Elmbrook Hosts State Assembly Candidates for Community Forum

Entrepreneur+Robin+Vining+%28D%29+discusses+school+vouchers+with+two+constituents.

Arjun Shreekumar

Entrepreneur Robin Vining (D) discusses school vouchers with two constituents.

Arjun Shreekumar, Digital Director

The Central Administrative Office filled quickly as six political hopefuls strode into the room on Wednesday, October 16th. The first event of its kind, Elmbrook hosted a candidates’ forum for Wisconsin’s 13th and 14th State Assembly District in an effort to introduce the community to the men and women aiming to represent Wauwatosa, Elm Grove, Brookfield, and Milwaukee for the next two years.

After a brief meet-and-greet, each candidate was invited to provide an opening statement describing who they are and what their campaign represents. The 13th District features a one-on-one competition between incumbent Rob Hutton (R) and former Wauwatosa Alderman Dennis McBride (D).

The 14th District is home to a more crowded field including Wisconsin State Treasurer Matt Adamczyk (R), entrepreneur Robin Vining (D), Secretary of the Wisconsin Libertarian Party Rick Braun (Lib.), and steamfitter Steven Shevey (I).

 

Arjun Shreekumar
State Treasurer Matt Adamczyk (R) explains his background as a public school teacher.

Following each opening statement, the candidates were asked five questions voted on by the audience and were given ninety seconds to respond. Given the setting of the event, each question was related to the state’s role in education. The forum was moderated by Brookfield Central Booster Club President and mentor to Mr. Farley himself, David Richter.

Question 1: What are your top priorities for education spending?

Starting off strong, each candidate gave a detailed, unique answer detailing their priorities for education spending. Hutton began by focusing on the necessity of creating opportunities for students to learn technical skills applicable to the job market immediately out of high school. He argued that more funds should be allocated towards mentorships and hands-on training.

McBride took the opportunity to briefly introduce a number of proposals, most of which he elaborated on in further answers. These included: devoting more funds specifically to special education within the UW system, erasing the practice of limiting how much districts can collect through taxes (known as revenue capping), and pausing the statewide voucher expansion – this in particular was thoroughly discussed later in the event.

Adamczyk made the case for cutting administrative costs, a central theme to his campaign. In addition to increasing funds like the other candidates suggested, Adamczyk suggested that there needs to be a more accountable way to track taxpayer dollars, referencing his time as State Treasurer as qualification to create such a system.

Invoking the philosophy of the UW system, Vining called for a doubled down emphasis on the “Wisconsin Idea” – that the universities can drive Wisconsin’s progress if treated properly. If the governmnet increase investment, Vining argued, the economy will grow and the state community will be brought together.

Arjun Shreekumar
Secretary Braun (Lib.) shares his experience pursuing education after leaving the military.

In a similar line of reasoning to Hutton, Braun said that his top priority for the state’s education agenda was technical skill training at the secondary and post-secondary levels. In particular, he suggested more investment in field work like that of Brookfield East and Central’s LAUNCH program.

Finally, Chevey proposed the creation of a new system by which schools keep track of student records. His system would make sure that every teacher has an accessible way to see the standardized testing history of their students, making it easier to tailor individualized plans over the course of a year.

Interestingly enough, every candidate placed strong emphasis on restoring power to local governments, municipalities, and school boards. Regardless of where they lay on the political spectrum, each speaker made it clear that Madison should not be the primary driver of education decisions in the state of Wisconsin.

Question 2: How will you address rising healthcare costs?

From this point onward, the candidates’ responses were more or less typical of their party affiliation. In particular, Democrats Vining and McBride coupled their responses while Adamczyk and Hutton built off each others’ arguments to strengthen their side of the ticket. Coincidentally, Braun and Chevey seemed to speak along the same lines as well, creating what almost felt like a discussion of three teams.

Central to this debate was the Medicaid expansion rolled out with the Affordable Care Act. Crafted by the Obama administration, one of the ACA’s key features was a federal mandate that increased the number of people who be covered by Medicaid, the national government’s insurance program for those with limited income and/or resources.

In 2012, the Supreme Court ruled that states could choose whether or not they would accept these conditions (and the money provided by the government to aid with increased coverage), sparking a national discussion over how much the government should participate in the healthcare market.

