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80th foes attack Davis plan
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MONROE - The two Democratic candidates hoping to unseat Rep. Brett Davis, R-Oregon, in November are taking issue with his education funding reform.

John Waelti and Kris Wisnefske, both of Monroe, question how Davis' reform will be implemented, not talking to "special interests" and the timing of introducing the plan.

Davis on Tuesday unveiled a proposal that aims to bridge the gap between revenue caps and the Qualified Economic Offer (QEO), allow voters to shift the burden of funding from property taxes to a sales tax via referendum, improve student testing by replacing the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Exam (WKCE) and encourage more spending efficiencies in areas such as health care and school administration.

"We agree on the need for K-12 reform, and we agree on the goals," Waelti said. "We just don't agree on how to get there."

Waelti questions the substance of Davis' plan, such as finding efficiencies in spending among school districts.

"I'm an economist, so I like efficiencies," Waelti said. "But if Brett can tell all these administrators across the state how to find efficiencies in their budgets, I'm sure they'd like to know."

Wisnefske also questions the efficiencies encouraged by Davis, but is more concerned about his proposals regarding the QEO and WKCE.

Davis' plan would keep the QEO - the minimum annual increase in pay and benefits a district is allowed to give its teachers - at 3.8 percent, but how it and revenue limits are aligned to narrow a funding gap would be open to negotiation. Wisnefske said there shouldn't be a QEO, "because it limits the ability of teaches in wages and benefits. We don't do that with any other public profession."

Davis calls for a reduced reliance on property taxes for school funding. He wants voters to decide on specific reforms, shifting to other revenue sources, by approving them in referendums.

"Referendums are not going to help," Wisnefske said. "We've already seen that across the state. Some districts are having to close because referendums failed."

Wisnefske also disagrees with Davis' proposal to eliminate the WKCE and replace it with what he says are more modern tests that deliver faster results.

She said the WKCE is a "well-recognized, professional test."

"What the problem with it is how we do it," Wisnefske said.

She proposes conducting the test in the spring, so results are available in October and can be worked on through the school year. Tests now are administered in the fall. Results arrive toward the end of the school year.

Davis said he relied on opinions from trusted members of his 80th Assembly District in creating his plan. He didn't "run the plan past special interest groups" to make sure the plan was OK with them, he said.

Waelti and Wisnefske said Davis should have included more people in his district in creating his plan.

Waelti assumes the special interests Davis refers to are teachers' unions.

"No matter what you think about the unions, they are a major player," Waelti said. "If anything is going to get done, everyone has to be on the same page on the same hymn note."

Wisnefske said one person cannot solve the education reform issue. She said as many members of the community who have a stake in the process need to be involved.

"You need to look at the bigger picture and have all the people at the table," Wisnefske said. "Doing it this way is like not asking a nurse to help with a hospital patient."

Davis' is running for his third term on Nov. 4. He is the only Republican seeking the position. Waelti and Wisnefske will square off in a Sept. 9 primary.

Waelti and Wisnefske both believe the announcement of Davis' reform plan less than three months before the general election is politically motivated.

"Oh yes it is, 100 percent," Wisnefske said, citing Davis' role as chairman of the Assembly Education Committee since the start of his second term. "People have said to me, 'isn't that interesting?'"

Waelti said the need for reform has been present for years.

"This should have been done a long time ago," Waelti said. "The elephant in the room has been ignored for too long."

Neither Waelti nor Wisnefske had specific plans they would propose in place of Davis' plan. Waelti would build on work done by the Wisconsin Alliance of Excellent Schools. Wisnefske cited work being done by Wisconsin Way, a group dedicated to "continuing, collaborative search for solutions to control property taxes while maintaining ... superior public services and quality of life."