Letter to the WI DNR: Don't make our parks "open until closed" to hunting and trapping

You might see traps soon in all but 2 of Wisconsin's state parks. Image.
On December 12, 2012, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resource will discuss agenda item 3B1,  a proposal to make our state parks "open until closed" to hunting - a sharp turn from the "closed until open" policy that have kept our parks open to the public year-round, and a provision made possible by the passage of the 2011 Wisconsin Act 168.
Act 168 allows hunting, fishing and trapping (watch out kids!) in state parks. The official deadline for registering to testify at the hearing or submit written testimony was Dec. 11 at 4:00pm, but it's never too late to speak up and spread the word.  The meeting starts at 8:30am at Rm. G09, State Natural Resources Bldg. (GEF 2), 101 S. Webster St., Madison WI 53703.
Below is the letter I submitted as testimony. I hope many others did the same and know that both hunters, cyclists, and nature enthusiasts oppose the proposal for many and various reasons, not least is the increased liability to hunters and the increased danger to others enjoying the parks.

Laurie J. Ross, Board Liaison
Office of the Secretary
PO Box 7921
Madison WI 53707-7921

Dear Ms. Ross:

Please accept the following as formal testimony for your hearing on item 3B1 on the December 11, 2012 agenda (plan for management of hunting, fishing & trapping in Wisconsin State Parks in accordance with 2011 Wisconsin Act 168).
I do not support agenda item 3B1 because I believe it poses a direct and dangerous threat to both human life and the wildlife in our parks and unfairly relinquishes our beautiful parks to hunters at the expense of the thousands of families and individuals who enjoy them year-round. 

By making our parks "open until closed" to hunting, you make them "open to hunters and closed to the public."  I would not even consider visiting a park for hiking (as we often do now) knowing it was open for hunting.  This is patently unfair. 

Our parks are our greatest resource and the source of pride and recreational opportunity for all of us. 

I vehemently opposed opening the parks to unlimited hunting and will be forced to seek recreation elsewhere if this item passes, thus disenfranchising me from a public resource my taxes pay to protect.

Please choose wisely to protect our wildlife and safe, pristine parks that are a part of our heritage and tradition.  In this latter respect, I implore you to take seriously the call of two of our most exemplary defenders of the Wisconsin wild:

"Now, it never seems to occur to these far-seeing teachers that Nature's object in making animals and plants might possibly be first of all the happiness of each one of them, not the creation of all for the happiness of one. Why should man value himself as more than a small part of the one great unit of creation? And what creature of all that the Lord has taken the pains to make is not essential to the completeness of that unit - the cosmos? The universe would be incomplete without man; but it would also be incomplete without the smallest transmicroscopic creature that dwells beyond our conceitful eyes and knowledge."  - John Muir
“Ethical behavior is doing the right thing when no one else is watching- even when doing the wrong thing is legal.” - Aldo Leopold

The passage of Act 168 does not render ethical the wholesale release of our parks to special interests.  Please make the decision that both protects our parks and keeps them safe for all Wisconsinites.  Do not make our parks "open until closed" to hunting.

Thank you,

Heather DuBois Bourenane
Sun Prairie

Walker's Confidences: John Doe vs the Hill Billy

Governor Walker, still enjoying his prolonged state of pre-indictment,  has been making many sweeping claims these days, but none so forcefully as his two proudest points of alleged confidence:
  1. He is "confident" that he is not the subject of the John Doe investigation, and that it ends with the plea deal recently reached with his long-time aide Tim Russell. ("Pure conjecture," said the judge. "The case is still open."  This is his "I'm not a crook" moment, say the rest of us.). 
  2. He is "confident" that Gogebic Taconite (GTAC), the Cline Group-owned Florida firm seeking to extract iron from the Penokee Hills of Wisconsin, will return to the "open for business" table now that the Republican Senate majority has been restored. Who will be the "judge" on this claim?  Will it be the people of Wisconsin, who continue to speak out against this plan? Or will it be Walker and his political cronies?  Looks like it's time to speak up again, and people are taking out their pens.
The Wisconsin Citizen's Media Cooperative has posted a wonderfully open letter from one of our friends in the north, calling the governor out on his ploy of creating a false and unwarranted sense of alarm about the "urgency" of mining the Penokees "before it's too late" and the out-of-state extracteers and potential campaign contributers at GTAC lose interest.  The ore's not going anywhere, says "Hill Billy:"
"...turns out that there is no defined ore body in the Penokees, according to the lack of property taxes being paid. Maybe that’s why it appears that we need to rush Mr. Cline’s laws into legislation; the ore body can’t be missed when it was never there to begin with. If that’s the case, Governor, then may we please have your permission to go back down to code orange on the eco-terrorist threat scale now?"
Read the full letter ("No Signs of Iron Ore Body Leaving Wisconsin") here.  Seriously, read it. It's so good.

