04 Dec

Conservatives and “Right to Work” – It’s a trap!

Conservatives have set a linguistic trap for progressives – and they are taking the bait. The trap is the metaphor “right to work,” which even progressives are using again and again. As we know from cognitive science research, even negating the “right to work” metaphor will reinforce the conservative message and entire frame, thereby strenghtening it in public discourse. Here’s an example from Michigan that unconsciously reinforces the conservative frame:

When we use the term “right to work” or “job creator,” it activates the conservative frame physically present in your brain, without you even knowing it. The critical moral principle in this frame is that of personal success through pursuit of self-interest and profit gained from being disciplined. Anyone who is not successful deserves their punishment (poverty or unemployment) as a result of being undisciplined, and is therefore immoral. The “Market” itself is considered a moral actor, the ultimate decider, where the wealthy and successful are the most moral. The Market punishes those who are undiscliplined, and unions and The Public are immoral in that they interfere with the pursuit of one’s own self interest (profit). One can see how “right to work” directly evokes the conservative frame of economics.

In the conservative frame, corporations (and the wealthy) have the moral right (liberty) to employ, pay, and fire whomever they see fit, with no regard for anything but their own pursuit and maximization of profit. A profitable, successful business is moral in the conservative frame. Labor unions and The Public (government) are immoral, as they inhibit the pursuit of profit. “Right to work” is about the “rights” of corporations, the “job creators,” to maximize their pursuit of profit – considered to be moral in the conservative frame.

Conservatives hide and ignore the truth that without The Public, our private prosperity and freedoms would not be possible. Consider everything we do through government (all of us) for each other, providing us all with greater opportunity as “We the People.” Granted, we have a long way to go…

As progressives, we must find effective language to evoke OUR frame of the economy instead of always evoking and reinforcing conservative ideas. Here’s how:

Start with a simple, fundamental truth about our economy that is systemic. “Workers are profit creators.”  No one is hired by a business or corporation who does not create profit for that business. Jobs are not created out of thin air. People are employed because businesses have the opportunity to increase profit from the work performed by employees. This is 100% true! Say it over and over again.

As profit creators, workers deserve (and corporations have a responsibility to pay) a fair, living wage portion of those profits they helped to create! Further, unions provide those workers protection from greedy corporations, and provide workers with a way to organize and negotiate for their fair portion of profit. Without a union, the individual worker is functionally a serf, having no power to negotiate – especially in a down employment economy. A corporation will always minimize the workers’ portion of profit without a union!

A more important truth about unions, is that the rights they protect and freedoms they provide apply to everyone. Consider the 40 hour week, overtime pay, fair wage standards, protection to uphold standards, etc. Our state and communities are far better off with unions who can fairly and democratically represent the profit creators, so they have a fair, living wage to pursue a prosperous and happy life. So that workers and communities are protected from corporate greed. Just as the Public is necessary for freedom and democracy, so are unions…so say it and express it effectively!

What do we call this pending legislation then, so as not to reinforce the conservative frame?

Never say “right to work” again! Call it what it is. It’s a “corporate greed and servitude bill.” It’s also a “wage theft bill,” in that it takes away the right of the profit creators to receive a fair wage portion of profit they helped to create!

Say these things in interviews, letters to the editor, to your friends and neighbors, to get it into public discourse –

Workers are profit creators!

This is a corporate greed and servitude bill!

This is a wage theft bill!

Consider how much more powerful this FRED graph is, in the context of the “workers are profit creators” frame of economics:

The above graph now demonstrates a morally intolerable situation, where the workers who are creating the huge spike in profits (red line), are denied a fair living wage portion of those profits as wages (blue line) because of greed. How can we tolerate legislation that would further encourage corporate servitude, greed, and wage theft!

These values-based principles and ideas are critical to get into public discourse now! It will take a concerted effort from anyone active on this (and every) issue, as they are all connected.

