Educate All Students, Support Public Education

January 20, 2017

MPS unfunded retiree benefit costs fall to under $1 billion

Filed under: MPS — millerlf @ 9:49 am

The amount of money Milwaukee Public Schools needs to fund future retiree benefits has dropped by more than half since 2007 and now sits at just under $1 billion, the district announced this week.

MPS’ unfunded liability for retiree health care and life insurance was $2.3 billion in 2007 and dropped to about $1.4 billion by July of 2011. It was down to $1.2 billion in 2013 and then dropped to $997 million in 2015, according to the latest actuarial valuation from Gabriel Roeder Smith and Co., which sent its report to the district in November.

The financial analysts noted that the district’s unfunded liability was expected to rise slightly between 2013 and 2015, but that it dropped instead — good news for a district that has long been burdened by a yawning gap between financial promises it made to retirees and the money available to actually pay for those benefits.

In a statement, the district said the unfunded liability decreased because the school board directed MPS to pay ongoing annual costs and also to pre-fund into a trust each year at least 5% of the expected retiree claim costs. As of July, that trust had accumulated $127 million.

Other changes in recent years also made a difference. The district negotiated a new health care plan administrator with unions in late 2010. And in 2012, after the Act 10 law gave the district authority to change benefits without negotiating first with unions, the school board raised the minimum retirement age, changed health benefit plans and closed the post-retirement health care plan to employees hired after June 2013.

“We still have work to do, but we are headed in the right direction,” said Dan Chanen, chief human resources officer, according to a statement provided by MPS.

State Superintendent Debate: State Report Cards

Filed under: DPI — millerlf @ 9:44 am

State schools superintendent candidate targets report cards

John Humphries, one of two candidates looking to unseat Tony Evers as Wisconsin’s superintendent of public instruction, announced Thursday that he would dramatically revamp the state’s school report cards, saying the current system inflates scores and awards passing grades to undeserving schools.

“Parents are getting an inaccurate view of the skill level of their children because the report cards aren’t giving honest and transparent information,” said Humphries, who unveiled his proposed revisions at a news conference on Thursday.

Evers, who is seeking a third term, rejected many of Humphries’ assertions as “ridiculous,” saying Wisconsin schools perform better than most in the country and that its report cards have been touted as among the nation’s best.

“I don’t believe it inflates scores, and I don’t believe our schools believe that either,” said Evers.

“And it was viewed favorably by the Education Commission of the States as one of the best in the nation for transparency.

Evers and Humphries are in a three-way race that political observers say could evolve into a proxy battle over school choice in Wisconsin. Though the seat is officially nonpartisan, Evers has traditionally been associated with Democrats and has had the backing of the state and local teachers unions. Humphries, a consultant with the Dodgeville School District, and retired Beloit Superintendent Lowell Holtz describe themselves as conservatives.

Humphries appears to be a favorite among some Republicans, who have sought to rein in the power of Evers, one of the last left-leaning statewide elected officials in Madison. And the report cards are the latest issue Humphries is raising in the campaign to unseat him.

Wisconsin’s Department of Public Instruction has issued school and district report cards each year since 2012-’13 except for one year. Mandated as part of a waiver from provisions of the federal No Child Left Behind law, they rate schools based on four main criteria: student achievement on standardized tests; student growth over time; schools’ achievement gaps between subgroups of students; and whether students are on track for college and career. Schools are graded on a scale of 1 to 5 stars, depending on whether they meet or fail to meet expectations.Schools and many parents have grown frustrated by the system in recent years because the frequent tinkering — primarily by the Legislature — has made it difficult to gauge school performance over time. And they’ve remained a political issue as advocates and educators continue to debate the assessment criteria and whether all schools — traditional public, charter, voucher — should be bound by the same reporting requirements.

Humphries’ report cards would issue letter grades from A to F, a proposal that has faced stiff opposition from schools in the past. Schools in which 80% or more of students are proficient would get an A; schools with fewer than 50% proficient an F. The net effect, he said, would be to lower school and district grades across the state.