There's a hearing  on mining regulations scheduled for this morning (Thurs. Nov. 29 at 10:30).  Public comment, however, is always mandatory to the success of democracy and can be delivered any time.  Send yours to:
Governor Scott Kevin Walker  govgeneral@wisconsin.gov 
Members of the Senate Committee on Mining:
Senator Tim Cullen, Chair, Sen.Cullen@legis.wisconsin.gov 
Senator Robert JauchSen.Jauch@legis.wisconsin.gov
Senator Jon Erpenbach, Sen.Erpenbach@legis.wisconsin.gov
Senator Jim Holperin, Sen.Holperin@legis.wisconsin.gov
Senator John Lehman, sen.lehman@legis.wisconsin.gov
Senator Dale Schultz, Sen.Schultz@legis.wisconsin.gov
Senator Mary LazichSen.lazich@legis.wisconsin.gov
Senator Robert Cowles, Sen.Cowles@legis.wisconsin.gov
Senator Chris Larson (Democratic Minority Leader) Sen.Larson@legis.wisconsin.gov

One very good question - raised by the ever-vigilant Rebecca Kemble - you might ask them is why Governor Walker's cronies and those with conflict of interest ties to the project are being trusted to assess the impact and feasibility of this mining when exhaustive analysis of these impacts have been published just this year (see the 2012 report: Sulfide Mining Regulation in the Great Lakes Region).  As Kemble notes, "Why mining industry flack Tim Sullivan and their expensive PR campaign is given a privileged position in this discussion when there has already been an extensive analysis of mining laws in the Great Lakes region is very telling."  The well-documented negative environmental impacts of the project, coupled with a relentless push to lower standards and cut corners on regulations, have been the bane of the efforts since day one.

While the mining project is promoted by Walker et al as a chance to bring much-needed "jobs" to the region, GTAC has been unable to demonstrate that a significant number of local jobs would actually be created, or that local economies would be positively impacted by the intrusion of mining initiatives.  The evidence, in fact, seems to point to minimal job creation and even less economic stimulation, due in part to increasingly automated mining practices.  Read more here on how mining creates fewer jobs than they want us to think.

Click here for source of this lovely image and more on the struggle of local residents, including, most vocally, members of the Bad River Band (whose chair, Mike Wiggins, Jr., calls the Penokees "unmineable"), to stop efforts to mine the Penokee region. 
Click here to learn why the first attempt at a mining bill was defeated.

Call to Wisconsin Legislators: Reinvest in Public Education

In recent weeks, Scott Walker has been bragging left and right that education will be his "laser focus" for the next biennial budget (having stripped his promise of creating 250,000 jobs from his website and moved on to new things, I suppose), and we all know what he means by "education reform:"  CUTS to public funds for public ed and INCREASES in public funding to education privatization ventures.

Meanwhile, Wisconsin Superintendent of Education, Tony Evers, has launched a campaign for both reelection and support of his own proposal for reform in education funding, a program he calls "Fair Funding for Our Future."  This plan, in conjunction with "A Penny for Kids," which proposes a one-cent sales tax increase to directly support public education, could restore school funding to a level that ensures success for all students. The Institute for Wisconsin's Future, with the Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools, has put out a call to action:
Now it’s time to do your part. Supt. Evers’ plan won’t find easy sailing in the Capitol, despite the devastation of recent cuts and the desperation of many school districts. You can help the cause by contacting your legislators and telling them to get on board.
If you don’t know who represents you─or how to contact them─click here. Tell them you expect them to sign onto and support “Fair Funding for Our Future.” Don’t forget to let them know you expect them to do the right thing and will hold them accountable in the next election.
In addition to asking legislators to support “Fair Funding for Future,” don’t forget to tell them they need to work equally as hard for “A Penny for Kids,”  a one-cent increase in the state sales tax for our public school kids and their classrooms.
I'm taking this call very seriously. Below is the letter I sent today to my own representatives; I sent a revised version of the same letter to Governor Walker and every State Senator. and I encourage everyone who cares about fair funding for public education to do the same. Feel free to borrow from or copy/paste my letter when writing to your own legislators, or use the suggestions here for more ideas.  Click here to find contact info for your representatives. Be sure to include your full name and contact information when you send your letter.

The time to stand up for public education in Wisconsin is NOW!  Speak up in support of a budget that refunds our schools, promotes quality public education for ALL of our children, and moves Wisconsin forward!


15 November 2012
Dear Senator Miller and Representative Hebl,

Congratulations to both of you on your reelection! I was thrilled to see how resoundingly our neighbors agree that you have both served our community extremely well and I thank you for your continued service and commitment to diligent representation of all the citizens in our district - not just those with whom we are politically aligned.  I have so much respect for your willingness to put community and principle before party and to stand up for working families and members of our communities who are struggling.

With the elections behind us now, I wanted to take time to write to you about the issue that is of the most importance to me personally moving forward: education policy and "reform." 