17 Nov

Critical to Public Education – define the frame, communicate the vision

Public education advocates have shied away from taking sides in the political battle for the future of education. “We shouldn’t be mixing our kids’ education with politics ….. it’s unseemly,” the theory goes. “Besides, we don’t want to make the other side angry.” Get over it, folks. That boat has sailed.

It doesn’t matter whether you are Republican or Democrat, conservative or liberal, red or green, public education in your hometown is at a crossroads. Recent Wisconsin history shows what could happen, and the most recent election only solidified the grip on our public schools of their most strident critics and powerful opponents.

You don’t have to join a political party to influence change, either. All you have to do is act on your instincts that Wisconsin’s public schools are the heart of every community in the state. They anchor our local economies and provide a “sense of us” for everyone. Public schools show young adults what’s possible and help them figure out how to make “the possible” happen.

Right or left, public education is the foundation for what is good about the Badger State.

Our future—and the future of every one of our public school children—depends on us effectively defining the debate and discussion in the coming days, weeks, months, and years based on our common values and the moral imperative of educating future generations.

Most public education advocates understand the crisis. For example, we have borne witness to the rapid march of privatization through the expanding taxpayer-subsidized private school scheme.

What is different now is that anti-public education forces are even more entrenched and powerful. They have public schools in their sights and the ability to pass whatever legislation they see fit. While we all stand at the door to stop them, we must ask ourselves if we are prepared—as a loose organization—to counter the well-organized and funded forces arrayed against our children, our public schools, and our communities.

The lack of a cohesive and positive message and vision led to the continuing disaster for Wisconsin’s public schools. The failure was recently well documented by George Lakoff. The post-election vacuum Lakoff describes will be filled by whoever acts first. Our first job, as public education leaders and advocates, is to fill it with positive messaging and framing that will define the upcoming discussion around public education.

This memo will give public education advocates the frame and message necessary to fill that void. In order for us to be successful, we must follow some fundamental guidelines that are critical to elevating public discourse on this critical issue:

  • We must all be immediately consistent, repetitive, and collaborative to get this message and our core values into public discourse. This will provide needed context for our stories, anecdotes, and facts.
  • We must avoid giving in to fear and vitriol. It is our responsibility to provide a positive, constructive, and progressive vision to our communities as an effective counter to the anti-public education forces. It is important to listen carefully to “the other side” in order to find their vulnerabilities and where they share our progressive values. Remember, Republicans and Democrats share progressive values—especially about their public schools. If we fail to listen, we miss opportunities to connect with them.
  • Use the ideas, language, and values below to evoke the unconscious core values most people share. Then follow up with personal, local, and truthful stories and examples consistent with those ideas, language, and values. It is important to realize that people understand government and policy at a basic, very personal level.

Based on those ideas, how do we retake the high ground and save our public schools?

If we are to lead against privatization we need to use the best tools we have. We can and must present a completely different moral vision of education ….. a vision that is MUCH MORE important than saying “education only exists so people can be career ready and get a job.” We have a responsibility to plant a tree in whose shade we will never sit. It is our moral obligation to invest in our future by investing in our children and their public education.

  • Public education is a moral issue and we should talk about it in those terms. All politics are moral and as public education advocates we are “moral actors.” Our schools are what is good and right for Wisconsin, so talk about it in those terms. People will respond to our leadership and vote on our shared morals and values. They will not respond to or vote on a laundry list of facts and issues. Take the moral high-ground and elevate discourse above that old politics of fear. Connect with your friends and neighbors of all political persuasions about their local public schools.
  • Express WHY public education matters to your community. You need to express positive and proactive visions and ideas that retake the moral high ground and put us on the offensive. It’s time to force those who want to privatize public education and rip out the heart of our communities to defend themselves on OUR terms.
  • Keep using the message that public schools are the heart of our communities. This has been effective in elevating public schools to be about what is good in their families and their lives on a daily basis. For many, “their schools” helped to make them a success. Keep reminding folks of the fact that great public schools make for great communities. You can’t have one without the other!
  • Talk about public schools as a moral obligation that provides opportunity and freedom for all children. Public education is the only institution where all children learn necessary skills and knowledge. Remind people “their schools” are where youngsters become young adults ….. where they learn what is meaningful and what is possible in their lives, just as their parents and grandparents have. Who among us have not had their lives changed for the better because of their public school experience? Reinforce the philosophy behind public education and that without it there is no democracy and no freedom.