Scores would be based on student achievement, achievement gaps, graduation rates (for high schools) and student growth (for elementary and middle schools). However, his plan would eliminate a change mandated by the Legislature last year that weights student growth more heavily in high poverty districts — a change that boosted Milwaukee Public Schools’ grade, helping it to evade a potential takeover.

Humphries also would include data on school safety — suspensions, expulsions, police calls and so on — a measure sought by some charter school advocates, which Republican lawmakers unsuccessfully floated last year.

Humphries blames Evers for problems with the current report cards, saying he built a faulty system that has forced the Legislature to repeatedly tweak it, and unilaterally sets the scores that determine schools’ grades.

Evers said scores are determined with extensive input from education experts and stakeholders and that information about them is readily available on the DPI website. He noted that three of the four co-chairs of the original committee that developed the report cards were Republican legislators.

January 19, 2017

Trevor Noah Eviscerates Betsy DeVos Over Her Confirmation Hearing for Education Secretary

Filed under: DeVos,Trump — millerlf @ 2:12 pm

Watch Trevor Noah: Betsy DeVos gets an “F” at the confirmation hearings.

Trump Healthcare Plan: The Cartoon

Filed under: Trump — millerlf @ 2:00 pm

January 15, 2017

Trump’s First Intelligence Briefing: a Cartoon?

Filed under: Trump — millerlf @ 9:26 am

January 9, 2017

Grassroots North Shore: List of Marches and Rallies Against Trump Through January 21st

Filed under: Resistance,Trump — millerlf @ 7:46 am
As promised in last week’s Grassroots North Shore newsletter, I am updating everyone on what I have gathered about various rallies and marches happening between now and January 21 with some information about transportation to out-of-town events.

March from Voces de la Frontera, 1027 S. 5th St. in Milwaukee

On January 14th, immigrant rights groups across the country will declare the beginning of our resistance to the racist threats of the new administration. Communities will take to the streets in marches and actions nationwide to demand:

  • Keep Families Together
  • Stop Mass Deportations
  • Defend DACA
  • Refugees Welcome
  • No Muslim Registry

United Front with all workers, Muslims, African-Americans, women, Jews and the LGBTQ community.
More information, 414-643-1620.

Candela Banquet, 2537 W National Ave, Milwaukee

Join Citizen Action of WI, Senator Tammy Baldwin, SEIU Wisconsin State Council, WI Federation of Nurses and Healthcare Professional, WI Alliance for Retired Americans and more as actions are held nationwide to protect our healthcare from being taken away! Medicare, Medicaid, private coverage — all are under attack. Get active, learn what’s at stake.

Red Arrow Park, 920 N Water St., Milwaukee

The Milwaukee Coalition Against Trump (MCAT) is hosting a mass march and rally on Trump’s inauguration day, Friday, January 20th, 2017. Hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of people will join protests across the country and in Washington D.C. to protest Trump and his agenda.

In Milwaukee, the January 20th protest will officially kick off our “100 Days of Resistance” to put up opposition to Trump’s plans for his first 100 days in office. MCAT is organizing a wide variety of events and actions throughout the first 100 days designed to educate, organize, and resist the Trump agenda. To learn more or get involved in the coalition please follow Milwaukee Coalition Against Trump for events and announcements.

Transportation from Milwaukee to the March in DC: The bus will leave on Friday, 1/20, and return Sunday, 1/22. See this Facebook page and send a check for $225 to Barbara Velez, 4457 North Marlborough Drive, Shorewood, WI 53211. If no more seats are available, she’ll let you know.

Take the bus from Mayfair Mall, departing at 9 AM, returning approximately 7 PM

Not just for Women…all who care about the issues facing our country are welcome. Speak out and be heard! This is one of many “Sister Marches” to the Women’s March on Washington.

Come Ride the Bus with Us! Cost: $29-$35….depending on the number of people who sign up.


Travel with like-minded people – No hassle, no driving, no parking!

I can’t be sure that seats are still available on the bus to DC or the one to Madison, so don’t wait to contact the organizers if you want to participate.

