- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, July 9

Walker and Fitzgerald ignoring the realities of transportation funding

“We’ll all have egg on our face. Republicans will look like we don’t know what we’re doing if we are somehow through July to August and we don’t have a state budget.”

That’s Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) on the current impasse in Madison on the state budget. And he’s right. His party controls the governor’s office and both houses of the Legislature, and it still can’t reach agreement on how to spend taxpayers’ money. Maybe Republicans don’t know what they’re doing.

The biggest impasse appears to be over transportation funding (although education also is a thorny issue), with Fitzgerald and Gov. Scott Walker arguing for more borrowing and delay, and the Assembly, led by Rep. Robin Vos (R-Rochester) arguing for more revenue streams.

On that, Vos is right, and he and the Assembly should stick to their guns.

Walker and Fitzgerald probably are hoping for one of two things: a federal bailout in the form of infrastructure aid from the Trump administration or that future generations won’t mind paying more for roads. The first could happen but is a short-term fix. Good luck on the second.

In a feeble attempt at compromise, Walker said Thursday he was willing to reduce the amount of debt because there’s more money in the transportation coffers than expected - but he still wants to borrow $300 million. Fitzgerald, who wants to borrow $750 million over the next two years, argues that there’s waste in the Department of Transportation and that “it was pointless to discuss raising taxes when Walker has committed to vetoing any tax increase,” the Journal Sentinel reported.

Both are ignoring the essential challenge of transportation funding: an aging and deteriorating road system that traditional revenue streams can no longer adequately repair and expand, coupled with growing demand for roads and transit.

Vos, who to his credit and somewhat out of character, is waging a very public fight on this, issued a news release recently with some facts that deserve noting:

“US DOT says Wisconsin roads rank 47th in the nation, and estimates that 71 percent of our roadways are in mediocre condition.

“Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance have given our highways a grade of ‘D.’

“Wisconsin’s transportation fund deficit currently exceeds $1 billion.

“Our debt service levels on transportation bonds exceed 20 cents per dollar - a number that will grow to an even more unsustainable level if more borrowing occurs without additional revenue sources to support the debt

“Revenues are declining. Motor fuel consumption has decreased in 5 of the last 10 years and the average annual growth over the last 10 years has been one half of 1 percent for fuel consumption, eight-tenths of 1 percent for auto registrations, three-tenths of 1 percent for light truck registrations and 1.8 percent for heavy truck registrations.”

What’s needed is a multi-pronged approach that could include toll roads, fees for heavy trucks, modest hikes in the registration fee and gas tax, and perhaps a vehicle miles traveled system. But the current system is failing, and borrow-and-delay is no answer. The state needs new sources of revenue.

Until Walker and Fitzgerald deal seriously with that, there’ll be a lot of egg on a lot of faces.

___

The Journal Times of Racine, July 10

Don’t shame kids in the school lunch line

The anecdote, as reported by The Associated Press, is heartbreaking and cruel.

Teaching assistant Kelvin Holt watched as a preschool student fell to the back of a cafeteria line during breakfast in Killeen, Texas, as if trying to hide.

“The cash register woman says to this 4-year-old girl, verbatim, ‘You have no money,’ ” said Holt, describing the incident last year. A milk carton was taken away, and the girl’s food was dumped in the trash. “She did not protest, other than to walk away in tears.”

It couldn’t possibly have been the 4-year-old’s fault that her parents or guardian had not put money in her school lunch account. But she was the one who received the humiliation and walked away hungry while her schoolmates ate.

The wrong member of her family received the punishment.

Free and reduced-price meals funded by the Agriculture Department’s National School Lunch Program shield the nation’s poorest children from so-called lunch shaming. Kids can eat for free if a family of four earns less than about $32,000 a year or at a discount if earnings are under $45,000.

It’s households with slightly higher incomes that are more likely to struggle, experts on poverty and nutrition say.

