Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Oops, big Walker talk on education won't come true

A couple of stories in the news today illustrate that some of the big education-based initiatives for Governor Scott Walker in the 2017-19 work a lot better as public poses than real-life policy. Especially given that it is unlikely that there won’t be the funds available to back up these proposals.

One of the ideas mentioned is the UW System’s new Flexible Option program. The idea is that these programs would increase the state’s talent base by allowing busy Wisconsinites to take higher education programs at home and at their own pace, and remove barriers for some prospective students. But there’s a problem- while Governor Walker wants to have Flex Option offerings be increased by 50 percent in the next 3 years, programs such as teacher certification haven’t been set up yet. And Walker’s budget doesn’t provide any extra money to set those programs up.
“I did not see funds earmarked for developing new programs,” said Laura Pedrick, executive director of online programs at UW-Milwaukee. “There would definitely need to be development funds.”…

Flexible Option programs are developed through a kind of “backwards design, she said. That involves looking at the student learning outcomes of traditional programs and identifying competency sets. Students then can, if able, demonstrate mastery of those competencies, Pedrick said. This is typically done through projects, she said. For the bachelor’s degree in nursing, for example, students might be asked to write a quality improvement plan for some aspect of patient care, she said.

[UW Colleges and Extension Chancellor Cathy] Sandeen and Pedrick both raised questions about a program to credential certified nursing assistants as registered nurses, because of hands-on patient care aspects of RN training….

Even if developing Flexible Option programs for registered nurses and K-12 teachers were feasible, concern about cost and timeframe for those or other programs remain.

“There is an issue with that kind of growth rate,” said Aaron Brower, provost at UW-Extension. “It takes $1 million and a year to develop a new program. And without additional money attached, we could only mount one at a time.”
So in other words, Walker is talking big about what the Flex Option may be able to do, but as usual, isn’t putting money where his mouth is.

The same problem exists in regards to Walker’s plans to add $649 million in spending to public schools over the next 2 years. First of all, we already know that $30 million of that is based on using magic savings from having the state go to a self-insurance plan for health insurance for self-insurance (I call the savings “magic” because that $30 million never existed in the budget in the first place- it’s assumed to lapse). Not only is it very questionable that a self-insurance model will be approved by the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee, but the savings are far from guaranteed.

The remaining $619 million is also greatly at risk, partly because some members of WisGOP legislative leadership want to assume that there will be no K-12 increase whatsoever when it comes to figuring out the budget.
The proposed $649 million increase in K-12 funding for public schools is “under threat,” public school advocates say, because of a plan some lawmakers on the budget-writing committee are considering to build the next state spending plan from current funding levels instead of using Walker’s proposals as a starting point.

“At stake are the substantial increases Gov. Walker has proposed for public schools, including increases in per pupil aid, aid targeted specifically to rural schools and funding from school-based mental health services, to name a few,” Wisconsin Association of School Boards (WASB) lobbyist Dan Rossmiller wrote in a blog post aimed at school board members. “Working from the base budget rather than Gov. Walker’s proposal would erase the proposed funding increases for public schools as a starting point for budget discussions. This would put public schools back to square one in the budget debate.”…

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, earlier this month expressed support for crafting a budget based on current funding levels, but Senate Education Committee chairman and Joint Finance Committee member Luther Olsen, R-Ripon, said Monday that Senate Republicans support working from the governor’s proposals.

“I honestly think it’s a slap in the face to say to the governor, ‘We’re not going to work from your budget,’ ” Olsen said.
However, given that many of the governor’s budget assumptions are sketchy and hopeful (at best), maybe it makes sense for us to figure out how much money we MAY have available, and then make our allocation decisions from there? For example, Vos has mentioned finding a more stable source for Transportation funding- would using some of that $619 million that's designated for per-pupil aid be a source for that, and split it 50-50 with highways, for example?

And let’s not forget a “pessimistic” scenario that the Legislative Fiscal Bureau floated in an otherwise rosy revenue picture that it produced in January, which enabled Walker to put in all of these campaign talking points budget giveaways in the first place.
Under the pessimistic scenario, the January, 2017, forecast assigns a 20% probability of a two-quarter economic contraction in the first half of 2018 due to strained trade relations with China and Mexico. U.S. exports decline more than imports, and economic conditions worsen across the world. The U.S. dollar increases in value, further undermining export competitiveness. U.S. businesses react by postponing capital investments. The stock market declines markedly, along with consumer confidence. Meanwhile, productivity continues to decline, and thus modest demand-side growth causes inflationary pressure. OPEC oil production cuts (which are not offset by increased domestic production) and inflation prompts the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates, further constricting growth. Under this scenario, disagreements between the new Trump administration and Congress, as well as a federal government hiring freeze, prevent stimulus spending. As a result, consumer and business confidence deteriorates, leading to declines in business investment, meager growth in consumer spending, and a fall in housing starts. Real GDP growth is estimated at 1.3% in 2017, -1.1% in 2018, and 1.9% in 2019. These growth rates are lower than the baseline forecast by 1.0% in 2017, 3.7% in 2018, and 0.4% in 2019.
Well, consumer confidence was stupidly high earlier this month (at 2000 levels, as we saw today), and oil prices have retreated a bit recently, so maybe that part of the equation hasn’t happened. But “disagreements between the new Trump Administration and Congress, as well as a federal hiring freeze,”? Yep, we’re already there. And do you think consumer confidence will stay high after last week’s failure in health care, and this Trump Bubble in the stock market inevitably pops?

If you start putting the pieces of this “house of cards” budget from Scott Walker together, you can see they don’t fit. And that’s why I wouldn’t count on little if any of those increases to either K-12 public schools or the UW to actually work out when the budget gets finalized…whenever that may be.


  1. And with the newest "Admin Surprise" in the form of the Oshkosh Clusterfuckdation, you can bet the UW is moving from increase to decrease.

  2. Walker's promises are like ice sculptures. They are beautiful in the moonlight or multicolored floodlights, with sunshine they turn to muddy messes.

    1. Now that is a killer metaphor. Well done!

      Although Walker's coziness with the Kochs and other oil men makes those ice sculptures less likely to form in the first place.

  3. Walker gets to look a little more moderate while legislative Republicans do the heavy lifting. They know where the bread gets buttered.

    Wisconsin's Governor is an extremetly powerful position - even more so since 2010.

    The Republican agenda can be advanced with a smaller majority in the leg or even if the Senate was lost to Dems.

    Lose the governor's seat, and a whole lot of power changes sides.