In recent weeks, Governor Walker has loudly promised (perhaps threatened is a better word) to prioritize education "reform" in his second biennial budget, but we know from his first budget that "reform" is just code for massive cuts and the steady transfer of public funds to privatizing ventures like voucher programs, virtual schools, and for-profit charters.  We have already seen the impacts of the first round of his "reforms:" $792 million in cuts to public education and (illegal) stripping of the rights of public employees, including educators, that have left many of our schools floundering,  So I am first and foremost concerned about the Governor's budget, and am counting on you to stand strong not just for our district but for all those districts who fared less well on the new "school report cards" and who, with less support school boards, have seen draconian cuts to essential programming and heart-breaking lows in teacher and staff morale.  This is not a healthy learning environment for our kids, and it is not - as history and education experts have proven - the road to creating successful graduates ready to enter the workforce and move our economy forward.  It is hurting our schools and forcing districts to make unconscionable choices about which essential programs they have to cut.

With that in mind, I encourage you to fully support Superintendent of Education's "Fair Funding for our Future" plan.  This plan is a good start in restoring the funding that has been gutted from our schools, but more importantly for ensuring that ALL Wisconsin students are funded at a level that ensures a quality education - regardless of where they live, how much money their parents make, or how well their school did on the yet-to-be-proven-useful "report cards."  Dr. Evers' plan accounts for low family income, the dire situations facing many of our rural communities, and those large districts that have few students.  The plan puts a human face on education funding, and rejects the inhumanity off Walker's so-called "reforms" that pit low-income neighborhoods against wealthier districts and penalizes our most vulnerable students.

I hope therefore that you will sign on as supporters of Dr. Evers' "Fair Funding" reform, but I don't believe that is enough.  Simply restoring funding cannot repair the damage that has been done to our education system through decades of cut-based "reforms."  We need to make a significant reinvestment in public education to ensure our kids graduate ready for work or college and ready to serve our communities as responsible citizens. 

For this reason, I also encourage you to support "A Penny for Kids," an initiative of the Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools.  It proposes a one-cent sales tax increase that would go ensure that all of our schools are funded fairly and that every student has an equal opportunity for academic success.  The 2011-2013 budget paralyzed districts by revoking their autonomy in choosing to use local property taxes to make up for losses in state aid: the budget actually makes it illegal for districts to choose to increase school funding through their taxes once the limit has been reached. Despite the Governor's empty talk of promoting local control of local economies and providing "tools" for districts to use, the state has created a crisis of funding for our schools that can only be solved by either restoring local rights to raise their property tax levies, or by restoring these funds through other means.  "A Penny for Kids" is a fair way to do just that, and would not unfairly tax districts who have already been disproportionately disadvantaged by the previous budgets.

I ask that you take time to learn more about this program, and sign on in support of "A Penny for Kids."

Thanks again to both of you for your service and commitment to our kids!


Happy Constitution Day! Guest post by Callen Harty

On Reading the Constitution Day (or Wisconsin Irony Day)  

by Callen Harty

Thanks to Callen for reposting here.
September 17, 2012
Dear Governor Walker,

I will be stopping by the Wisconsin Capitol again this afternoon as I have done almost every day since March of 2011 to sing four verses of “We Shall Overcome” in the rotunda.  But because last week you declared today “Read Your Constitution Day” I am also bringing a copy of the Bill of Rights to read after I sing, and I may break out in a rendition of the national anthem after that if I have any voice left.  I so appreciate the Constitutions of both the United States and Wisconsin that grant me the right to speak openly about my government and my feelings about it that I felt it would be appropriate to take advantage of your designated day to offer more than my usual song.

After I am done I plan on stopping by your office to give you the copy of the Bill of Rights from which I will read.  I am presuming in advance that despite living almost 50 of my 55 years in Wisconsin that I have still not accumulated enough wealth to be allowed into your office to see you in person, so I am writing this letter to thank you for your declaration to honor the Constitution.  I want to hand deliver it because my previous letters haven’t received any kind of serious response, unless you count automatically generated replies serious, so I can only guess that someone else is opening them and not passing them on to you.

I’ll let that go for now because the point of this letter is to thank you for your declaration.  In an age where all of your fellow Tea Party patriots firmly believe that the President of the United States is trying to overturn the Constitution and the rights it grants all of us I believe that a day to recognize the importance of the Constitution is a great idea.  While I don’t believe that President Obama intends to undo the foundation of our country I am concerned about certain things like indefinite detention and attempts to limit speech and peaceable assembly.

It is difficult to consider that either my President or my Governor would intentionally undermine or ignore the rights or the will of the people.  Still, I have concerns.  One of the reasons I wanted to give you a copy of the Bill of Rights is because I am afraid that perhaps you are only reading the Constitution as it was originally written and don’t understand that the Bill of Rights is actually considered part of the Constitution.  If you weren’t aware of it, it is really the first ten amendments to the Constitution (and there are many others after those first ten) and all of the rights enumerated in the Bill of Rights are valid and are legally considered part of the Constitution.

