Friday, March 27, 2009

It’s Time for a Game-Changer: Abolish MPS

Milwaukee Public Schools has failed. It has failed parents, it has failed the community, it has failed Wisconsin taxpayers and we have failed to meet our moral obligation to educate our children.

Here’s the thing; we know it’s a failure and for one reason or another, year after year, politicians do nothing but use MPS as a pawn. Critics cite MPS as the result of all that is wrong with our educational system, a financial drain, the black eye on Wisconsin’s education scorecard, an adult jobs program for teachers, administrators and bureaucrats.

Supporters of the district argue that MPS struggles because, class sizes are too large, it doesn’t have enough teachers or money, or that the students have different social needs and backgrounds than the rest of the state.

Both sides use MPS to make an argument and meet their agenda, but in the end teachers continue to get raises in salary or benefits, board members get re-elected, taxpayers statewide get the tab and children pay the price.

It’s a seemingly endless cycle, and it’s our job to break it. People have been playing this game for generations and we’re all losing. The failure of Milwaukee Public Schools can no longer be seen as a “Milwaukee problem” to the rest of Wisconsin. It’s time for a game-changer. It’s time for action. It’s time to tell the children of Milwaukee that failure is unacceptable.

I learned by serving on a local school board that public education works best when the entire community takes ownership of its schools; when parents and teachers and principals and school board members all work together. In Milwaukee, an expansive and ineffective bureaucracy stands in the way of this type of harmony.

This is what I am going to do about it.

My plan is to abolish MPS. I want to break the district into eight new, independent school districts and end the era of one superintendent for 200 plus schools. Each district will have its own identity and its own newly elected school board. The only things the districts will share are the common goals of empowering parents by localizing control of education and focusing on preparing children for careers or college.

My legislation asks the Wisconsin Legislature to stand up and acknowledge that we are failing Milwaukee’s school children. It sets in place a process of orderly transition to new districts and district leadership by specific dates and it protects the existing Milwaukee Parental Choice program.

What it does not do is complicate matters by legislating details about where district borders will be drawn. It does not fire teachers or dictate where they will report to work. It does not pre-select new school board members or necessitate any current administrative employees lose their jobs. It wouldn’t raise taxes or make budgeting decisions that should be left to parents and board members.

Milwaukee and Wisconsin are socially and politically complex. This complexity has a tendency to slow progress and resist change even when change is desperately needed. Passage of this bill will be a test of how complex and diverse groups can come together to make real change for the betterment of Milwaukee’s children and the betterment of our entire state.

It won’t be easy; but it’s our obligation.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Kanavas/Vukmir Introduce Bill to Dissolve MPS

Here is a copy of the press release I issued with State Representative Leah Vukmir today:

Kanavas/Vukmir Introduce Bill to Dissolve MPS

(Madison, WI)…Earlier today, State Senator Ted Kanavas (R-Brookfield) and State Representative Leah Vukmir (R-Wauwatosa) introduced a bill to dissolve Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) and permanently replace it with eight smaller, independent school districts.

MPS will never change on its own because it’s controlled by people committed to the status quo. Right now the status quo is failure. I honestly don’t know how the folks in MPS leadership sleep at night knowing they have enabled failure and done nothing aggressive enough to change MPS,” said Kanavas.

Currently, MPS has one superintendent, 207 schools and over 87,000 students. The bill would permanently dissolve the district and replace it with 8 smaller more manageable and accountable school districts. Each of the new districts would be independent of one another allowing citizens to elect their own local school boards.

“This legislation will end the Vilet Street bureaucratic road block to education reform in Milwaukee. Smaller districts will enable parents and teachers to have more control over their schools,” Vukmir stated.

If passed, the bill would require new school board members of each district to be elected in the spring of 2013 with students beginning classes in new districts that September. Legislators have until April 10, 2009 to cosponsor the bill.

To learn more about Senator Kanavas or the 33rd Senate District, please visit


Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Wisconsin Jobs Now Task Force

This coming Monday in Brown Deer Republicans in the Wisconsin State Legislature will be holding a Wisconsin Jobs Now Task Force meeting. The task force, being hosted by State Senator Randy Hopper and State Representative Rich Zipperer, will feature business leaders from around the Milwaukee metro area eager to discuss the business and tax climate in Southeastern Wisconsin. Please join them and have your voice heard.