Nancy Kaplan, GRNS Vice Chair

Grassroots North Shore · 325 W Silver Spring Dr, Glendale, WI 53217, United States
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January 7, 2017

Stop trying to kill public education

Filed under: MPS,Privatization,Public Education — millerlf @ 9:38 am

Jack Norman Jan. 4, 2017 MJSentinel

Why do school choice advocates want to build quality schools at the expense of public education?

The discussion about choice, public and charter schools is plenty heated. Let’s not pollute it with fake news.

Case in point: William Flanders’ and Corey DeAngelis’ misleading Dec. 26 commentary promising nearly half-a-billion dollars in benefits from the creation of a single private K-8 school in Milwaukee (“School choice: Nearly $500 million in benefits,” Opinions).

I’ll get to that piece later. But, first, a reminder of what the debate about public “versus” choice schools is all about.

The problem for public school advocates isn’t that choice advocates want to build quality schools as alternatives to Milwaukee Public Schools. Kudos to them for that.

It’s that in order to achieve that goal, too many of them want to do it at the expense of public education.

Consider this analogy: It’s widely recognized there are serious problems with the Milwaukee Police Department. These include relations with the African-American community, dealing with mentally ill troublemakers, staff diversity — issues plaguing police departments nationwide.

But would it make sense to strip the department of resources and instead use them to create a hodge-podge of private security forces? Would we have public safety depend on private armed guards, competing with each other and with the department for business?

Imagine the chaos if neighborhoods used tax dollars to hire private firms that market protection packages. Rich neighborhoods would add their own money to buy higher-quality services. What recourse would residents have against profiteering by unscrupulous firms?

RELATED OPINION: Voucher schools need to share data

Even the department’s harshest critics agree that public safety is best improved by reforming the public police force, retaining what it does well, while introducing new practices.

But when it comes to education, too many choice supporters are eager to abandon the public system and create a medley of private alternatives. Why do they keep playing education as a zero-sum game, where private-school winners must be balanced out by public-school losers?

Imagine, instead, a world in which the entire body of choice advocates joined in support of public education as well as private education. Rather than cheering the governor and Legislature as they systematically weaken public education, imagine they joined the fight against these policies.

Public school advocates years ago made necessary compromises. They accepted the continuing existence of the choice program. Charter schools? MPS is full of them. And the focus of the public school lobby is not on eliminating private school options but on ensuring they deliver quality education.

If public school advocates were once slaves to an incompetent bureaucracy and blind to systemic failures, that time is long past.

Alan Borsuk is a keen observer of education who has never held back his criticisms of MPS. But he complimented Superintendent Darienne Driver in a recent Journal Sentinel article, noting her “fresh, thoughtful and significant attempt to change the status quo.”

To return to the Flanders-DeAngelis op-ed: It alleges a wealth of economic benefits if St. Marcus Lutheran School purchased an MPS building. The authors claim their analysis “documents the staggering economic benefits of school choice.”

They cite a flawed University of Arkansas study to claim that students of top choice schools are slightly more likely to graduate and live a crime-free life. They attach numbers that add up, they allege, to nearly half-a-billion dollars in benefits over the next two decades.

Let’s be clear. Nobody doubts that high-quality schools — private or public — yield economic benefits for the community at large.

But the study the authors use is a cherry-picking piece of work. It looks at one school only, one that gives it the results it wants. It ignores critical factors in student success, such as parental involvement and motivation. It considers only its favored school’s benefits while ignoring any of the downsides that come from weakening MPS.

Public-school advocates are not out to kill private education. Can’t these private school advocates stop trying to kill public education?

Jack Norman is a retired journalist and policy analyst who lives in Milwaukee.

Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow rejects Betsy DeVos as education secretary

Filed under: DeVos — millerlf @ 9:34 am

Todd Spangler , Detroit Free Press

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., sat down today with Betsy DeVos, President-elect Donald Trump’s west Michigan pick to be education secretary – but DeVos won’t be getting her vote.

“Our conversation reaffirmed my strong concerns about her nomination,” Stabenow said. “Betsy DeVos and her family have a long record of pushing policies that I believe have seriously undermined public education in Michigan and failed our children.  Therefore, I cannot support (her).”

