KATHLEEN VINEHOUT
PEOPLE FIRST

Welcome to Spring! Snow, Ice, Floods … and Drought?

“I slid all the way down the hill,” the woman said. “I just kept praying Lord don’t let me slide into my husband’s truck!”

“We had nineteen inches of snow on top of two inches of ice,” the man told me. When we warmed up a bit, water just ran in a big river across my drive.”

Its spring: But you wouldn’t know it by looking outside!

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Local Educators: Worst Education Budget in 30 Years

“This is the worst budget in over 30 years,” the Chippewa Valley Superintendent told me. “We’ve had worse spending cuts, but not a wholesale change in policy.”

Educators worry a dramatic increase in public money for private schools will threaten already cash-strapped local schools. The proposed state budget makes statewide a “voucher program” in which students from “failing” public school districts attend private schools with public money.

Private schools do not follow the same accountability measures as public schools. They do not report test scores, follow state curricular standards, nor do they receive the recently required public school report cards.

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Why I voted against the Open-Pit Mining Bill

“We must find a consensus, not conquer those who disagree,” said Senator Bob Jauch.

The Senator knows about disagreement. His Senate district includes an area of the state known as the Penokee Range. A 22 mile iron ore vein runs through this range. Dotted on its surface are lakes, trout streams and the head waters of many rivers. Downstream is the Bad River watershed and the reservation of the Bad River Band of the Lake Superior Chippewa.

The Bad River watershed contains 40% of all the wetlands in the Lake Superior watershed. The lake is the largest fresh water body on the planet. Wisconsin passed into law protection of this water through the Great Lakes Compact.

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Fraud Discovered in Foster Care Company Prompts Audit

“Foster parents are special saints,” the Eau Claire woman told me. “They take troubled children and help them have a loving family.”
 
These foster families often rely on child placement agencies for the money needed to care for special needs children. At least one foster parent wondered if everything was on the “up and up” when her foster placement agency in Middleton received $1,000 a month for ‘administrative services’ while she received $800 a month to actually care for the troubled child.
 
Joni Weaver is a former foster parent of a child with serious mental health problems. She worked with Community Care Resources, the Middleton child placement agency accused of fraudulently billing the state for over $6 million in services.

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Medicaid Expansion The High Cost of Ideology

What if you were faced with a choice: stick to your beliefs, lose money and help fewer people. Or take the practical road, help more people and gain more money?

Such a quandary faces state leaders opposed to Medicaid expansion.

A lot of money is at stake - $4.3 billion over 6 ½ years. More importantly, lives are at stake.  In Wisconsin, 155,000 now uninsured poor adults could receive care through Medicaid.

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How Good Are Claims About Metal Mining Jobs?

“We have the potential for a billion and a half dollar investment,” said Governor Walker in his recent State of the State speech. “That could lead to as many as 3,000 construction-related jobs and 2,800 long-term jobs.”

I wondered, “Just how sure are we all these jobs will happen?”

I started to dig through the mounds of paperwork related to the proposed iron ore mine in Northern Wisconsin. It turns out the claim of jobs is related to one 28 page document: an economic impact study by NorthStar Economics. Unlike other reports by NorthStar, there is no author’s name and no client’s name on the title page.
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Health Insurance: #1 Challenge to Small Business Owners

“What is the most important challenge facing your business today?” asked a recent survey from the Governor’s Office.

The answer? Health insurance. Tied in first place with “decreased demand.”

The survey was conducted as part of the Governor’s efforts to review regulation on business and is reported in the “Wisconsin Regulatory Review Report, 2013”.

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Invest in Career and Technical Education

“I wish I had taken a shop class,” I told the high school student, “As a farmer, it would have helped me a lot more than the sewing class I took instead.”

Back when I was in school, before the Age of the Dinosaurs, young women didn’t take ‘shop class’. Today, schools don’t even call it ‘shop’. And women cannot only take the classes, they teach them.

February is Career and Technical Education (CTE) Month. In honor of this month, I will be joining the State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers as he visits local schools to learn how career and technical education can show students their path in life.

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School Play Gives January a Dramatic Sparkle

“What I remember most about high school was our school play,” the nearly seventy-year-old rural Ettrick woman reminisced. “The play was what we talked about at our 50th school reunion. We all laughed and still hummed bars of the songs.”

I recently spent time on a windy January day at the local school play.

The play was a modern version of the Old English Canterbury Tales. The students brought humor and delight to the weary works of Geoffrey Chaucer. The play gave students in rural Wisconsin a chance to experience the joy of theater.

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Technology: Computer Errors are Human Errors

“Output is only as good as your input,” said a state worker about computer systems.

I asked the worker to help me understand how the University of Wisconsin’s personnel computer system continued to pay for the health insurance of 924 former employees for months after they terminated employment.

The Legislative Audit Bureau recently released their review of the financial audit of the state of Wisconsin. In the review, auditors reported problems with state computer systems. Several findings were related to the Human Resource System used by the UW.

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