State News Roundup: Open enrollment period begins todayWisconsin News
-- Wisconsin’s open enrollment period begins today for parents who wish to send their kids to school districts other than their own for the first time next fall.
Wisconsin’s open enrollment period begins today for parents who wish to send their kids to school districts other than their own for the first time next fall. The sign-up period will last for three months, through April 30th. Parents used to have only three weeks to apply for spots in other Wisconsin school systems – or virtual online schools in those places. But state lawmakers voted a year ago to extend the enrollment period, and Governor Scott Walker said it gives parents more options. Wisconsin has had a statewide public school choice program since 1998. Over 41-thousand applications were processed throughout the Badger State a year ago. Students can apply in up to three public school districts. Those who move to other districts take their state aid with them. And according to a preliminary state estimate, almost a quarter-billion dollars in school aid was transferred between districts in the current school year. Parents will find out in early June whether their kids are accepted into the districts they applied for. Those who are rejected will have 30 days to appeal to the state.
A Stevens Point firm plans to challenge the state’s decision to hire a Minnesota company to provide detailed student information that schools throughout Wisconsin can share. The Administration Department said late Friday that it would negotiate a 15-million dollar contract with Infinite Campus Incorporated of Minnesota. Infinite Campus keeps detailed student data for about 10-percent of Wisconsin’s school systems. Skyward provides similar software about half of the state’s schools. And it claims that the state used a “flawed” process to award the contract to the Minnesota firm. The new state system would store data on all Wisconsin students about their test scores, disciplinary records, and other information. All state schools could share it. This is the second time the state put out bids for the system. The first one was scrapped after it was learned that Skyward would get a tax break from the state’s Economic Development Corporation if it won the contract. And if it didn’t win the deal, it was reported that Skyward would leave Wisconsin. C-E-O Cliff King tells the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel he does not believe last year’s controversy had anything to do with being snubbed for the statewide project now. He said there was no way that Infinite Campus could offer a better product than his. State Senate Democrat Julie Lassa of Stevens Point called for an independent review of how the firms were evaluated. And on Facebook, a new page went up during the weekend calling on people to demand that quote, “Wisconsin remains Open-for-Business to Wisconsin companies.”
A key state Assembly panel has joined the Senate in letting its members cast paper or e-mailed committee ballots without having to meet in public to vote. And it’s raising concerns that the government is trying to do more of its business in secret. Members of the Assembly organization panel submitted or e-mailed their votes to the clerk’s office last week, when they voted to hire a law firm. That was after Speaker Robin Vos and others were subpoenaed by those trying to dig up alleged hidden documents in the G-O-P redistricting plan. The public notices of those votes are posted at the Capitol, but not on the Legislature’s Web site along with other committee meetings where votes are taken. And those who want to watch a debate before a committee vote cannot do so. Brett Healy, head of the conservative MacIver Institute, said lawmakers should avoid taking votes that the public cannot witness or record on video. He says technology is great – but not when it’s used to avoid questions by the public or the media. Kit Beyer of the speaker’s office said the Assembly Organization panel uses paper ballots to deal mostly with administrative matters. But the Senate used them 320 times last session – including major committee votes on restricting abortions, and limits on product liability suits. Senate G-O-P leader Scott Fitzgerald says there’s lots of public debate on such issues before paper votes are taken. But on redistricting, Democrats said it made it easier for Republicans to ignore their amendment to put a limit on new legal fees.
Many Wisconsinites have started filing their federal-and-state income tax returns – especially those getting refunds. Madison tax accountant Mike Scholz says your refund should be about the same as last year, if your income didn’t change much. That’s because the withholding tables did not change, and the tax rates stayed the same. The state Revenue Department said the average refund totaled 685-dollars a year ago. And about 80-percent of individual returns were filed online – one of the highest percentages in the nation. Besides the Internet services, officials say they’re offering a free mobile app for the first time. Smart-phone users can check the status of their refunds, and find a volunteer tax assistance site if they need one. About three-million state tax returns are expected to be filed between now and April 15th. Scholz tells the Wisconsin State Journal that there were not many tax changes for 2012, but there are a few. Workers who don’t pay health insurance with pre-tax dollars can deduct 45-percent of their payments, up from the old 25-percent. Deductions have also risen for child-and-dependent care expenses. More tuition can be deducted this year, and a number of new business tax credits take effect. Also, casino gamblers who win big won’t have to pay taxes on the winnings if they go on to lose a similar amount in the same session. But Scholz says they’ll need to have proof of the activity.