Morning State News Briefs: Special needs parents protest Walker's voucher planWisconsin News
-- Dozens of parents converged on the State Capitol yesterday to protest Governor Scott Walker’s plan to let special needs’ children attend private schools with tax-funded vouchers.
Dozens of parents converged on the State Capitol yesterday to protest Governor Scott Walker’s plan to let special needs’ children attend private schools with tax-funded vouchers.
Kimberly Nerone of Wauwatosa said public schools need to improve their already-strong programs for kids with disabilities – and not quote, “chip away at them” by sending youngsters away from those programs. Melissa Stoltz of Beloit predicted that vouchers would be given to kids with milder disabilities that are more easily accommodated – and that would leave the public schools with more severely-disabled youngsters, and less funding to help them with therapists and special-ed teachers. Gov. Walker announced his special needs voucher plan over the weekend – and by Monday, a group had already been formed called “Stop Special Needs Vouchers.” Stoltz also warned that families who take the private vouchers would give up their parental and student rights guaranteed for public school students under the federal disabilities’ education act. Walker plans to propose the special needs vouchers as part of the next two-year state budget he’ll submit to lawmakers tomorrow.
Governor Scott Walker says he wants to improve Wisconsin’s public schools, but parents need viable alternatives if their schools do not meet expectations. That’s how Walker explains his state budget proposals to create more private schools that teach low-income kids with tax-funded vouchers – admit special needs students into the voucher program – and form a new board to start up more independent public charter schools. At the same time, public schools would get no increase in their state revenue limits. That means a one-percent school aid hike would be given to taxpayers. And they would decide in referendums whether their schools deserve the added aid in the form of revenue cap exemptions. In the meantime, more of Wisconsin’s largest school districts would lose some of their state aid, as kids head off to private schools under the expanded vouchers. And that’s got some of Walker’s own Republicans in the Legislature concerned. Four GOP senators have expressed reservations – enough to force changes in the budget plan, since the party only has a three-vote majority. Senators Rob Cowles of Green Bay, Dale Schultz of Richland Center, Luther Olsen of Berlin, and President Mike Ellis of Neenah are demanding that new voucher programs be approved by voters in the affected districts. State public school superintendent Tony Evers says he’s against giving such a large amount of new money to a small percentage of students – while banning revenue growth for the vast majority of Wisconsin youngsters who attend public schools. But Walker’s plan is expected to sail through the state Assembly, where the GOP has a 20-vote majority. Speaker Robin Vos of Burlington says kids deserve the best education, and expanding vouchers would quote, “give options to those stuck in under-performing schools.”
Dan Huber of Waukesha was an Army medic for five years. But two months after he returned home, the 26-year-old Huber is still without a job. Now, he’s telling his old colleagues at Fort Polk in Louisiana not to make the same mistake he did – wait until leaving the military to think about their civilian life afterward. Huber says troops must start their post-military planning for months before they get home – and not just for finding jobs, but how they’ll survive in the meantime. Veterans have a lower unemployment rate than the U.S. as a whole – but younger vets are not as fortunate. The jobless rate was 20-percent last year for veterans between 18-and-24, despite a wide range of efforts by both the public and private sectors to hire service returnees. Since late 2011, departing troops have been required to attend workshops on things like writing resumes and improving their interviewing skills. But Huber said he waited too long to seek the help – and he was too busy serving his country to worry about his future until it was too late. He served in Baghdad in 2008.
The debate over frac-sand continues in Wisconsin – but the level of public opposition is nowhere near that of neighboring Minnesota. Today, frac-sand mining opponents are rallying at the Capitol in Saint Paul for a two-year statewide moratorium, so Minnesota officials can develop pollution standards. The silica sand is used in oil drilling – and the demand for the product has grown, due to the recent oil boom in North Dakota. Wisconsin is somewhat ahead of the regulating game, depending on who you listen to. The DNR in the Badger State studied frac-sand mining in 2011 – and its findings on potential health threats were mainly inconclusive. But people who live near frac-sand mines have complained to the Natural Resources Board about polluted air and dust blowing off large sand piles. As opponents state their case in Minnesota, Bobby King of the Land Stewardship Project blames corporate interests for devastating parts of western Wisconsin with polluted air and water, plus ruined farms. There’s not been nearly that kind of talk here – but neighbors of proposed frac-sand mines are getting more vocal. Last night, a number of people spoke out against a proposed new mine near Augusta in Eau Claire County. One speaker called it a valued asset with the new jobs it would create – but others cited increased medical bills that families would end up paying. The county, the DNR, and the state DOT have all approved the project – and the local town board will have the final say.
Voters in part of Waukesha County will elect a new state representative today. Five Republicans are running, and there’s no Democratic opposition. Jeanne Tarantino, a former chief-of-staff to Lieutenant Governor Rebecca Kleefisch, is on the ballot – along with Pewaukee Police Chief Ed Baumann, construction manager Todd Greenwald, window cleaning business owner Adam Neylon, and Marquette graduate student Matt Morzy. Today’s winner expects to run unopposed in April, and will then be seated in the Assembly to replace Republican Paul Farrow – who won a special Senate election in December.
If you think the Koch Brothers will snap up Wisconsin’s publicly-owned power and heating plants, think again. Koch Industries said yesterday it has no interest in buying any of the 37 plants that Governor Scott Walker wants to put up for sale. The proceeds would be used to speed up the repayment of bonding for new highway projects. Walker first brought up the idea of selling the government’s power facilities two years ago. That was during the massive protests over Walker’s public union bargaining limits – and critics said they were sure Walker would hand the plants over to the Koch Brothers for their financial support. But Koch spokeswoman Melissa Cohlmia said the company had no interest in buying the plants in 2011, and it still has no interest. She tells the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel quote, “As was the case when this false storyline emerged, the plants are obsolete and do not in any way fit Koch companies’ current operations or business plans moving forward.”
A long-time religious school leader in Fond du Lac County has been removed from his ministry, because of sex abuse allegations in Montana over a quarter-century ago. The Reverend Dennis Druggan has been on leave since last July, when a complaint accused him of molesting a child. The Capuchin Province of Saint Joseph said a second Montana victim later came forward – and the religious order said it found enough evidence that the allegations were true. Yesterday, officials said they removed Druggan as the rector and president of Saint Lawrence Seminary and its high school in Mount Calvary – and he’s been barred from public ministry. He has worked at the Fond du Lac County school for 21 years, and has been its president since 1997 – and there have no reports of improper activity during his tenure in Wisconsin. Druggan will not face criminal charges, since a statute-of-limitations has expired in Montana. The Capuchin Province says it’s encouraging Druggan to life a life of prayer-and-penance in a suitable friary.