O’Meara Leads Workshop and Roundtables at School Social Workers Fall Conference
Jack was pleased to lead a Legislative Update/Strategy Discussion Workshop and two roundtables, also focused on legislation and strategy, at the Wisconsin School Social Workers Association (WSSWA) fall conference on Friday, November 10 at the Heidel House in Green Lake, Wisconsin. There was great discussion about the school mental health initiative (highlighted below) that is in the state budget, how to keep up the momentum on that front, and other pieces of legislation both on the “offensive” and “defensive” fronts.
Updated November 2017:
Final State Budget Includes School Mental Health Initiative OPA Lobbied For
The final state budget signed into law by Governor Walker (Act 59) includes the full $3 million for school social workers, part of the mental health initiative developed by State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers. The budget even includes $750,000 more in school mental health collaborative grants than originally proposed.
After Superintendent Evers proposed the funding last year, O’Meara Public Affairs (OPA) took up the cause, with Jack appearing before two committees of the Wisconsin Council on Mental Health. The council then sent a letter to Governor Walker, encouraging him to include the mental health initiative in his budget, which he did. Jack and leaders of the Wisconsin School Social Workers Association then met with members of the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee, which approved the school social worker funding and included the $750,00 in additional collaborative grant funding.
While the need for school mental health programming in the state is certainly greater than what this funding can accomplish, this action recognizes the need out there and is a significant step in the right direction.
Assembly Republican Version of State Budget Retains School Social Worker Funding
On June 6, Assembly Republicans, led by Joint Finance Committee Co-chair John Nygren (R-Peshtigo), released their version of a state budget for K-12 education. While the Assembly GOP budget would cut overall funding for education, the budget would retain the $3 million for school social workers as part of the mental health initiative originally developed by State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers and included in the budget of Governor Scott Walker. The Assembly version would also add an additional $1 million for collaborative grants.
We have been meeting with members of Joint Finance to advocate for the mental health initiative, including the school social worker funding. We will continue to advocate for this funding and the best possible result for the K-12 budget.
Governor Includes Full DPI Mental School Mental Health Initiative in His State Budget
When Governor Walker announced his 2017-19 state budget on February 8, he included the complete school mental health initiative that was proposed by State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers. The $6.2 million in new funding includes $3 million in a categorical aid program to fund School Social Workers, recognizing the social workers’ vital role in delivering school mental health services.
Prior to the announcement, Jack O’Meara joined Wisconsin School Social Workers Association President Julie Incitti in meeting with the governor’s staff to advocate for the initiative. Jack also appeared before two committees of the Wisconsin Council on Mental Health, which then sent a letter to Governor Walker in support of the plan. The Wisconsin Medical Society also sent a letter of support to the governor after Jack put in a request with the society.
We will continue to advocate for the initiative as the Legislature works on the state budget. This will include appearances before the Joint Finance Committee by School Social Workers and others concerned about school mental health.
A Victory for Quality Child Care: DCF Changes Policy After Concerted WCCAA Lobbying
It is always dangerous to declare victory in the government relations world because you never know what might happen next and you need to live by the “devil in the details” mantra. That being said, advocates for quality child care — led by the Wisconsin Child Care Administrators Association and in particular the strong leadership of WCCAA President Bev Anderson — scored a big victory in August when the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families (DCF) released its latest plans for its Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) program, and, contrary to earlier plans, the YoungStar Quality Bonus will not be placed on the cards, at least during the transition phase of the program.
Those of us working for WCCAA and other groups were told this was a lost cause, but we persevered. We kept making the case for why sending the bonuses to providers benefits the children and families who need quality early education and care. We look forward to continuing to work with key policymakers to ensure a great child care system for Wisconsin for the future.
University Faculty Host Event for Congressman Pocan
Leaders of PROFS, representing the UW-Madison faculty, recently held a great event for Congressman Mark Pocan at the beautiful home of Professor Sue Babcock and Dr. Tom Kelly. Here is a picture of PROFS President Judith Burstyn and Congressman Pocan discussing the latest issues before Congress.
School Social Workers Provide Awards to Senator Harris Dodd and Rep. Genrich
In November, the Wisconsin School Social Workers Association (WSSWA) provided its Friend of School Social Work Awards to Senator Nikiya Harris Dodd (D-Milwaukee) and Rep. Eric Genrich (D-Green Bay). Senator Harris Dodd and Rep. Genrich led the effort to get changes to Wisconsin’s habitual truancy law through the Legislature and signed into law (see article below). Directly below are photos of Jack O’Meara presenting the awards to Senator Harris Dodd and Rep. Genrich.
Governor Signs Habitual Truancy Law Changes Developed by School Social Workers
On July 1, Governor Walker signed Senate Bill 122 into law as 2015 Wisconsin Act 52. The act eliminates the previous requirement in state law that parents of habitually truant students be contacted via registered or certified mail. The new law gives school districts the option of using the much-cheaper regular U.S. mail, along with electronic means like email and texting.
Working with Jack O’Meara, the Wisconsin School Social Workers Association (WSSWA) Legislative Committee developed the ideas behind SB 122. Jack then took the proposal to Senator Nikiya Harris Dodd (D-Milwaukee). After talking with legislative attorneys and others, Senator Harris Dodd made some adjustments and convinced Senator Paul Farrow (R-Pewaukee) to serve as her Senate co-author. Rep. Eric Genrich (D-Green Bay) agreed to be the lead Assembly author, with Rep. Joel Kitchens (R-Sturgeon Bay) as Assembly co-author. The bill had many other co-sponsors from both sides of the political aisle.
Jack testified in favor of the bill before both the Senate and Assembly committees. He was joined by WSSWA members Janelle Peotter, Heather Strayer and Christina Gringle of Green Bay; Mallory Knipe of Black River Falls; and Julie Incitti of Stoughton, who all did a great job.
Jack also worked with Rep. Genrich, his staff, and the Wisconsin Association of School Boards and the School Administrators Alliance, to convince Assembly leadership to take the bill up on short notice to ensure the new law is in place for the upcoming school year.
Finally, Jack prepared an email to all WSSWA members encouraging them to contact Governor Walker to ask him to sign SB 122 into law. The governor was convinced, and that’s Jack and WSSWA board member Julie Incitti at the bill-signing ceremony.
This shows that common sense bipartisan legislation can still make it through the Legislature and get signed into law. Thanks to all who played a role.