These four “thinking points” give you the tools to consistently and effectively express why public schools are the heart of your communities. They are values that the majority of people will agree with, regardless of their political affiliation.

Now that our quiver has tools, it’s time to use them to undermine the views of those who would privatize and destroy public education ….. while staying positive and expressing our core, community values.

So, how do we undermine the “voucher” frame?

First, it is imperative to stop using the terms “voucher” and “choice.” Both of these terms, in today’s usage, have achieved metaphorical status: People unconsciously think of the words as positive/constructive, conservative, and that reinforces their very values and existence.


  • Call them “subsidized” or “taxpayer-subsidized” private schools. The strategy behind this is based on sound science and research. Most anti-public education people also dislike subsidies of any kind. This then differentiates between the “public” and “private.” In the context of public education (effectively communicated as above), subsidizing a private school is unjust and most importantly, immoral.
  • Constantly point out that research proves that “taxpayer-subsidized private schools are systemically destroying our public schools.” Based on all legitimate research, subsidized-private schools are able to skim students and skim money from our community schools–stealing these critical assets and contributing to systemic destruction of “my child’s public school.” Milwaukee is a perfect example of this systemic causation.
  • Be smarter than “they” are. Don’t use their language and their stories. Create stories based on our core values and views of public education ….. stories that also undermine anti-public education views and values. For example, “Subsidized private schools are a cancer destroying the heart of our communities.”

This metaphorical statement, when it reaches the public discourse, will be very powerful. It effectively reinforces the “heart of the community” metaphor, which is already accepted, along with providing negative images to associate with the destruction being caused by subsidized- private schools.

If we are going to save public education as we know and value it, we have to think about what we’ve done in the past. Based purely on results, our strategies and tactics haven’t worked. By almost any measure, the schools in our communities—and more important, the children in them—are worse off than they were a decade ago.

A good place to start is to set aside our territorial dust-ups and work together discussing our core values, working out a common message, and going on the offensive for a public education system that is necessary to freedom, opportunity, and community.

Authors: Scott Wittkopf, Tom Beebe

Questions: scott@forwardinstitutewi.org, tomb@forwardinstitutewi.org

07 Sep

New Study Shows Wisconsin School Funding System Broken; Opportunity Gaps Increasing Over Time

The Forward Institute is releasing an important new study on Monday, September 8, commissioned by the Association for Equity in Funding (AEF). The study, “Segregation of Opportunity: A Longitudinal Study of Wisconsin Education Funding” used 8 years of school finance and tax data to examine the statewide impact of the current funding formula on Wisconsin community schools.

The study provides strong evidence that the current school finance system is no longer fulfilling its constitutional obligation to provide Wisconsin students an equal educational opportunity as defined in the State Supreme Court Vincent v. Voight decision in 2000. Further, the school funding mechanism is contributing to greater education opportunity gaps based on where a student lives, contrary to the core purpose of the school funding system.

The following statement can be attributed to study lead author Scott Wittkopf:

                “This study clearly demonstrates a systemic failure to ensure that the moral purpose of public education, as defined by the Court in Vincent v. Voight is being fulfilled:               

An equal opportunity for a sound basic education is one that will equip students for their roles as citizens and enable them to succeed economically and personally. 

The Court recognized the moral purpose of public education beyond “career” or “work readiness.” Public education is necessary for children to acquire skills and knowledge to pursue what is meaningful in life, and to have freedom to even know what is meaningful. It is clear that the school finance system is Wisconsin is no longer fulfilling its mission to provide the financial basis for equal educational opportunity as defined in the Vincent v. Voight decision to every child, regardless of district, need or demographic. In fact, it is contributing to a new type of segregation – that of income inequality. As inequitable funding remains a moral issue in Wisconsin, segregation will exacerbate due to systemic funding inequity. We call on a bipartisan effort to fix this broken system, and restore the moral promise to all of our children – the promise of educational opportunity for every child.”

