Wisconsin State Journal, Sept. 21, 2014
Far too many adults in Wisconsin lack literacy
How do you help children learn to read, write and do arithmetic?
You help their parents — too many of whom lack these skills.
It's an often overlooked yet important strategy that can boost student performance in Madison schools and across Wisconsin. It also is key to helping adults gain employment, earn higher wages and pull their families out of poverty.
A national campaign this week seeks to highlight the importance of adult education and family literacy. Parents in literacy classes in Madison, Eau Claire, Oconto, Marinette and Milwaukee will be meeting in the coming days with state lawmakers — Republicans and Democrats — to show their success.
Early childhood education helps young people get off to a strong start. Yet "all of those things about early childhood and third-grade reading proficiency have to depend on parents who are engaged and reading — and so many times the parents are not," said Michele Erikson, executive director of Wisconsin Literacy Inc.
One of every three Wisconsin citizens 16 or older lacks the literacy skills necessary to function above a basic level, according to Erikson. Understanding an error on a billing statement, signing up for health insurance or following directions on a medication label can be a struggle.
"Literacy isn't just reading and writing anymore," Erikson said last week. "It's about connecting to computer skills and to the work force. It's understanding how to communicate with your health provider, your doctor. It's about getting engaged in your community and involved in your child's schools.
"Those are the kinds of things happening in community-based literacy programs," dozens of which Wisconsin Literacy Inc. works with across the state.
A conference in Waukesha on Friday connected state agencies with employers, community advocates, school districts and technical colleges to find more paths to employment for people who need jobs. Besides better language skills, a lot of adults in Wisconsin struggle with math, which can limit access to big sectors of the economy, such as health care and manufacturing.
"The employers are telling us there are tons of opportunities, but they can't find the people with the skills they need," Erikson said from Friday's conference.
Gov. Scott Walker and the Wisconsin Legislature last spring boosted worker training grants by $35 million. Under a program called Fast Forward, employers agree to hire participants or increase the wages of existing employees after completion of courses at tech schools or community nonprofits.
With support from Congress, President Barack Obama this summer signed the Workforce Innovation Opportunity Act, which will help match employers with skilled workers.
Literacy and job training efforts enjoy wide bipartisan support. That's good, because our state and nation need to do better.
America is the only industrialized nation where young people are less likely to graduate from high school than their parents' generation, according to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, a nonprofit that studies and promotes public health.
That needs to change. And helping parents with literacy, numeracy and other job skills will help their children get ahead.
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Sept. 23, 2014
Islamic State: U.S. must continue to build strong coalition in Mideast and at home
The campaign against the Islamic State group intensified Monday night when the United States and five Arab allies attacked the terrorist group's headquarters in eastern Syria. President Barack Obama on Tuesday said the strikes showed that "this is not America's fight alone."
Nor should it ever become America's fight alone. The five nations that engaged in Monday's strikes need to be joined by more of their neighbors; Turkey especially should be playing a larger role. Even the Arab support that does exist seems fragile right now. That needs to change. Those countries need to be committed. It is, after all, their fight much more than ours.
Nor should this ever be Obama's fight alone. Congress gave the issue only cursory attention before it gave Obama authorization to engage the Islamic State and split town for the elections. The nation deserved to hear a real debate on this war that the U.S. has launched. It still needs to hear that debate, as Rep. Ron Kind (D-Wis.) agreed in an interview with the Editorial Board on Tuesday. Congress must do its duty and have that discussion soon. It also needs to discuss the authorization language to make sure it still passes muster, as Kind argued.
Yes, the participation of Bahrain, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates was a diplomatic victory for the U.S. and makes it clear that some Sunni Muslim states are willing to take on the extremist Sunni Muslim splinter group also known as ISIS or ISIL. It's in those nations' best interests to do so because they are the ones in the direct line of fire and whose citizens have the most to fear from a terrorist group that has been raping and slaughtering its way across the Middle East.
But while this early participation is a positive sign, Obama needs to keep building the coalition that he has decided to lead. Bringing in Turkey, for example, is a high priority for the U.S. and should be.