I know that you believe the Second Amendment is important because I have seen how you have paid special attention to it for your friends in the National Rifle Association (NRA).  They are incredibly lucky they have so much money that they can give to you to help raise your awareness.  I can only hope that my simple letter may help you realize that other parts of the Bill of Rights are equally important.  I feel bad that you didn’t know this and that somewhere in your years of educational pursuits you didn’t come across it.  When you read it (or have someone read it for you) you may be shocked to discover that in Wisconsin and in all of the United States citizens have the right of free speech.  We can legally protest our government, hold signs that mock the government, and more.  We have the right to gather in groups—as long as it’s peaceful—so that we can bring our concerns right to the heart of government.  And that’s all just in the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights, along with freedom of the press and prohibitions on the establishment of religion by governments and protections for those who want to practice their own religions.  It is no wonder we consider ourselves the greatest country in the world, as these are incredible promises.

Clearly, the founding fathers of Wisconsin agreed with the importance of these rights so much that they were enshrined in our own State Constitution.  As citizens of the great state of Wisconsin we have protections of these rights from both our state and federal governments.  As you know (I’m presuming again), a significant part your job, if not the most important, is to uphold the Constitution.  I’m sure that’s one of the reasons that you are encouraging all citizens to read it, so that we, too, can do our best to honor it.  I believe that I do that regularly when I show up at the Capitol to express my point of view through the free speech granted in both Constitutions under which I live and I am really glad to know that you appreciate that.

Thank you again for drawing attention to the Constitution and to the rights it guarantees.  It is too easy as a society for us to forget that we live under a government that was designed to be of, by, and for the people and that our leaders are employed by us.  This reminds us that it is not only our right, but our duty, to make sure the rights granted remain ours as long as this state and country shall endure.

Callen Harty

9/11: On memory and messaging

Dear friends,
I am a reluctant observer of 9/11, whose tragedy came hand-in-hand with a jingoistic and racist fervor that had direct negative impacts on my multicultural family and changed the tenor of American politics forever for the worse. 
I remember exactly where I was when I heard that the Towers had been attacked: I was stopping for a coffee on my way to Arabic class. I remember my friend completely distraught in class, shaking scared as she raced back home so she could be next to the phone to receive news from her family in New York. I remember a heady confusion of shock, tears, anger, concern, hope, pride, and solidarity as people all over the world came together in sympathy and support.  I remember the shockingly immediate negative reactions of suspicion, distrust, and even hatred that I saw right here in Wisconsin, and all over the country. I remember my disgust at how the tragedy was exploited into war-mongering. I remember how within weeks if you didn't plaster American flags all over your car, yourself, your words, you were "with the enemy."  I remember the stories of the victims' families who were not afforded insurance coverage, the rescue workers who continued to suffer injuries, faces of kids who would never again see their parent, parents who would never again see their children. I remember all of that. 
So 9/11 is always uneasy. For all of us.  We want to honor the dead, honor the day. But every year it seems increasingly impossible to do that without politicizing and romanticizing the tragedy, and the way our emotions and memories are so predictably manipulated is growing tedious and offensive. We need to be firm about facing up to the realities that led to - and from - that day, but we also need to keep the humanity of that tragedy in focus.  I found this beautifully sobering photo today on facebook on the Tom Joad page and think the caption really puts things into perspective. I repost it here with permission. 
I hope one day we find a way to honor the dead in a way that disrespects neither the living nor the truth.

Well, it's 9/11 again and that means it's time for us all to remember that we're Americans and put aside our differences, right? It's the day the entire world came together and people from Iran to France, from Brazil to Malaysia, were waving American flags and holding candlelight vigils. Yes, there was a candlelight vigil in Tehran for the victims of 9/11. Do you remember?

No, we don't. We've forgotten all about that. We've forgotten who to blame and how it was allowed to happen. There is all manner of filth and lies being told on conservative Facebook pages today about how Democrats are to blame for the attacks of 9/11. It made me stop and think back to the things that I recall about our national nightmare.

I remember White House counterterrorism coordinator, Richard Clarke, prowling the halls of the West Wing, BEGGING National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice for a meeting - but the responsibilities for counterterrorism had been assigned, by executive order, to the office of the Vice President, Dick Cheney. Mr. Cheney resisted any meeting, finally scheduling one for September 10th. Remember?

I remember CIA counterterrorism chief, J. Cofer Black's warning to then-CIA Director George Tenet about the likelihood of an attack, within the United States, by Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda terrorist organization.

And I remember that George made a compelling case for NSA Rice, pulling together all the fragments of intelligence his agency had gathered, bringing into sharp focus the very real possibility of an attack within our borders. All summer long, the CIA chief kept pressing Rice for a policy position or authorization for assets from the White House.

From all reports, this was weighing heavily on George Tenet. He wasn't sleeping well, because he was steeped in the details of his analysts and told Richard Clarke "I feel it coming. This is going to be the big one." Both men did whatever they could to get the Bush White House to authorize immediate action - and allow the agency to coordinate with other branches of the federal government to take action. They wanted to put defensive positions in place that might curtail, or minimize what they felt would be a devastating attack.

Do you remember what J.Cofer Black said following the CIA's meeting with Sec. Rice? Because I remember him saying "The only thing we didn't do was pull the trigger to the gun we were holding to her head."