The full study, raw data and macro workbooks with figures and tables for each Wisconsin public school district are available from our home page (look for the blue tab “2014 Wisconsin School Funding Study”) or at this link.

11 Mar

State Senate Closes Session with Anti-Freedom Legislation

In the waning days of this legislative session, the Wisconsin State Senate under GOP leadership is poised to pass some of the most anti-freedom legislation this state has seen in a generation.

One of the fundamental freedoms that Wisconsin has always expanded for its citizens is the vote. The first State Constitution proposed in 1846 would have granted the right to vote for immigrants, women and African Americans. That original Constitution failed to pass due to Territorial laws giving only property-owning white males the right to vote on the founding document. The adopted Constitution in 1848 provided the foundation of voting freedom, and Wisconsin has continued to expand voting freedom throughout history:

  1. 1849 Wisconsin Referendum provided African American men the right to vote.
  2. 1865-1866 Ezekiel Gillespie case at State Supreme Court validates African American vote.
  3. 1869 Wisconsin is a leader in passage of the Fifteenth Amendment to the US Constitution, guaranteeing African American the right to vote nationwide.
  4. 1919 Wisconsin leads the nation in passage of the Nineteenth Amendment giving women the vote.
  5. 1935 Wisconsin leads the nation in expanding voting freedom to “Every citizen” over the age of 21 and a state resident for one year. At this time, most other states still had literacy, language, or property requirements.
  6. Contemporary voting freedom acts have Wisconsin as a national leader in voting registration and participation, fundamental to our democracy. 

The legislation before the State Senate today is historic, in that it represents the first time in over a generation that our duly elected legislators may act to impinge upon the freedom of thousands of Wisconsinites to register and vote. Not since the 1908 American Indian Voting Restrictions, which prohibited American Indians in Wisconsin from voting if they lived on a reservation, has a sitting legislature taken action that would literally impinge upon people’s fundamental freedom to register to vote or cast a ballot.

This legislature has established itself as a fundamentally anti-freedom body. Since 2011, this legislature has acted to impinge upon the freedom of citizens to organize for the purposes of negotiating for fair wages, earned benefits, and just working conditions. It has impinged upon the freedom of thousands of children to receive a quality public education through funding cuts. It has even impinged upon (and continues to impinge upon) the freedom of local governments to provide necessary resources and services to their constituents.

Making matters worse are current proposals which would open the flow of campaign cash even further. It is the freedom to vote and participate in democracy that is at the foundation of our nation. Our lawmakers take an oath to uphold this principle, and through their continual pursuit of big money interests and lobbyists, our elected lawmakers are choosing to betray that trust. In essence, they are cheating on us – engaging in a salacious affair with these big money and lobbying interests, kicking the majority of Wisconsinites they represent to the curb.

The legacy of this Legislative Session will be written years from now. If the GOP-controlled Senate passes these bills as conventional wisdom suggests, it will go down in history as an anti-freedom legislature -impinging upon fundamental freedoms which have been established for generations.

(See link here for Wisconsin Election History documentation)

26 Jun

Forward Institute Statement on Budget Passage

The Forward Institute Board of Directors issued this statement regarding legislative passage of the budget:

The Wisconsin Legislature has passed a budget which will do long-term damage to education in Wisconsin. In expanding the private voucher program statewide, failing to keep up with inflation in funding public schools, failing to address student poverty issues, and unfairly rewarding select schools and students, Wisconsin Legislators are basing bad policy solely on multi-million dollar marketing campaigns and lobbying efforts, not the evidence for what works in schools.  The most important function of state government is the support of public education (Brown v. Board of Education, majority opinion, Chief Justice Earl Warren, 1954); the majority party in Wisconsin has passed a budget which is a fundamental governing failure. Every citizen in Wisconsin will be negatively affected by this budget. 

