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Conservatively Speaking

State Senator Mary Lazich (R-New Berlin) represents parts of four counties: Milwaukee, Waukesha, Racine, and Walworth. Her Senate District 28 includes New Berlin, Franklin, Greendale, Hales Corners, Muskego, Waterford, Big Bend, the town of Vernon and parts of Greenfield, East Troy, and Mukwonago. Senator Lazich has been in the Legislature for more than a decade. She considers herself a tireless crusader for lower taxes, reduced spending and smaller government.

Best Practices Review: Truancy

Audits


Having served on the Legislative Audit Committee in the past, I have a keen interest in the high caliber work of the Legislative Audit Bureau (LAB) that always impresses. Under a requirement of state law, the highly-regarded LAB conducts studies to determine local government practices that can save costs or deliver services with greater efficiency. These reviews are called Best Practices reports.

The LAB has completed a Best Practices review of
efforts by Wisconsin’s public school districts to reduce truancy. Wisconsin statutes define  truancy as any absence for all or part of a school day for which a pupil’s parent or guardian has not notified school officials of the reason for the absence. A habitual truant is a pupil who is absent without an acceptable excuse for all or part of five or more days in a semester.


During the 2006-07 school year, the most recent year data was available, the LAB found:
 
 
  • 9.3 percent of pupils in kindergarten through grade 12 were habitually truant.
  • The habitual truancy rate varied among districts in the 2006-07 school year, ranging from 0 in 47 districts to a high of 58.2 percent in the Menomonie Indian district.
  • The 20 largest school districts account for nearly three quarters of habitual truants.
  • The Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) district had a habitual truancy rate of 46.3 percent during the 2006-07 school year.
  • The older a student gets, the more apt the student is to be truant. Habitual truancy rates ranged from 4.5 percent for fourth graders to 17.2 percent for ninth graders.
This finding by the LAB is quite interesting. The Department of Public Instruction (DPI) is required by law to collect attendance data and report certain data to federal agencies. However, DPI is not required to review or approve school districts’ attendance policies, truancy plans, or truancy reduction efforts.

The LAB reports that during the past four school years, DPI has administered federal funds totaling $1.9 million for districts with high pupil poverty rates, higher habitual truancy rates, and inadequate yearly progress as measured by the federal No Child Left Behind Act.
 Eight school districts have received federal truancy funds. Here are the districts and their latest habitual truancy rates:

Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS):  46.3%

Menominee Indian School District: 58.2%

Green Bay Area Public School District
: 9.2%

The School District of Beloit:  33.6%

The School District of Janesville: 19.8%
 

Kenosha
Unified School District: 19.0%

Madison Metropolitan School District: 8.5%

The Racine Unified School District: 8.5%


Habitual truancy rates at three of the six MPS schools that received federal truancy reduction grants during the 2006-07 school year increased from the previous year.The best analysis that can be offered about the effect between federal funding and truancy rates is that the results are mixed.

The LAB found that school d
istricts have generally complied with state statutes and have drawn up and monitored attendance policies and have contacted families about unexcused absences. Districts have instituted truancy plans and have conducted reviews of their own plans and plans in other districts. The variety of truancy reduction programs includes social workers at elementary schools contacting students and families to discuss ways of reducing tardiness. At the high school level, night schools, schools within schools, and local ordinances to punish truants have been adopted.

The effectiveness of the ordinances has been mixed. The LAB writes, “For example, in Kenosha Unified School District Number 1, 79.0 percent of pupils who received truancy citations did not comply with the order to attend school. In contrast, 55.0 percent of Racine Unified School District pupils who received citations had fewer instances of truancy after being cited.”

The LAB recommends that school districts consistently review compliance with statutory requirements for attendance monitoring and truancy planning, monitor habitual truancy at each grade level and develop strategies to minimize truancy in the early grades, identify alternative programming to help truant high school pupils obtain high schoolDiplomas, involve parents and guardians in truancy-related matters, consider the full range of available sanctions for addressing truancy, and evaluate and modify, asnecessary, their truancy reduction efforts on a regular basis.

DPI should, according to the LAB, promote the sharing of cost-effective information about truancy reduction efforts among school districts.

I commend the LAB for once again conducting an outstanding Best Practices review.

Here is the full LAB report.

Remembering 9/11


Thursday marks the seventh anniversary of the terrorist attacks at the World Trade Center.

To mark the fifth anniversary of 9/11, I wrote a column about my emotional experience touring the World Trade Center site. You can read my column here.

Wisconsin makes little progress improving business climate

Business


Wisconsin
continues its unfortunate pattern of being one of the worst states in the nation to do business.

Forbes.com has released its third annual Top States for Business report, and the news remains horrendous for Wisconsin. Wisconsin ranks #43 on the list of the best states for business. Wisconsin’s 2007 rank was #44 and its 2006 rank was #39.

Forbes.com rated the states on six different criteria: business costs, labor, regulatory environment, economic climate, growth prospects, and quality of life.

Here is how Wisconsin ranked in each of the six categories:

1) Business Costs- Wisconsin ranks #37, down from #34 last year. This index is based on cost of labor, energy and taxes.

2) Labor-Wisconsin ranks #37, up from #38 last year. This index measures educational attainment, net migration and projected population growth.

3) Regulatory Environment- Wisconsin ranks #37, up from #44 last year. This index measures regulatory and tort climate, incentives, transportation and bond ratings.

4) Economic Climate-Wisconsin ranks #26, up from #38 last year. This index reflects job, income and gross state product growth as well as unemployment and presence of big companies.

5) Growth Prospects-Wisconsin ranks #46, down from #33 last year. This index reflects projected job, income and gross state product growth as well as business openings/closings and venture capital investments.

6) Quality of Life-Wisconsin ranks #16, down from #8 last year. This is an index of schools, health, crime, cost of living and poverty rates.

The rankings compiled by Forbes are revealing. Wisconsin continues its proud tradition of being a great place to live, given our high quality of life, although it is sad to see the state drop out the top ten in that category. In all other categories, Wisconsin’s business climate is woeful. 

Wisconsin taxes and spends too much, the state over-regulates, our income growth rate is one of the lowest in the country, and the brain drain is costing us many of our best and brightest workers.

The Forbes.com report is another wake-up call to Wisconsin to take dramatic measures to significantly improve our business climate. How did surrounding states fare? Minnesota ranks #11, Iowa ranks #22, Indiana ranks #25, Ohio ranks #39, Illinois ranks #35, and Michigan ranks #47.

Here are all the state rankings and the full story from Forbes.com.
  

Fall is just around the corner

News you can use

Read more

It's the spending


Big government is alive, big time in Washington D.C. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) is projecting a near-record federal budget deficit of $407 billion, more than double last year's figure. Red ink will spill into 2009 when the deficit could skyrocket to $438 billion, or even more as the federal government assumes control of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The CBO blames the booming deficit on the sputtering economy, the housing slump, weak financial markets, and expensive food and energy costs.

While the deficit is serious, the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reports what is more troublesome is the excessive amount of federal spending. The problem isn’t how much we borrow, the Bush tax cuts, or the war on terror. Putting it in simple terms, the WSJ reports, “Rather than sort through priorities, Congress is spending more on just about everything.”

The “pay as you go” promise has flopped as “paygo” violations and earmarks have escalated since Democrats took control of Congress in 2006.

The WSJ has a chart that displays runaway federal spending in various categories from 2001-2008. The paper correctly asserts that voters this November need to seriously consider which candidates are best suited to curb “Congressional appetites.”

You can read the WSJ article here.

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