I also remember the intelligence brief labeled "Bin Laden Threats Are Real." I remember the Presidential Daily Brief with a similar title: "Bin Laden determined to strike in US." And I absolutely, positively remember that the day after Bush received that sobering assessment of the threats facing the American people, he was carefree and joked with the press corps (while on vacation at his ranch in Texas) about his impending 55th birthday - not the impending attacks.

I remember the Project for a New American Century bemoaning the lack of political will to invest more billions into NextGen military hardware "absent some catastrophic and catalyzing event — like a new Pearl Harbor."

I remember that intelligence services from at least eleven other countries sent urgent warnings to their counterparts in the States about the impending attack.

I remember George Tenet recalling that “the system was blinking red.” And I remember that, despite routinely being scrambled within twenty minutes when contact is lost with any airplane, on 9/11 our fighter jets were on the ground two hours into the event.

I remember Bush reading "My Pet Goat." I remember that millions upon millions of dollars were made in the stock market, betting against American and United Airlines.

And I remember that the Bush administration stonewalled the investigation into what happened on 9/11 for 441 days, until shamed into doing something by the Jersey Girls, four widows of 9/11 who were relentless in their pursuit of the truth. And I know that the truth of what happened, is not contained within the pages of the report finally filed by the The National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States.

I remember 9/11. Do you?

 - by  Tom Joad


Walker takes hypocrisy to the next level in latest E-update

1 September 2012
Dear Scott Walker,

Thanks for your latest E-Update.  Considering that it came just a day after the national brouhaha, I was surprised and disappointed that it did not contain an apology or redaction for your embarrassing tripling-down on Paul Ryan's oft-repeated lie that President Obama is somehow responsible for the closing of the Janesville GM plant that went under during the catastrophic years of wasteful spending under Bush.  Had the plant survived into the current administration, it may well have been saved by the automobile industry bailout that help revive so many other American plants.  Hearing you not only repeat - but further embellish - Ryan's lie was excruciating: an embarrassment to all Wisconsinites and a slap in the face to the Janesville workers still reeling from the job losses there.

But what REALLY struck me was what you did choose to discuss in your taxpayer-funded propaganda E-Update: in choosing this forum to make a shockingly whiny and disingenuous complaint  that the Secretary of Health and Human Services did not respond directly to your bullying demands that the administration not help our most needy (a demand so arrogant that Mitt Romney has it displayed on his campaign website),  you revealed - once again - that your trademark arrogance has not waned a bit post-recall election.  Jumping on the "Romney's lies are my lies" bandwagon, your letter to her ignores the fact that the Secretary's new welfare-to-work proposal would "be focused on improving employment outcomes" for struggling families and makes a number of absurd and deeply offensive contentions about how the plan would instead discourage people from seeking work.

I find it terribly ironic that you complain that Sec. Sebelius didn't respond directly but sent you what you claim is a "form letter" response to your complaints about welfare, given that you don't even give your own constituents the same courtesy.  Well, first of all, she did not send you a "form letter," even though many of her points were probably recycled from other communications. She replied directly and specifically to your concerns.  As someone who receives many auto-responses (like the ones you send) and form letters (like the ones elected officials who respond to their constituents send), I know the difference, and find it very unprofessional of you to misrepresent her response like that to the citizens of our state.  And you're probably not reading this letter, but most people who are know that I have been writing you with my concerns for the past year and a half plus.  (In outrage over your refusal to respond to the concerns of your constituents, I make my letters to you open. They're part of the Open Record, anyway, as you're sure to make threatening note of in your auto-reply.) To date I have received ZERO responses, beyond the auto-reply that tells me you're too busy to care about what I have to say but will nonetheless "keep [my] specific comments in mind."  If your office produces form letters, I have never received one.  Neither, to my knowledge, has a single other person I know. And I know many, many people who write you regularly.

How is it, exactly, that you think you're so much more important than the people you govern?  How is it that you think you deserve courtesies you are unwilling to offer yourself? How is it that you dare pretend to govern those to whom you can not even be persuaded to acknowledge, much less address?

More importantly, though, how dare you brag that Wisconsin so well-serves its poorest families when you broke your own promise not to raise taxes by CUTTING the Earned Income Tax Credit that you claim in your letter to the Secretary helps keep struggling Wisconsinites afloat!?

And how dare you pretend to know ANYTHING about the people in Wisconsin who are suffering under the boot of your tax increases when coupled with your cuts to wages, benefits and social services? How dare you imply that - given just the tiniest bit of Big Government Coddling, we would dance at the chance to never work a day in our lives?  How can you so openly show such contempt and disrespect for the hardworking people of your own state?  I LOVE working.  It's pretty much all I do.  I have four separate state jobs - all of which combined do not provide a living wage post-Act 10.  My husband works full time.  And we still qualify for Food Share, thanks to your helpful "tools" and "reforms."  So maybe next time you write to Secretary Sebelius you can keep those specific comments in mind.  Maybe you'll keep in mind that the policies you support are the ones that led to the unemployment of all those still-hurting Janesville workers. Maybe you'll keep in mind that while the rest of the country puts to work the Obama administration's reforms and sees actual job growth, Wisconsin has led the nation in job losses because of your stubborn refusal to move forward.