1. Statewide expansion of private voucher schools increases spending by hundreds of millions of dollars on a program which has failed in its fundamental purpose:  provide a better educational alternative for children of poverty. After twenty-plus years of the Milwaukee experiment, voucher schools have shown no positive benefit to student outcome and have almost no accountability to the taxpayers.

2.  Voucher school expansion increases the financial burden on local public schools, especially those in areas of high poverty, as state funding fails to keep up with inflation. Students in rural and urban areas of poverty continue to be denied equal access to educational opportunity compared to their more fortunate peers.  This is fundamentally in violation of Article X(2) Section 3 of the State Constitution and Wisconsin state statute 121.01.

3. Property taxes will continue to increase. Funding for the private voucher program is taken from the education budget first, with public school funding coming out of the remaining revenues.  As state revenue for public education continues to diminish relative to costs and inflation, property taxpayers will shoulder the burden for the local funding gap in public education. This is also in violation of state statute 121.01 on public school financing.

4. The budget provisions allow existing voucher schools to accept students statewide, without the new students counting toward the enrollment cap. This statewide expansion is contrary to the original, bi-partisan voucher experiment as established during Tommy Thompson’s tenure as Governor.

5. The budget limits accountability for educational outcomes by explicitly forbidding the Department of Public Instruction from reporting voucher school and student data without the consent of individual schools, data that public schools are required to provide. This intentionally prevents comparative analyses of the effectiveness of voucher school programs.

Forward Institute applauds lawmakers’ agreement with our policy recommendation to abandon the use of School Report Cards to make critical school financing decisions. The remainder of the education budget is a disaster, ignoring critical evidence presented in the months preceding debate. Legislators who advocated for passage of the education budget have demonstrated they are not interested in creating evidence-based policy.  Wisconsin’s heritage of forward thinking public education is threatened by policies driven by outside   lobby groups that want to compete for public funds, instead of focusing those funds on improving our troubled schools. The Forward Institute will continue to advocate for effective, evidence-based public policy in Wisconsin through independent research and communication efforts, and engagement across partisan lines.

Forward Institute Board of Directors

(A pdf file is available here: Forward Institute Budget Passage Statement 2013)

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06 Jun

Report – Education Budget Places Heavier Education Funding Burden on Property Taxpayers

Based on the reported provisions of the education budget and state fiscal data, Forward Institute analysis shows that local property taxpayers will shoulder an increasing share of public education funding. This is potentially a violation of Wisconsin State Statutes regarding school finance.

Wisconsin Statute 121.01 regarding school finance, general aid:

“It is declared to be the policy of this state that education is a state function and that some relief should be afforded from the local general property tax as a source of public school revenue where such tax is excessive, and that other sources of revenue should contribute a larger percentage of the total funds needed.”

Compiling data from the Department of Public Instruction and Legislative Fiscal Bureau shows that for the first time since the adoption of Wisconsin Statute 121.01, local property taxes will fund a greater portion of the public education budget than state aid.


Hastily written, behind-the-scenes political deals never result in good public policy. This budget proposal is no different. Not only does it potentially violate state education funding statute 121.01 and place a greater burden on local property taxpayers, but it has opened the door for Governor Scott Walker to use the line item veto to simply eliminate the student enrollment limit on the voucher program. The result, as is clear from our analysis, would continue Wisconsin down a fiscally irresponsible path for public education.

The full report can be viewed at Education Budget Report June 6, 2013.

04 Jun

Forward Institute Chair Testimony against Election Omnibus Bill

The following is the testimony of Scott Wittkopf, Chair, Forward Institute, registering against AB225: 

Madame Chair and Members,

Upon review of AB225, the full scope and nature of this egregious bill can be found in the provisions which seek to revise the current Recall Statutes. The recall is provided for in the State Constitution under Article XIII, Section 12. It is abundantly clear that in providing citizens with the recall mechanism, the Constitution continued to affirm the principle of popular sovereignty in Wisconsin Government. In even considering AB225, this legislative body is systematically dismantling one of the foundational principles of Wisconsin government – that “the will of the people is the law of the land.”

