Monday, February 22, 2010
Friday, February 19, 2010
In addition, a rule put in place for the 2009-10 school year that requires schools new to the program to obtain pre-accreditation seems to have dramatically reduced the number of new schools this year. Over the past decade the program was averaging 11 new schools a year, but this fall just three schools joined the program. Many, if not most, of those new schools were start-up schools, but the three schools joining the program this year are all established schools. The pre-accreditation requirement, which was intended to ensure new schools have a solid operational and educational footing, seems to be having an impact.
We also examined the potential impact of new regulations requiring schools to administer state standardized tests and to report MPCP student test scores. Starting in the 2010-2011 school year, all MPCP schools will be required to administer to MPCP students the same state standardized tests as public schools.
Nearly all schools in the program administer standardized tests and 37% of schools administer the Wisconsin state test. This rule will require the two-thirds of schools that use a test other than the state test to either switch tests or to add in the state test.
Another new rule kicks in this August, when schools will, for the first time, be required to report MPCP student test scores to the state Department of Public Instruction. Of the 112 schools in the program this year, 102 administer at least one type of standardized test and are expected to be able to report test scores in the fall.
For more information and for updated data on enrollment trends, schools gaining and losing the most MPCP students, schools’ racial make-up, and the aggregate high school drop-out rate see the full report.
Click here for complete 2009-10 data and a directory of all participating schools.
Tuesday, February 9, 2010
- After years of controversy, the $810 million Marquette Interchange reconstruction project not only happened, but happened pretty darn well. The project came in on time and on budget, and the disruption associated with it was far less onerous than many had feared.
- Milwaukee gained national attention from its decision to tear down the Park East Freeway and replace it with a ground level boulevard. While the projected economic development benefits have not come close to materializing so far, most would agree the plan has not produced more congestion and otherwise has worked well from a transportation perspective.
- The Sixth Street viaduct project showed that roads and bridges, in addition to connecting commuters between two points, can serve as neighborhood gateways and points of architectural pride. The related Canal Street reconstruction, meanwhile, has been a significant factor in the rebirth of the Menomonee Valley.
- After years of planning for the day when federal funds might be available for high speed rail, Wisconsin was rewarded with a recent $823 million federal pledge to a Milwaukee-Madison rail line. Undoubtedly, there will be plenty of future debate regarding the merits of this project, but it certainly is a sign that our state's political leaders can successfully compete for federal infrastructure dollars.
On other major transportation issues, success is more difficult to define. For example, significant progress was made on planning and building diverse support for the Kenosha-Racine-Milwaukee commuter rail line, but lack of a local funding source has prevented the project from moving forward. Meanwhile, an act of Congress broke a 17-year logjam and divvied up $91 million in federal funds reserved for a Milwaukee transit project, allowing the City of Milwaukee and Milwaukee County to independently pursue downtown streetcars and bus rapid transit, respectively. Still, lack of local funding sources looms as a major obstacle to those projects as well.
Which brings us to perhaps the region's biggest transportation infrastructure failure of the past decade: the inability of elected leaders to agree on a dedicated funding source for the Milwaukee County Transit System. As the Forum has documented in great detail, MCTS' funding problems escalated throughout the decade. Receipt of stimulus dollars to buy new buses has delayed a full-fledged crisis for now, but that crisis is expected to re-emerge within the next three years. While a new regional transit authority proposal from Governor Jim Doyle could solve the problem, its fate remains uncertain.
So, as we begin a new decade, those looking to enhance the region's mass transit infrastructure find themselves asking the same two questions they asked at the beginning of the previous decade and the decade before that: how will we pay for our basic bus service, and how can we even think about new transit options until we solve that fundamental problem first?
Friday, February 5, 2010
Recent stock market volatility has had a negative impact on public pension systems and governmental budgets. Even the best managed systems have seen unfunded liabilities grow dramatically, causing governments to rethink the basket of public services provided. Many governments are also considering cuts less noticeable to the public, but impactful to public employees.
Does the tremendous need for cost cutting measures make public sector pension reform inevitable? A recent study published by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), an association of state legislators, entitled State Pension Funds Fall Off a Cliff, discusses the losses that state government pensions have taken and pushes governments to further reform their pension systems. The authors argue that the only viable long-term solution is to replace current defined benefit plans with 401(k)-style defined contribution plans for new employees.
In addition to pursuing a defined contribution approach, many governments may seek retiree benefit reductions within the defined benefit schema. Milwaukee County, for example, has included a provision in its 2010 budget extending the normal retirement age from 60 to 64 for new employees and reducing the pension multiplier from 2% to 1.6% for new employees and for future years of service for existing employees. Though this has only been implemented so far for non-union employees, it reflects the types of adjustments being sought as governments become more strapped for cash.
Demonstrating that Milwaukee County is not alone, the Colorado Senate recently passed a measure that would make significant changes to pension benefits for current and future employees, including a five-year increase in the retirement age, a reduction in the cap on inflationary increases for pension payments from 3.5% to 2%, a five-year service increase for retirement eligibility, and increases of 2% for both employer and employee contributions to the pension system. Colorado projects a savings of $80 million annually from these pension reforms.
In addition, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick recently filed legislation that would dramatically reform pension benefits of current and future public employees. The proposal would increase the retirement age for all state employees and cap pensions at a percentage of the federal pension limit, or roughly $85,000. In addition, pension benefits would be based on the five highest-paid consecutive years of service rather than three years to better reflect an individual’s career pay. Judges would begin paying into the system as well. The state would save an estimated $2 billion over the next 30 years as a result of these changes.
This is not to say that 401(k) plans have been off the table. On the municipal level, last October, Orange County developed a two-tier pension system that gives general employees an option between the existing defined benefit pension formula and a new hybrid pension formula. Though the new hybrid pension will have a lower benefits formula, it will also include a 401(k)-type benefit that the county would match by up to 2%. This initiative is expected to save the county a projected $10 million in the first year. Orange County has also taken on other reforms that produce more modest savings, including negotiated benefit reductions for sheriff deputies.
The trends discussed above indicate that public sector employees and retirees should brace themselves for significant reductions in retirement benefits. Whether that's fair is subject to debate, but given the severe loss of assets experienced by many public pension funds, it may well be a necessity.