Arjun Shreekumar
Assemblyman Rob Hutton (R) and former Wauwatosa Alderman Dennis McBride (D) discuss the effects of the Medicaid expansion in other midwestern states.

McBride and Vining offered a harsh rebuke of Governor Walker’s decision to reject these funds, arguing that the money would have helped reduce the skyrocketing prices we see in today’s medical care industry. If they were elected, the two would expand BadgerCare, the state’s Medicaid program, to cover the supposed losses incurred by the Governor.

On the other side, Hutton and Adamczyk made the case that the Medicaid expansion was but a short fix to a problem that would increase Wisconsin’s budget deficit over time. Adamczyk continued that one of the state’s largest problems is a record number of hospital closures; one of his priorities is to monitor these failing institutions and prevent them from shutting down.

Somehow managing to avoid getting in the middle of the Medicaid debate, Chevey and Braun focused on the issue of price transparency. Bringing up examples of success in the dentistry and optometry, the two both came to the conclusion that educating citizens about all their options was the first step to fixing the broken healthcare market.

Question 3: What changes, if any, would you make to Act 10?

Act 10 proved to be one of the most heated topics in the room. In 2011, governor Walker signed one of Wisconsin’s most controversial set of that fundamentally changed how unions and the government interacted when creating contracts. Supporters claimed the changes allowed the state more flexibility in their negotiations with public sector employees, while opponents claimed that flexibility made it much harder for those employees to secure adequate working conditions.

In a slight reconfiguration of alliances, Vining, Chevey, and McBride all came out in strong opposition to the bill, arguing that before the reforms, unions were a major part teaching’s draw; when represented as a large group, public employees were able to negotiate for better salaries and benefits.

Arjun Shreekumar
Steamfitter Steven Chevey (I) shares his brother’s experience of growing up with special needs.

Ready to refute the claims made by their opponents, Braun, Hutton, and Adamzcyk defended the budget-saving aspects of the bill and made the case that wages actually increased post-Act 10. They added that removal of union-mandated healthcare plans allowed districts to renegotiate their healthcare benefits with employees and save money locally.

Braun also countered that he believes the main motivation for teachers is the sense of engagement they get with students, therefore the most important thing the government can do is to give them flexibility over how they teach and enable them to make the greatest impact possible.

Question 4: Do you support a comprehensive plan to fund public schools?

This question was largely a wash – even the candidates themselves agreed that there was not much difference between their views on the issue. All six of them were of the opinion that a sustainable, comprehensive funding plan for public education is necessary moving forward. Some began the discussion of voucher schools, but the majority of those arguments were made when asked the next question.

Question 5: Do you agree with Governor Walker’s expansion of the Voucher School Program?

By far the most voted for question, the audience waited with baited breath to see what the candidates would say regarding one of education’s most pressing issues. A relatively new system in Wisconsin, voucher programs (formally known as Private School Choice Programs) are state-funded scholarships that pay for students to attend private schools.

Adamczyk and Hutton argued that the voucher program is a tool to allow families access to the best schools possible. Not all schools achieve at the same rate, and the two made the case that parents should be able to send their child to the school that performs the best. To do otherwise would be to restrict citizens of their right to make the best lives for their children.

Braun qualified this position, asserting that while the intent of the voucher system is good, the execution has failed. He instead believes in the creation of a program similar to that for veterans seeking education, with the government paying direct grants to schools of students from lower income families.

Finally, McBride, Chevey, and Vining argued against the notion of vouchers. Their reasoning was based off the fact that voucher schools are not necessarily held accountable to a school board or a governing body. Because these schools are private, they do not have to abide by the same standards and regulations as private schools – the three claimed that this leads to a decrease in quality of education.

Arjun Shreekumar
Community members discuss the candidates and issues up for vote in the November 6th midterm elections.

While all of the candidates looked ready to continue their discussion, the time arrived for closing statements. Each gave a three minute summary of their points and made a last plea for the support of the audience for the November 6th midterm elections.

As the event drew to a close many remained in the room debating one another on some of the key issues, asking questions to the candidates, or just catching up with their friends in the community. With so many candidates and such a diverse and controversial set of opinions, there was certainly much to talk about. 

A full video of the forum will be posted on elmbrookschools.org beginning October 18th.