KATHLEEN VINEHOUT
PEOPLE FIRST

Rural School Leaders: Schools in Wisconsin are Unequal

“Where kids live should not determine their education,” rural school administrators told members of the Blue Ribbon Commission on School Funding Reform.

Recently the Commission traveled to Southwestern Wisconsin. We heard from representatives of 20 rural school districts. Administrators, board members, teachers, parents and community members all testified about the struggles rural schools face and the need for change in the way Wisconsin pays for schools.

For decades state policies created hardships for rural schools. Superintendent Nancy Hendrickson of Highland School District explained that spending caps in the 1980s locked in low spending districts. A need for new buildings led to borrowing and increased property taxes in the ‘90s. In 1993, revenue caps locked schools into unequal spending. With school aid tied to the number of students and, with a declining rural population, aid is dropping faster than the cost to educate children.

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What Can We Do to Protect Our Water?

“What can we do to protect our water?” This is a question I am often asked. Many Wisconsin residents are concerned about protecting our precious natural resources, and much of the concern is focused on water quality.

This week we celebrate Earth Day. Forty-eight years ago, Wisconsin’s own Gaylord Nelson first gathered with 20 million Americans in support of environmental issues. Celebrating the earth means being mindful stewards of all its natural resources, including water. Over 70% of the earth’s surface is covered in water. Less than 3% of this water is fresh; most fresh water is tied up in ice. Scientists estimate somewhere between a half and three-quarters percent of all water on earth is liquid fresh water.

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Serious State Tech Problems Need Public Scrutiny

Is the state of Wisconsin at risk for a cyber-attack? A new audit from the Legislative Audit Bureau (LAB) shed light on what may be vulnerabilities in the state’s Information Technology (IT) system that could affect every business, taxpayer, student or recipient of state services.

In some cases, problems are so serious that LAB auditors could not reveal details in fear of creating additional vulnerabilities for hackers to exploit.

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Blue Ribbon Commission Explores School Funding Inequity

Linda Brown recently passed away in Topeka, Kansas. Ms. Brown was the student at the center of the landmark Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education that struck down school segregation. Ms. Brown’s father, Oliver Brown, tried to enroll his nine-year old daughter in the all-white Sumner School.

The day after Ms. Brown’s passing, I joined other members of the Blue Ribbon Commission on School Funding to explore inequities in Wisconsin’s public schools at a public hearing in De Pere.

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Why I am Voting “No” on Eliminating the State Treasurer

Spring Elections are here. Voters are going to the polls to elect a new Supreme Court Justice and many local officials, from county board to school board. Voters will also make a decision to change our Wisconsin Constitution. On the ballot will be a referendum question to eliminate the Office of State Treasurer.

From the time Wisconsin became a state, we had a Constitutional Officer to oversee finances – the State Treasurer. The purpose of this office can be summed up in the words of the nonpartisan Council of State Government, “Treasurers act as the watchdog of the people’s money and, in most states, are elected by their own constituents. This check and balance in the executive branch of government provides an effective oversight mechanism and increased transparency.”

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School Safety and Gun Violence: There is more work to do

This week the Senate and Assembly, passed AB 843, a bill to address school safety. But there is much more work to do.

Several weeks ago, my Democratic colleagues and I introduced seven school safety bills. Governor Walker introduced six different bills for school safety. This past week, Democrats and Republicans found some agreement on school safety. This agreement was reflected in the vote on Assembly Bill 843, a bill that was amended in the Senate to include an agreed-upon school safety initiative.

AB 843 makes an investment of a $100 million in payments to schools to improve school safety. This money can be used to modernize entrances, for security enhancements, school safety liaison officers and many other school safety investments. Unfortunately, the money is just a one-time investment. No additional money is added in the next year. Democrats advocated for a longer term investment.

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Giving a Voice to People Who Live with Disabilities

“Many people with disabilities depend on public programs so they can stay healthy and live, work and participate in the community,” Jason Endres wrote to me in favor of a bill I recently introduced.

My bill, Senate Bill 870, would create a Public Assistance Advisory Committee. I drafted this legislation in response to Special Session bills recently passed by the Legislature that modified public assistance programs.

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Listening to Those Who Cannot Hear

“The quality of interpreters is so important. I need someone who has the fluent skills to work with me,” Leah Simmons explained. “Their lack of knowledge reflects negatively on me.”

Professor Simmons uses specific jargon and language. Her colleagues and students judge her by the language she uses. She cannot communicate directly to hearing students.

Professor Simmons is Deaf. She is part of a community of Deaf and Hard of Hearing people working to upgrade skill levels and regulation of Sign Language Interpreters.

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One Step Moves Us Forward

“Lord willing, and the creek don’t rise, I’ll see you Tuesday.” I said as I left the office in Madison.

By the next day, the creek at the base of my farm’s steep driveway had risen over the road. The rushing water cut a channel through the gravel town road, making the road impassable.

My forward-thinking husband kept an eye on the water’s progress and moved vehicles over to the other side before the rushing water completely cut through the road.

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A Wheelchair is Not a Trampoline: Questioning Assumptions about Support

“Public assistance should be a trampoline not a hammock,” read the title of Governor Walker’s press release touting work on a package of bills introduced in a Legislative Special Session. The bills made changes to certain programs targeted at helping those living in poverty.

During the recent Senate debate, proponents of the bills declared the best road out of poverty was a job. No one in the Senate disagreed. However, what these bills really do is KEEP people in poverty and make a few companies richer while providing little accountability.

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