New test data a mixed bag

by Steve Baas, MMAC VP of Governmental Affairs April 16, 2014 11:28

The state Department of Public Instruction has released this school year’s state test results, and while performance has ticked up slightly in Milwaukee Public Schools and Choice schools here in Milwaukee, there is still much room for improvement.

MPS proficiency rates remain well below the state average and our area’s racial achievement gap remains disturbingly large. Though Choice students did perform marginally better than their economically disadvantaged peers in MPS, Choice test scores also significantly lagged the state average. It is important to note that, while these new test results are informative, they must be put in their proper perspective. The scores merely provide a snapshot of academic achievement and fail to measure academic progress or growth from year to year. As a result, the outstanding work some of our urban schools do at taking students who arrive at school well behind grade level and helping them make dramatic gains to come closer to their grade level proficiency is not recognized or accounted for.

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An important step toward academic accountability

by Steve Baas, MMAC VP of Governmental Affairs April 16, 2014 11:27
In the past, MMAC’s efforts to do accurate, value-added assessments of school performance have been hampered by the fact that demographic data for students across various sectors – Choice, Charter, District – has been inconsistently reported.  Last week, Gov. Walker signed into law a new measure that will create a common, unique student identifier, including the same demographic data for all publicly funded students across all school sectors.

This change will allow accurate student performance tracking as students move from schools in one sector to another. More importantly, by standardizing demographic information for our entire education ecosystem, it will allow us to develop a “common report card” of school performance that includes not only achievement data but also value-added growth data. Special thanks to Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Rep. Jim Steineke for their leadership in helping us achieve this important first step toward a comprehensive system to ensure high quality and accountability for all publicly funded schools.

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MMAC showcases the region at Madison Night in Milwaukee

by Steve Baas, MMAC VP of Governmental Affairs April 16, 2014 11:26
Milwaukee got to strut its stuff in an impressive way last week as a record number of MMAC members and state and local lawmakers gathered for our annual “MMAC Madison Night in Milwaukee.” The day was beautiful, the venue at the Pilot House at Discovery World was spectacular, and dozens of sponsors showed off the people, products and services that make our region so great. Thanks to all who attended and helped make it a great evening of networking and saying thank you to the elected officials who work so hard on behalf of metro Milwaukee and our entire state.  >>Check out pictures from this year’s event.

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Governor approves state funding support for employer wellness programs

by Steve Baas, MMAC VP of Governmental Affairs March 25, 2014 14:28

For nearly a decade, MMAC has been at the forefront of efforts to help companies lower their health care costs by encouraging employee wellness. Last week, Gov. Walker made those efforts a little easier by signing Act 137, creating grants to small businesses for money they spend to create workplace wellness programs.

 

Under the new law, businesses with 50 or fewer employees will be eligible for grants reimbursing them for up to 30% of the amount of money they pay for employee wellness programs in any taxable year. Wellness services covered include health risk assessments and other activities such as weight and stress management, chronic disease prevention, nutrition and fitness programs, and health screenings.

 

This new law is an exciting win on an issue that MMAC has advocated on for several legislative sessions. Special thanks to state Sen. Terry Moulton and Rep. John Murtha for authoring this legislation. This new grant program will be a great tool for MMAC as we continue to partner with Well City Milwaukee to become the first city in the nation to earn a second Well City USA designation.

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Crunch time on school accountability legislation

by Steve Baas, MMAC VP of Governmental Affairs March 25, 2014 14:28
As the state legislature speeds toward the conclusion of its session, one important piece of legislation still outstanding is a measure to set in place new data, academic progress and intervention strategies for schools statewide. The state Senate has already passed a narrow version of this school accountability legislation focusing on data collection and transparency across all school sectors – Charter, Choice or District. The state Assembly has developed a much more comprehensive measure, incorporating new performance metrics and sanctions for persistently failing schools. As the session nears its close, we hope the two houses of the legislature can reach consensus around a solution that moves closer to an accountability system that supports high academic quality wherever it exists. >> View MMAC President Tim Sheehy's letter to Speaker Voss on education accountability 

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Milwaukee lakefront bill signed into law

by Steve Baas, MMAC VP of Governmental Affairs March 25, 2014 14:27

Gov. Walker signed MMAC-backed legislation into law last week that will help clear the way for the new Couture development on Milwaukee’s lakefront. 