Date: Monday, March 23, 2009
Time: 1:00pm-3:00pm
Location: BioResearch, Inc. 9275 N. 49th Street Suite 150, Brown Deer, WI

For more information feel free to visit the Wisconsin Jobs now Task Force at:

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Check out my recent interview on Milwaukee Public Radio

Please take a few minutes and listen to my recent appearance on Milwaukee Public Radio. The show aired Sunday night and featured several guests discussing issues in the State Capitol. My part of the show begins in the 27th minute (27:45).

Friday, March 6, 2009

Conservative Insurgency

Wow...what a great evening last night. Forty people in a living room joining forces to push a real change agenda! Many thanks to Clark and Darlene for hosting. I'm looking forward to watching this group flourish.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Wisconsin Arts Day and the Creative Economy

Wisconsin Arts Day and the Creative Economy

Yesterday I had the pleasure of participating in the opening festivities for Wisconsin Arts Day in Madison. This year's theme, "art is not a frill," reflects the sober seriousness of our state's creative coalition and their efforts to protect a very delicate growth industry in Wisconsin. Jobs in the creative economy - in graphic arts, acting, film-making and others - are not lifetime-secure employment. They are frequently short-term, project-based opportunities that draw on the skills and passion of Wisconsinites.

In order to keep our creative economy alive, and especially if we aim to grow it for future generations, Wisconsin needs to foster creativity and lure those projects to our state.
The Wisconsin Film Bill did just that. Since it was was enacted in 2007, the film bill has been attracting creative jobs into our state. While direct job creation was a big success, the projects we attracted also boosted business for our hotels, caterers, and other sectors. If you asked me how I judge the success of economic policy, I'd ask you if we created jobs and boosted commerce as a result. In this case, we did both. Yet somehow the Governor's budget would railroad the film bill and future opportunities it would create. Governor Doyle's backward-looking effort, as you can imagine, has been met by confusion and outright disappointment.
During my brief remarks to attendees at Wisconsin Arts Day it really hit me. The people who are counting on us to foster these opportunities aren't Hollywood producers or big-name stars (contrary to the Doyle Administration's wrong-headed assertions). The people who are counting on us live in Waukesha and Green Bay and Sheboygan. Unless we keep Wisconsin a friendly place to do business, our creative coalition will watch opportunities pass right by on their way someplace else. So will our small business owners. Rest assured, I'm not going to let those people down.

I noticed today that a theatrical trailer has been released for the new Johnny Depp film "Public Enemies." Congratulations to all the Wisconsinites involved in the making and support of that film. Your creativity and hard work are a real tribute to our state.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Run your government like your home...

I just did my afternoon check of the Journal-Sentinel's website and the Dow Jones Industrial Average closed below 7,000 this afternoon for the first time since 1997. To refresh everyone's memory, in October 2007 the Dow reached it's all-time record high of 14,087 amid beliefs that the American economy would continue its fast-paced expansion. What a difference 16 months can make. I don't know about you, but my wife and I won't even look at our retirement accounts anymore. Why bother?

Families across Wisconsin and the country are having this same exact conversation. What lessons do you take away from the situation we're in? How do you protect the financial stability of your family in light of the wild fluctuations we see in every aspect of the global economy? With college tuition to plan for and normal, run-of-the-mill expenses, this is just one of those moments that requires careful, thoughtful discussion about how to move forward. For the Kanavas family, that means spending less and planning better. It means finding recipes to take advantage of leftovers. It means buying the store brand and looking for the best prices at the gas pump. It means cutting back on big purchases, but in extreme cases waiting for them to go on sale before we pay cash to buy (I want to see dust build up on my credit card).

That's the conversation I'm having as a husband and father.

As a member of the Wisconsin Legislature, that's the same conversation I want to be having about state government. My friends in the Democratic Party like to suggest that Republicans sound like a broken record because we keep arguing that tax cuts work. But what they miss is that our preoccupation with scaling back government spending and working to eliminate public debt is simply a page out of the Kanavas family playbook. We share it with thousands of families across Wisconsin and it's about time state government joins us.