The proposed change to the Recall Statutes in AB225 may be intended to apply only to local and municipal elected officials, but make no doubt, it flies in the face of the very letter of the Constitution. Article XIII, Section 12(7) states:

“This section shall be self−executing and mandatory. Laws may be enacted to facilitate its operation but no law shall be enacted to hamper, restrict or impair the right of recall.” 

AB225 does exactly that, and worse yet, attempts to hide behind the creation of two distinct classes of recall – one with a higher standard than the other. By any reasonable evaluation, AB225 hampers, restricts and impairs the Constitutional right of the recall. It is an erosion of the principle of popular sovereignty in Wisconsin Government – making it more difficult for citizens to exercise their constitutional right to recall an official for any reason related to their duties. As I stated previously, this is the nature of the entire bill – the destruction of popular sovereignty in Wisconsin.

That can be the only explanation for a bill which would allow private corporations to increase their unreported, unregulated, and unlimited “independent” political campaign influence; while at the same time prohibiting a School District, which has full accountability to the citizens, from spending a single dime of those very same taxpayers’ funds to inform them about important funding referendum. This is absurd and a travesty. This provision in AB225 will serve only to increase the already outsized influence of private, unaccountable corporations, and continue to diminish the voice of citizens in local elections.

AB225 also continues to increase the influence of lobbyists in Wisconsin elections, through extending the contribution time limit. We already have lobbyists writing our laws on behalf of their corporate sponsors. These same lobbyists will now have increased power to influence elections. Again I reiterate, decimating the principle of popular sovereignty.

You will hear a great deal of testimony today, and most of it will be against AB225 relevant to the rights of citizens to express their political will through the vote. This is compelling testimony. I also ask you to consider legacy in the context of my remarks.

This committee is now taking up a bill, just as your colleagues in Joint Finance are, which will create the legacy that this legislative body will leave behind.  Passage of AB225 will ensure that legacy will be one of destruction. It is not overstating that AB225, if passed, will result in the destruction of popular sovereignty as Wisconsin has known for over a century. Your legacy will be that private corporations, through highly partisan political committees, will have greater control and influence in the Wisconsin political and governing process. Wisconsin citizens’ voices will be diminished even further in their own government.

The principle of popular sovereignty as intended in the State Constitution will be lost, as it was in the late 19th Century. History will judge your actions as harshly as it did the legislators of the “Robber Baron” era. We may look to history for the consequences of that era, and I hope my testimony today gives you pause as you consider the legacy you will leave should you pass this bill. The Constitutional right of the recall which AB225 intends to impair represents the principle and precedent of popular sovereignty in Wisconsin government. AB225 is an assault on that principle. Today, this committee has a clear choice.

The passage of AB225 means that you choose the destruction of popular sovereignty, in favor of increased private, corporate power and influence over Wisconsin government and, therefore, its people. I ask you today to choose rejection of AB225, respecting the legacy of those who came before you in this legislative body, and the generations of citizens who have exercised their right of popular sovereignty so that we all may do the same.

Respectfully submitted,

Scott Wittkopf, Chair

Forward Institute, Inc.

28 May

Letter to Joint Finance Committee Concerning Education Budget

Forward Institute Chair Scott Wittkopf submitted the following letter to the Joint Finance Committee today, Tuesday, May 28 (JFC Letter 2013):

Dear Senator Darling, Representative Nygren, and Members of the Joint Finance Committee,

The Forward Institute’s recent study; “Wisconsin Budget Policy and Poverty in Education” has received bi-partisan support and addresses critical issues regarding education funding, state budget, and student outcomes. This letter is to urge you to adopt education funding policy based on the best evidence available, setting ideology aside. Our report addresses the following educational policy issues relevant to the current DPI budget:

The private school voucher expansion proposal should be removed from the budget and introduced as separate policy legislation. It is inappropriate to continue pushing voucher expansion as part of a public education budget proposal. Our study clearly demonstrates that after more than twenty years, the Milwaukee private school voucher experiment can show no measurable educational outcome benefit to students when compared to Milwaukee Public Schools. Studies conducted by the pro-voucher School Choice Demonstration Project reach similar conclusions. Private voucher schools in Milwaukee are underperforming the Milwaukee public schools they are supposed to be a better alternative for, and are actually more costly per pupil to the state for worse results in student proficiency. This important debate must take into account all relevant facts and statewide impact of expanding such an expensive subsidy, which will not happen under cover of the biennial budget.