DeVos, a former state Republican Party chairman and wife of former Amway head Dick DeVos, has long been an advocate of education reform, promoting charter schools and private schools through vouchers and other means that critics say undermine traditional public schools.

DeVos has argued that public dollars should flow to families who then get to pick the schools they deem best, saying such a system would create competition and improve education overall. But public education supporters say that drains funding from their institutions and students, who are already suffering from too little investment.

Stabenow said she asked DeVos “a number of tough questions about her record in Michigan” during the interview.

Ed Patru, a spokesman for a group called Friends of Betsy DeVos, which is supporting her nomination, downplayed Stabenow’s characterization of the meeting, calling it “a great conversation” and expressing confidence that the two can find “common ground” such as they have in the past on school financing when Stabenow was a state legislator.

The Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee has set a hearing on DeVos’ nomination next Wednesday. With rules requiring only a simple majority vote in the Senate and Republicans in control, DeVos’ confirmation is likely.

Democratic Senator Kathleen Vinehout criticizes pro-voucher candidate for State Superintendent of Public Instruction.

Filed under: State Supt of Public Instruction,Vouchers — millerlf @ 9:29 am

The following two links show the upcoming debate at the state level on MPS, vouchers, and the election of the State Superintendent of Public Instruction in April. The first news release is from John Humphries, a pro-voucher candidate for State Superintendent. The second is a response to Humphries by Democratic State Senator, Kathleen Vinehout.

University of Arkansas Researchers Recycle Debunked Voucher Claims Regarding Crime Reduction

Filed under: Vouchers — millerlf @ 9:25 am

Key Takeaway: Report uses unwarranted causal language throughout, while cheerleading for “Education Savings Account” legislation.

Find Documents:

Press Release:


William J. Mathis: (802) 383-0058,
Clive Belfield: (917) 821-9219,

More NEPC Resources on Vouchers

BOULDER, CO (January 4, 2017) – A new report from the University of Arkansas Department of Education Reform claims that Texas voucher legislation would reduce crime and thereby save the state a cumulative $194 million by the end of 2035. This claim is not warranted and has, in fact, already been discredited.

The report’s calculations arise from another University of Arkansas analysis, by the same authors. The Arkansas researchers had argued that some subgroups of voucher-receiving students in Milwaukee, Wisconsin were less likely to commit crimes as adults. That earlier analysis was reviewed in April 2016 by Clive Belfield, Professor of Economics at Queens College, City University of New York.

There exist multiple errors and limitations in the two Arkansas analyses, but perhaps the most important are the poorly grounded claims regarding causation. As Professor Belfield explained, no causal inferences can be drawn from the type of data and analyses used by the researchers. This means that the researchers cannot responsibly make claims about “results” and “impacts”, as they do in their Texas report.

Professor Belfield observed that, far from establishing a causal relationship between voucher program participation and a reduction in criminal behavior, the Arkansas researchers had not even established meaningful and consistent correlations. As Belfield pointed out, one valid interpretation of the data and analyses presented in the earlier report is that vouchers and crime are, in fact, not correlated.

Instead of engaging with Professor Belfield’s critique of their Milwaukee report, the Arkansas authors used the unconvincing results of that study, plugged in crime numbers from Texas, and estimated that if that state’s legislators were to create a type of voucher program called “Education Savings Accounts” they would (19 years from now) have, in the aggregate, saved their state almost two-hundred million dollars.

“This is a textbook example of garbage-in, garbage-out,” said Professor Kevin Welner of the University of Colorado Boulder, who directs the National Education Policy Center. “A figure derived from a study that does not allow for causal inference cannot then be brought back from the dead and magically support a causal inference in another study six months later. This sort of zombie causation could not possibly be of use to lawmakers looking for trustworthy information.”

Find Professor Belfield’s review on the web at:

Find the recent Arkansas report on the web at:

The National Education Policy Center (NEPC), housed at the University of Colorado Boulder School of Education, produces and disseminates high-quality, peer-reviewed research to inform education policy discussions. Visit us at:

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