Two Americas

Posted on Categories Congress & Congressional Power, Health Care, Public1 Comment on Two Americas

The federal government is now shutdown. What happens next is anyone’s guess, especially since we hit the debt ceiling in two weeks and still have to pass an actual budget to fund the government. To get out of the current stalemate, one compromise that has been floated is for Congress to pass a continuing resolution – funding the government until November – along with the “Vitter amendment.” The Vitter Amendment would prohibit Congress from exempting itself from Obamacare. So what is the controversy over Congress and its staffers having to purchase healthcare on the exchanges? What are the issues with Congress exempting itself from Obamacare? And what does it say about our legislature?

In 2009, during the peak of the legislative debate over healthcare reform, Senator Chuck Grassley (R) inserted an amendment in Obamacare that required all members of Congress and their staffers to purchase health insurance on the newly-created health insurance exchanges. Of course, members of Congress wouldn’t be alone in doing this. Starting today, millions of Americans are utilizing the exchanges. Continue reading “Two Americas”

The New Orleans Miracle: A Blueprint for Milwaukee?

Posted on Categories Education & Law, Milwaukee, Milwaukee Public Schools, Public1 Comment on The New Orleans Miracle: A Blueprint for Milwaukee?

rsz_3texas-schools-border-wide-horizontalRecently, I had the good fortune of attending a presentation by Patrick Dobard, Superintendent of the Louisiana Recovery School District. It focused on the Louisiana Recovery School District program and how it helped to transform the poor, failing New Orleans schools – decimated by Hurricane Katrina – into one of the highest performing districts in the state. Given its success, it may serve as a blueprint for reforming the struggling Milwaukee Public School system.

In 2003, tired of having some of the worst schools in the country, the Louisiana state legislature created the Recovery School District. This was a special school district that would contain underperforming or failing schools throughout the state. A public school in Louisiana would be put in the Recovery District if it was underperforming for four consecutive years. After Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, the state legislature put the majority of New Orleans’ schools in the Recovery District. The District’s superintendent, Dobard, is appointed by the state.

The concept of the Recovery School District is actually relatively simple – a superintendent is given wide-ranging powers with the goal of improving education in the District. The superintendent, with relative ease, can close schools, merge schools together, and turn traditional public schools into charter schools. For their part, parents and children in the Recovery District have more freedom to decide where to attend school.

The policy rationale behind the Recovery District is that school accountability, reduced red tape, and parental empowerment will appropriately incentivize educators to perform. Continue reading “The New Orleans Miracle: A Blueprint for Milwaukee?”

In Case You Missed It: We’re Still Heading Towards a Debt Crisis

Posted on Categories Congress & Congressional Power, Federal Law & Legal System, Political Processes & Rhetoric, Public1 Comment on In Case You Missed It: We’re Still Heading Towards a Debt Crisis

These past few weeks have seen their share of crisis and controversy in the nation’s capital. But, yesterday’s news from the CBO is significant and should not be missed. It will play a major role in the debt ceiling and budget debates that will highlight the next two months.

Yesterday, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released its annual report on the long-term budget projections for the federal government. Their conclusion: despite the sequestration cuts and tax hikes on the rich from last year, the United States is still on a path towards a debt crisis because we have not reigned in our spending on entitlements.

According to the CBO, “[t]he $2.1 trillion in spending cuts passed by Congress in 2011 won’t curb the growth of entitlements that poses a fiscal-crisis risk in the next 25 years.” (Bloomberg). Consequently, by 2038, the public debt will be equal to the total output of the U.S. economy. And as The New York Times described it, “lawmakers have been cutting the wrong kind of federal spending as they try to avoid the unsustainable buildup of debt that is projected in the coming decades.”

Continue reading “In Case You Missed It: We’re Still Heading Towards a Debt Crisis”

The DOJ’s Agenda to Shut Down School Choice

Posted on Categories Education & Law, Public4 Comments on The DOJ’s Agenda to Shut Down School Choice

First off, Dean Kearney, thank you for recommending me to be the September Alumni Blogger of the Month.  It’s much appreciated and, I’m sure, will be a rewarding experience.

For everyone else, I’m CJ Szafir, associate counsel and education policy director at the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (“WILL”) – a nonprofit legal organization that works to advance the public interest in law, individual liberty, constitutional government, and a robust civil society.  We have offices in Milwaukee.  The president and general counsel of WILL is Rick Esenberg, who is also an adjunct professor at Marquette Law.  Prior to WILL, I worked in the state legislature, serving as policy adviser to the Senate Majority Leader.  I graduated from Marquette Law in 2011.

As noted, I work primarily with education reform and, truly, this is about an exciting time as any to be in such a field, as evident by the state recently expanding school choice statewide.  For all the law students reading this, I never anticipated working in education law and policy; it’s a perfect example of how life can lead you to unexpected places.

My optimism and excitement aside, it’s with great trepidation that my first blog post be on a topic that will be unsettling to many – the United States Department of Justice has a political agenda to shut down school choice.  Think this is an overstatement?  Consider the following two major developments from the summer, one of which is in our backyard. Continue reading “The DOJ’s Agenda to Shut Down School Choice”