Children often bear the brunt of unpaid meal accounts. A 2014 federal report found 39 percent of districts nationwide hand out cheap alternative meals with no nutritional requirements and up to 6 percent refuse to serve students with no money.

Surely, we can do better than this.

Public education - with its premise that every child should be sufficiently educated to be a productive member of society as an adult - benefits the entire community, not just those whose children are being educated. Children perform better in school when they’re sufficiently fed, so it’s in the community’s interest to make sure all the kids at the public school eat lunch.

The U.S. Agriculture Department is requiring districts to adopt policies this month for addressing meal debts and to inform parents at the start of the academic year.

The Agriculture Department is not specifically barring most of the embarrassing tactics, such as serving cheap sandwiches in place of hot meals or sending students home with conspicuous debt reminders, such as hand stamps. But it is encouraging schools to work more closely with parents to address delinquent accounts and ensure children don’t go hungry.

“Rather than a hand stamp on a kid to say, ‘I need lunch money,’ send an email or a text message to the parent,” said Tina Namian, who oversees the federal agency’s school meals policy branch.

We’d like to see the Agriculture Department go further in discouraging cruelty toward children in front of their peers. It’s not the children who have provided insufficient funds for their school lunch accounts.

“There’s no limit to the bad behavior a school can have. They just have to put it in writing,” said Jennifer Ramo, executive director of New Mexico Appleseed, an advocacy group on poverty issues. “We live in a credit society. I think schools should handle debt like everybody else does: You don’t take away food from children. You feed them and you settle the bill later.”

“You don’t take food away from children.”

We wouldn’t have thought that needed to be said in the United States of America, in 2017.

___

Wisconsin State Journal, July 6

Firearms 101 a bad idea for schools

Most Wisconsin high schools don’t teach students how to drive cars anymore because of limited time and money.

Yet some Republican lawmakers think today’s schools have the resources and need to start teaching teenagers how to handle and shoot guns.

Seriously?

That shouldn’t be a priority, given strict limits on how much school districts can spend, and given the need for more advanced learning. Gun classes also would risk harm to students and staff by undermining zero-tolerance policies forbidding weapons on school property.

The full Legislature should quickly discard this unwise proposal by Rep. Ken Skowronski, R-Franklin, and Sen. Terry Moulton, R-Chippewa Falls.

Let the state Department of Natural Resources and hunting groups teach young people how to use firearms, as they ably have done for decades away from school settings. The priority for high schools should be math, science, reading and other academic subjects - not the promotion of hobbies involving deadly weapons.

Hunting and target shooting are fine activities outside of school, especially in Wisconsin, where deer hunting season enjoys a long and celebrated history.

But public schools have strict policies against guns because of deadly school shootings around the country. Offering a Firearms 101 class would undermine that concern by blurring the line on whether or not handguns and other weapons are allowed in schools.

Teaching gun safety in schools also would take up valuable time during the school day when students need to learn more marketable skills to succeed after graduation in a competitive job market focused on knowledge and technology.

The only people who should be allowed to carry guns at school are trained police officers.

The Republican lawmakers pushing for gun safety classes in schools say greater interest in trap shooting among Wisconsin teenagers prompted them to act. Well, teenagers are interested in lots of activities. That doesn’t mean those pastimes should be part of school curriculums, earning credits toward graduation.

No ammunition would be allowed in schools, the authors of the bill say, though multiple types of firearms would be covered, including handguns. Nor would local school boards be forced to offer gun classes if they didn’t want them, they say.

But Skowronski and Moulton’s bill would require the state Department of Public Instruction to develop a gun curriculum using resources better spent on academics.

The bill is one of several troubling proposals involving guns this year in the Legislature. Another bill would let citizens with state permits carry concealed handguns on school grounds. That idea should be defeated, too.

Less than 30 percent of school districts in Wisconsin offer driver’s education classes for credit, according to DPI. If most schools don’t teach students the basic skill of how to drive, they definitely should not be in the business of promoting guns in the classroom.

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