U.S. participation in this fight is necessary now; the Islamic State does pose a real threat to the nation's interests, and the strikes in Syria are necessary to cripple the group. But U.S. participation is viewed skeptically in the Middle East, where some see it as just another excuse for the U.S to get back into Iraq, according to a New York Times report. So the president must strive just as hard in his diplomatic, humanitarian and ideological efforts to counter the Islamic State's deft use of the media and look to bring in other strong partners.
And the president must adhere to his pledge to not commit significant U.S. troops to the fight on the ground. Committing such troops would only fuel Arab fears and would rightfully arouse strong opposition in the U.S. The ground effort should be the sole jurisdiction of Arab partners.
Obama also has to be very careful on which groups he decides to arm in the fight against the Islamic State. There are many such groups, many of which aren't very stable and who could turn those weapons against the U.S. This is hardly a new scenario.
This slope is very slippery, and while the challenge of the Islamic State needs to be met, the president should not be afraid to pull out and turn over the fight to those who have the most to lose if that becomes necessary.
The Journal Times, Sept.25, 2014
State must inform on late Voter ID change
As happens with so many issues these days, there has been heated rhetoric on both sides of the Voter ID issue.
We doubt that voter impersonation — the wrong that Voter ID is supposed to right — is as widespread as some Republicans and some conservative groups would lead you to believe.
We also doubt that voter disenfranchisement — the outcome of an identification-card requirement at the polls — would turn away as many eligible voters as some Democrats and some liberal groups would lead you to believe.
What is serious, and troubling, is the headlong rush by the state government to enforce the Voter ID law for the Nov. 4 election. The law was reinstated by a three-judge federal appeals panel on Sept. 12. (That decision was appealed to the 11-member 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which has yet to announce whether it will rehear the case.)
In the meantime, Voter ID is the law in Wisconsin. But it wasn't on Aug. 12, the day of primary elections in the Badger State. Just as city councils and village boards are required to publicly distribute the agenda for the next board meeting, it is up to the state government to inform Wisconsin residents of the change in the law.
Voter ID supporters have consistently responded to suggestions that the law would disenfranchise voters without qualifying ID by asserting that a Voter ID card would be provided at no cost to anyone needing one. That's good, since any fee for such a card would be a poll tax and therefore illegal.
How many Wisconsin residents are potentially disenfranchised by the Voter ID law? That's difficult to determine. At trial, U.S. District Judge Lynn Adelman in Milwaukee determined about 300,000 registered voters in Wisconsin do not have IDs that qualify for voting, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported Sept. 17. Since July 2011, the state Department of Motor Vehicles has offered free IDs for voting and has issued 292,000 free IDs, Jim Miller, the DMV director or field services, told the Wisconsin State Journal in a report Sunday. However, Miller said, that number includes originals, replacements and renewals. Therefore, we cannot conclude that the number of ID-less voters is as low as 8,000.
The number, however, is less relevant than these two dates: Sept. 12, the date of the decision of the federal appeals panel; and Nov. 4, the date of the election. The state is obligated to make a good-faith effort to inform voters of the law change since the last election.
If you've ever found yourself surprised that a family member, friend or co-worker had not heard a piece of news you presumed everybody knew, you should be able to recognize that not all members of the electorate are equivalently informed.
The state cannot presume that there is universal awareness of the law change regarding the vote. There have been national, state and local elections held without the ID requirement since the one Wisconsin election in which it was in effect: The Feb. 21, 2012 primary. As mentioned above, we had a primary election on Aug. 12 in which there was no ID requirement. It would not be surprising for a voter on Nov. 4 to state at his or her polling place: "I was just here in August and I wasn't required to show ID then."
We're already starting to see the TV ads attacking Gov. Scott Walker or his Democratic opponent, Mary Burke. We know we can expect to see plenty more of those. In among the campaign ads, there also should be public-service announcements informing people that Voter ID is the law.
The state was right to conduct public information campaigns in advance of the law changes regarding smoking in public places and mandatory driver seat belt use. The ID requirement is no less important, and arguably more important, since the right to vote is the right to have a voice in what laws govern us.
The number of voters affected by the Voter ID requirement may represent a small percentage of the electorate. But those people count no less than you or me. If one voter is disenfranchised by not knowing the law has changed, that is one voter too many.