And maybe she'll respond with a nice form letter, letting you know she'll keep YOUR specific comments in mind, too.

See you at the ballot box in 2014.  I won't hold my breath about hearing from you sooner.

Heather DuBois Bourenane
Sun Prairie

Back to School: Or the "equivalent" of school?

28 August  2012
Dear Scott Walker

As I ready my kids to go back to school, now in the second year of having to deal with the cuts that have weeded out some of their finest teachers and laid bare budgets that already had no wiggle room (forcing many schools to cut essential programming, force out teachers, and increase class size), I am disturbed by the timing of recent announcements and the increase in disproportionate funding to charter and private schools at the expense of the vast majority of our children. 

Just yesterday, Wisconsin Superintendent Tony Evers announced $16.1 million in federal grants will be poured into the charter programs that serve a tiny fraction of our students. More disproportionate investment in education inequity: $16.1 million in federal grants to 84 schools. Whose children are left behind? Almost all of them. Only 40,329 of the 870,000+ Wisconsin kids in public schools attend charters. 

To put this in perspective: in the 2011-13 budget, DPI requested $2,280,500 to fund SAGE schools that would protect then-current funding levels at $2,000 per student for about 11,500 low-income Wisconsin kids. You denied this request (knowing it could cost some schools their SAGE standing at the federal level) and added additional cuts to SAGE and HeadStart programming. In the same budget, you approved an increase of $7,086,200 GPR in FY12 and $15,460,800 GPR in FY13 for charter school funding based on 21,600 pupils in FY12 and 22,900 in FY13 and a per pupil payment of $6,442 per FTE in both FY12 and FY13. This disproportionate investment in the few at the expense of the many is jaw-dropping, especially at a time when "the many" are expected to pull their belts even tighter as they prepare to deal with the second - and worse - year of your unprecedented cuts to public education.

As a parent who strongly believes in the need to invest evenly in all of our students, and especially to ensure that inequities in the system that disadvantage low-income students are addressed honestly and productively, I am terrified by the dangerous pattern that you have very clearly estabilished here, and have publicly promised (on many occasions, and despite warnings from countless education professionals) to see through to the end: Disinvest in our most vulnerable kids. Overinvest in a handful, and split that investment pretty much equally between low-income, highly segregated schools and private ones. Lower standards for qualifications and assessments (not just at the charter schools but across the board).   

In a poll that came out just last week (in which Americans overwhelmingly agreed Obama is better than Romney for public education), 57% of people said they think teachers should have more rigorous training.  

Is the ultimate goal to make this untrue?
So I was equally disturbed to read your praise for a new Teacher "Equivalency" Certification  process by which non-educators can get into our classrooms bypassing the traditional certification route by proving they have the "equivalent" experience in the private sector or in preschool classrooms. 

The new "Teacher Equivalency Certification"  was announced by Dr. Evers just this week: a process that would allow someone without a degree in teaching to get a public school teaching license if he or she has a bachelor's degree; has been a private school teacher; has similar out-of-state certification; or has "at least 3 years of teaching" at the post-secondary, preschool, or industry level.  You praised this move, saying "We must also help districts find qualified men and women with workplace experience who are interested in sharing their knowledge with the next generation, especially in high need areas like science and math."  I find this position extremely insulting to educators, who have been specifically and carefully trained in a whole range of skill areas that have nothing to do with their area of expertise.  Being an industry expert or having experience with a "subject" does NOT prepare one or qualify one to teach that subject.  How is a chemist prepared to deal with special needs students? How does a computer programmer possess the skills and training needed to deal legally and effectively with chronic acting-out in the classroom?  How has an accountant's experiences in a cubicle prepared her for the demands of ensuring common core standards are met while reaching out to students of widely differing needs and abilities?  Imagine if the roles were reversed and the teacher demanded the private sector job - at the same rate of pay.  It just defies reason, and it's a slap in the face to dedicated educators.

This move has been promoted by Dr. Evers as a way of creating "career opportunities" for non-teachers to become teachers.  How insulting.  While I'm sure the private sector can produce some good teachers (and a degree in education doesn't automatically translate into classroom success, either), the underlying assumption here is simply more of the same anti-educator rhetoric we've heard since you took office: anyone can teach, "real" teachers are just lazy and unqualified, teachers don't deserve what the earn, teaching is easy, and on and on and on.  It also makes me wonder what this will mean to compensation: how much will these "equivalent teachers" earn? Is this a ruse to lower the wages for educators? Or a plan to turn industries into "temp services" that will farm out "teachers" (and take a cut of their wages) to public schools?  My mind races to imagine how the education-privatizers might capitalize on a move like this, especially when your own "Job Czar" is trying to actually make it more expensive for people who might really want to invest in a degree in education to do so and your administration continues to push a discredited rumor that our workforce is under-skilled and unprepared for employers - a move which allows you to put the reins of education directly in the hands of potential employers.