Replacing the old Downtown Transit Center building on Milwaukee’s lakefront with the new mixed-use Couture development holds great promise for creating a more exciting and inviting “front door” for Milwaukee. This new project promises to tie together the lakefront parks and attractions such as the Milwaukee Art Museum, Pier Wisconsin, Discovery World and the Summerfest grounds. 

Unfortunately, this proposal had been placed into limbo by dueling legal claims and conflicting historical delineations of where the official Lake Michigan shoreline and lake bed is located in the city. The bill signed into law (AB 655) establishes the official shoreline consistent with a 1913 agreement between Milwaukee and the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad. Setting the shoreline in this location removes one significant regulatory obstacle facing the Couture and brings the project one step closer to development.

Special thanks to state Rep. Joe Sanfelippo and state Sen. Leah Vukmir for their leadership in authoring this legislation.

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Speak up on taxes

by Steve Baas, MMAC VP of Governmental Affairs February 18, 2014 09:34
This week the MMAC hosted Lt. Governor Rebecca Kleefisch and WI Secretary of Revenue Rick Chandler at a meeting to discuss Wisconsin's tax and regulatory climate. They asked for suggestions on how Wisconsin could improve its tax climate and make life better for business. Chandler and Kleefisch also asked for suggestions on how Wisconsin could improve its tax climate and make life better for business. Keep the conversation going on this topic and submit your own thoughts to at taxreform.wi.gov. 

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Take this survey on transit

by Steve Baas, MMAC VP of Governmental Affairs February 18, 2014 09:33
For Milwaukee County to develop a sustainable master plan for transit aligned with its economic realities, it is critical that folks like you - who provide the engine for that economy - speak up. >>Take MKE County Exec Chris Abele's survey to help him develop a vision for the future of transit.

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PSC delivers big win for Milwaukee

by Steve Baas, MMAC VP of Governmental Affairs February 18, 2014 08:45
The Public Service Commission has issued a ruling that will save downtown Milwaukee businesses and residents millions of dollars on their utility bills.    Last summer, We Energies announced its intention to convert its Menomonee Valley Power Plant from coal to natural gas. This change will result in a cleaner, more efficient plant and lower electric rate costs. We Energies had to get its plans for this plant, which also produces all of the steam for downtown Milwaukee, approved by the PSC. As part of that process, the Citizens Utilities Board (CUB) challenged We Energies’ conversion proposal.  CUB argued that, as part of the changeover, downtown steam customers should be made to pay a larger share of the cost of running the Valley plant than they have for the last 40 years. CUB’s proposal would have resulted in almost doubling costs for downtown steam customers, with rate hikes of hundreds of thousands and in some cases even millions of dollars per year for large Milwaukee companies.    Recognizing the devastating impact that rate shock would have on our Milwaukee economy, MMAC organized a coalition including Marquette University and Aurora Health Care and brought on a legal team from Foley and Lardner to fight the CUB proposal before the PSC. In a decision that specifically pointed to MMAC’s arguments concerning the negative economic impact a massive increase in steam costs would have on our metro Milwaukee economy, the PSC rejected CUB’s rate increase request and retained the current cost allocation formula proposed by We Energies. This legal fight was not an inexpensive one to wage but, given the prospective costs and economic ripple effects the CUB rate hike would have had on our area and our members, it was one MMAC could not afford to sit out. We are pleased that the PSC ruled in our favor.

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A common goal of higher academic standards

by Steve Baas, MMAC VP of Governmental Affairs January 29, 2014 09:42

Over the last several months, new standards for college and career readiness known as the Common Core have been the focus of political controversy here in Wisconsin and nationwide.

New state tests scheduled to be administered in Wisconsin beginning with the 2014-15 school year that align with these standards represent a major step forward in improving the ability to assess student performance. The new tests will provide academic proficiency measures that are far more rigorous than existing standards and, equally important, will accurately and credibly benchmark Wisconsin students’ performance against their peers nationwide.

Last week, Gov. Walker proposed creation of a state commission, chaired by State Superintendent of Instruction Tony Evers, to review the Common Core standards and assure that academic benchmarks at Wisconsin schools remain up-to-date. MMAC will continue to advocate for the timely implementation of the new higher college and career readiness standards and support tools to make them even stronger moving forward.

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