The Joint Finance Committee should begin to implement Dr. Tony Evers’ “Fair Funding Formula” as the first step to addressing the harsh inequities in Wisconsin’s existing education funding system. In the face of increasing economic stress and growing student poverty in public school districts statewide, we submit that it is not appropriate for the state to continue subsidizing unaccountable private religious education that produces questionable results. As our report clearly shows, the best use of the taxpayer education dollar is the public schools. Further, the impact of poverty on education in Wisconsin is not being addressed by current policy. In fact, we can predict with certainty that under the status quo the student effects of poverty will get worse in the coming decade.

The critical issues surrounding the growing dichotomy in Wisconsin education between children of poverty, and those of non-poverty must be addressed by the Legislature. There is a direct correlation between student/school outcome and rate of poverty not being addressed by the Legislature. The state of Wisconsin is failing our students, public schools are not failing. The current budget proposals will only make the situation worse. Further, as our report demonstrates, the current funding and delivery system in Wisconsin may no longer be Constitutional.

It is time to begin addressing these critical education issues in Wisconsin. Two immediate steps the Joint Finance Committee ought to take are removing the voucher program expansion proposal from the budget, and begin adopting Dr. Evers’ Fair Funding Formula. We urge you to make these education policy decisions based on evidence, not ideology.


Scott Wittkopf, Chair

Forward Institute


02 Oct

A New Way of Messaging

The Forward Institute is going to change the way public policy messaging and strategy in Wisconsin is developed. The Wisconsin Retirement System is a current issue we are developing research and messaging around. The facts come first. Unlike some “think tanks,” we don’t create the message and cherry pick the facts to suit our informational campaigns. We don’t consider the media to be a source, unlike some other “think tanks,” unless it is a noted expert that can be sourced back to original material.

Forward Institute draws on factual information and data to build a messaging framework that people will understand and relate to. Background research and sources can be found on the “Research” page. These are issues that directly affect everyone in “Our Wisconsin.” For example, the promise of security after a lifetime of service.

Wisconsin’s public employers help workers save for retirement by deferring part of their compensation to a retirement fund. When you choose a career in the public sector, you understand that your wages will remain modest. But you get a promise in return—that the money taken out of your paycheck will be there when you retire. You deserve the income you were promised to meet your needs?  In our Wisconsin, we don’t break our promises. We honor dedication, honesty and fairness.

Our Wisconsin Pension system is sound, and responsibly managed. Wisconsin’s pension fund is uniquely designed for stability. The risks and rewards of fund investments are shared between employees, retirees and taxpayers, with taxpayers bearing only 25% of the risk.  For the past four years, retired public employees have gotten less and employees now pay more.  The Walker administration’s own study concluded that changing the system could raise costs for everyone.  We don’t need higher brokerage fees and more fund administrators. Our state retirement system is working—for everyone.

Our Wisconsin Pension system should be available to all – to strengthen the system, lower the risk, and continue to strengthen investment in Wisconsin. Unlike private investment companies, our pension fund commits to investing in Wisconsin companies, ranging from start-ups to those employing 20 or more—to the tune of $12 billion in 2010.  Jobs are also created by retiree spending. Each dollar invested by taxpayers provides $6.22 in economic activity—a ripple effect that supported more than 35,000 jobs in 2010—the difference between an unemployment rate of 8.5% and 9.6%.  Why ship our money to Wall Street brokers?  Our communities suffer when we spend less. In our Wisconsin, what’s earned in Wisconsin, stays in Wisconsin.

Sources can be found on our Research page. Comments are welcome!