The path to a career in teaching begins with respecting that teaching is a profession - not a "job" that anyone can just step into.  I am extremely skeptical of the token "assessment" requirements for anyone who has  "not completed a Wisconsin recognized and approved educator preparation program."  What message does this send about the value of those programs? What message does this send about the value of teaching, when it is parsed down to its simplest form of "sharing knowledge."

As a parent who volunteers regularly in the schools and someone who works professionally with educators every day, I know that there is no testable "equivalent" of a degree in education.  There is no "equivalent" to taking the time to learn about the rigors and restraints of standardized testing, the complexities of assessment, the pedagogies that work (and don't) for the range of learners in our classrooms.  And, ultimately, I don't want my kids taught by the "equivalent" of teachers. I want them taught by people who dedicated their lives to the profession, and who give that profession the respect it requires by receiving the proper training and education.  

Why does the minimum standard for what we expect from our schools keep getting lowered?  When will it stop?  Is there a bottom to how low you will go, or do we just have to wait until all the schools fail?  The race to the bottom is an ugly, ugly thing.
What's next? You want parents to sit back, let our schools fail so that your friends at the AFC and other privateers (who have been so aggressively trying to buy our elections) can jump in and "save" them, creating for-profit ventures out of once-excellent schools.  And then what? What do we do with all of these underserved students?  Let them "pull themselves up by their bootstraps?" Let them "invest" borrowed money in vocational programs that may or may not lead them to living-wage jobs? Let the prisons do the rest?

Dr. Ever's Fair Funding for Our Future plan
It doesn't have to happen.  You have claimed you want to work together and are constantly pretending that you work closely with Dr. Evers - if so, I advise that you take seriously his Fair Funding for Our Future plan, which addresses the very real harm done by simply gouging funds from out schools and restores funding to a level that ensures our kids can get the education they need to thrive in the workplace and as smart, well-rounded, well-trained members of society, ready to do their share to move Wisconsin forward.  This program, - as education experts like Thomas Mertz have made clear -in conjunction with something that will specifically ensure funds to our poorest schools (like "A Penny for Kids," a proposal that raises the sales tax by one cent which would raise $850 million a year for schools and reduce the need to increase property taxes), would prepare our kids for a chance at real success. Your plan prepares them to live off the state forever. 

I have been following the blow-by-blow cuts to education ever since you took office. I have also been listening carefully to what people on both sides are saying about what does and doesn't work.  The facts could not be more clear: your plan pushes forward a catastrophic, fundamentally misguided attack on public education that has very little to do with "unions" or "workers rights" and everything to do with an ultimate goal of reducing accountability and opening the door to privatization.  I oppose that, and not on a partisan basis (don't even get me started on what I oppose in the Obama plan). I oppose it because it's bad for our kids. It's bad for my kids.  It's bad for all of us.

Please. On just this one thing: give a little.  During the recall, the one point on which both sides agreed (that is, both people who voted for you and against you) is that your cuts to public education were beyond the pale and a direct assault on the Wisconsin Idea and our bipartisan history of progressive excellence in education.  You can go on pretending your unique combination of no business experience and no education qualifies you to be an authority on everything else - we don't like it, but we're used to it. But when it comes to our kids, and our schools, do the right thing. Open your mind to what people who don't have a financial stake in this matter are saying and listen. Let us reinvest our money in our kids. We shouldn't have to beg.  But I'll beg now so my kids won't have to do it later.

On Tuesday, I'll be sending my kids off to school.  The little one is starting kindergarten (full-day, so I can finally afford to get back to work and try to crawl out of the hole your helpful cuts to my benefits and pay have left us in).  Off they'll go: with a kiss and a hug and a few tears (and that reminds me, I think I'm supposed to organize the Boo Hoo Breakfast! Better get on that!)...and a lot of worry.  Worry about what this year will bring for them personally, what the new budget will do to their school now that we don't have the "cushion" afforded last year by all the teachers forced into early retirement.  But also hope:  because they are so smart, and so ready, and so resilient, and their teachers are so wonderful, and the staff and administrators at the school so supportive, and our school board has their best interests clearly in focus. Dollars can't change any of that.  But our district is lucky. Others are not.  And those are the kids I'm worried about most.

So it'll be bittersweet: seeing them go off into that world where I can only protect them from a distance, with solid home-training, loving guidance and support, and by advocating for them as a parent-citizen at every level I can (on the PTO, at the school board, through our elected officials).  I'm doing my best.  I ask you to do the same.  

"Let us think of education as the means of developing our greatest abilities, 
because in each of us there is a private hope and dream which, fulfilled, 
can be translated into benefit for everyone and greater strength for our nation." 
- John F. Kennedy

If you're really as laser-focused on jobs as you say you are, remember what really matters: without a truly educated (not just "trained") workforce, there are no jobs. There is no middle class. There is no American Dream.  There is no hope.

