Editor's note: This contribution by the late journalist I.F. Stone first appeared in our January 1975 magazine.
Major changes could be in store for Wisconsin’s public education system if Tim Sullivan, former CEO of Bucyrus International, Inc. and Scott Walker’s Workforce Development czar gets his way. On Tuesday he presented a report entitled, “The Road Ahead: Restoring Wisconsin’s Workforce Development” to a joint meeting of the Career and Workforce Development Council and the Governor’s Workforce Investment Council.
The 126-page report includes fourteen recommendations for increasing and coordinating resources for training children and unemployed workers to meet the needs of manufacturing businesses in Wisconsin. Half of those are focused on Wisconsin’s public K-12 and higher education systems.
The boldest of these is a recommendation to overhaul how schools are funded. Sullivan is promoting Performance-Based Funding as a way to “create the right atmosphere for (public education leaders) to make the right decisions.” What Sullivan considers the “right decisions” involve cutting general education classes from technical colleges, tailoring curriculum at all levels to the needs of local manufacturing businesses, and ensuring that no research and development activities are conducted at public institutions unless they have commercial potential.
As an explanation for funding schools based on yet-to-be-defined performance standards, Sullivan said, “We have to stop looking at what’s coming in the front door and instead look at what’s going out the back door in terms of performance outcomes.” Sullivan represented this concept in his PowerPoint presentation of the report with a slide of an oil pipeline snaking through a desert.
Another recommendation is an increase in tuition for students at public colleges and universities who have already completed one degree. Sullivan had this to say about the proposal: “I don’t want to subsidize a second degree because a person made the wrong choice for their first degree. You can’t ask the taxpayer to pay for a do-over. Someone’s got to step up and use the stick so people rise up to reality.”
Expanding financial aid for working people to attend technical college by means of tax credits for their employers, establishing competency tests as a short cut to earning a degree and integrating job vacancy data software into public elementary and secondary school guidance counseling are also recommended by Sullivan in the report.
The other recommendations involve centralizing the coordination of federal, state and private investment in economic and workforce development initiatives in the Department of Workforce Development, a state agency with a secretary appointed by the Governor, which may soon be semi-privatized along the lines of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, formerly the Department of Commerce.
At the end of the report are three “other considerations” that Sullivan believes will take more time and effort to implement because they involve sweeping governance and policy changes. Increasing employers’ contributions to Unemployment Insurance, reforming Wisconsin’s tax code to place more of a burden on consumption taxes and further reducing property and income taxes, and encouraging international immigration to import more and cheaper labor in order to attract businesses to the state are three initiatives that Sullivan believes are vital for the future of Wisconsin’s economic well-being.
The report will serve as a basis for discussion for the two councils that met on Tuesday as they develop policy recommendations, budget proposals and new legislation. Sullivan hopes they will have solid proposals to put forward at the beginning of the new legislative session this coming January.
Rebecca Kemble reports for The Progressive magazine and website. She also participates when she can in the Solidarity Sing Along.