the results.   

Choice is as much a market driven reform as the idea of testing is.  The idea that schools of differing philosophies should compete for students is every bit as flawed as the idea that we can measure a schools "bottom-line" success rate by a number.  Educating children is a very unusual endeavor.  Success and failure is difficult to define and children don't simply learn skills in a linear progression until success is reached.  Data from studies of schools is inconclusive and usually biased towards achieving a particular political goal.   

How are parents to know what school is best for their child?  If testing data is inconclusive, what results do we use?  Who will apply to what schools and how will students be selected for different schools?  What about students who have learning or behavior issues?  What impact does taking money from public schools and putting it into private schools have on all children?  What impact does the dismantling of neighborhood public schools have on our society as a whole?  Clearly school choice isn't as simple as handing out vouchers.

The same folks who want to dismantle the public school system also want to deregulate education.  They often look at weakening the teacher licensing system, changing standards and breaking up teacher unions as tools to make a more successful education system.  We have seen the results of deregulating the banking industry and deregulating industry.  Why would the deregulation of education be any different?

Whether the intent behind reforming education is to improve the opportunities for all students or some other more sinister intention is a valid one.  Remember that most union members in the United States are public workers and educators make up a substantial number of those union members.  Public schools also are required to teach subjects in a more balanced way than private schools are.  Public educators have mandated ways to address controversial issues that don't exist for private educators.  Education is one of the key indicators of a person's potential for economic success and control of education would control to a large degree who is successful in America.  Finally, dismantling public education would also finish the re-segregation of America and further divide our population. 

Wisconsin is a central battleground in the fight over education. 

Madison is joining the fray as well.

It seems clear that we need to continue to work to improve the overall quality of education that we provide our students.  What the best way to do that is, certainly is open to debate.  Over the next couple of weeks I'll look at the school choice movement and how it has impacted our education system.  I'll also look at why teacher unions are so necessary to protect our students, families and our nation's future.

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