Reinvest in our schools.  Make sure our money is going where we want it to go: toward making our schools even better than they were before your cuts started to unravel them.  Raise the bar.  Make sure our teachers are the best by making sure we hire people who know that being an expert doesn't make you a good teacher, and who have the humility to know that the training that leads to the classroom is, if anything, too low a price to pay for the huge responsibility of educating all of our children.  Put education first. Make it your priority. And not just with lip-service to your own kids and pithy examples of all the teachers who allegedly thank you for the helpful cuts to their own schools. Put education first by listening to what the education experts, educators, administrators, Dr. Evers, and concerned citizens on both sides of the fence have been telling you: the cuts are too deep.  It's not working.  

Humility is the most admirable trait a leader can possess. Show some now.
Reinvest in our schools before it's too late.

Heather DuBois Bourenane
Sun Prairie


Callen Harty on the Freedom to Dissent

Open Letter to Wisconsin Capitol Police Chief Erwin

by Callen Harty

Capitol police officer watching the Solidarity Sing Along beneath a large banner reading, “Big Brother is Watching You”.  Photo by Callen Harty.

August 27, 2012

Dear Chief Erwin,

I haven’t met you yet, though I anticipate that some day I will.  I read about you today and feel as if I know you already.  In an interview with the Associated Press you said that as the new Wisconsin Capitol Police Chief you intend to crack down on protests at the Capitol.  Scott Walker will appreciate you doing this, as he certainly doesn’t want to hear what the citizens of his state may have to say about his policies or governance.  He would just as soon we all go away so that he can focus on taking phone calls from only the wealthiest of his constituents (and of course, several out-of-state donors who are not constituents but still expect payback for their generosity toward his most recent campaign).

Like him you apparently have no respect for the history of the Capitol building that you are sworn to protect.  You may not know this, but it has always been a place for citizens to congregate, a place to raise voices against the worst of legislative assaults on our rights, freedom, and way of life.  There is a rich history of protest and citizen involvement in the Capitol, and particularly the rotunda, a place as close to a statewide town hall as can be found anywhere.  It seems that you are determined to overturn that history and make the Capitol and its denizens available only to those who can afford to pay for the privilege.  It is our house and we will not be evicted.

It is understandable to get tough on criminals who are violent or who damage the building in some way.  It is not understandable to try to prevent legitimate protest in a democracy.

The sad truth is that those who silently acquiesce now to you shutting off the ability to protest under the dome will one day have protests of their own silenced, and they don’t understand that connection.  This is not about the specific protests of the last year and a half–it is about any protest that may be silenced in the future, from either the left or the right.  Those of us who appreciate the Bill of Rights wish those rights extended even to our enemies.  Diminishing rights in any way is a chilling endeavor, especially from a former Marine who undoubtedly swore at one time to fight to preserve the rights of fellow Americans.  Putting roadblocks in the way of citizens assembling, petitioning their government, and raising their voices to be heard over the din created by the exchange of pieces of silver and gold and the rustling of dollar bills is an affront to the citizens of the state and the sometimes messy thing known as democracy.

If the legislators working in the Capitol would like the protesters silenced then perhaps they should govern in a way that is consistent with the historically open and honest government that Wisconsin prided itself upon for years. They would not need police to quell peaceful protests if there were no need for protest.

People understand that both the federal and state governments have chipped away at the rights inherent in protesting in a number of ways over the last several years.   They have created permitting systems, free speech zones (where one can say anything to others of like mind but can’t be seen or heard by anyone who needs to hear the words), confiscated cameras and video recorders, intimidated protesters, and more.  But that doesn’t mean that we won’t fight the continued erosion of our Constitutionally guaranteed rights.  In fact, it means that we will fight all the harder.

Nobody is surprised by this impending crackdown.  While Chief Tubbs wasn’t perfect he did strive to strike a balance between the functioning of government and the rights of that government’s citizens to protest.  He understood the need to protect the building and those who work there while also protecting the Constitutional rights of those who came to express their dissatisfaction with those working there.  When Tubbs left to take another job everyone knew that Governor Walker would select someone in his stead who would be more beholden to the Governor and the Department of Administration than to the citizens of the state that all of those in government–legislators, bureaucrats, and the police–are meant to serve.  The only question was who would be the administration’s lap dog, how draconian would that person be, and how soon would the hammer come down. Now we have the answers–you, very, and now.

Please understand that we are not afraid of you.  Nobody wants to go to jail or face fines, particularly for something as innocent as gathering to make our voices heard.  I would rather have my hands in chains than my mind enslaved.  It is better to be a convict in any jail than to be a prisoner of your own conscience.  We will not be silenced, particularly when the issue is free speech, the right to peaceably assemble, or the right to petition our government for the redress of grievances.  Your brute force will not stifle our creativity and your tenure will not outlive our passion.  Perhaps the former chief didn’t tell you that every time they cracked down on legal and peaceful protests our numbers swelled with sympathizers.  Perhaps he didn’t tell you that for every police action there is an opposite and greater citizen reaction.  If not, you will learn soon enough.


Callen Harty, citizen
Monona, Wisconsin