Rep. Dale Kooyenga on his Re-election to Assembly District 14
State Rep. Dale Kooyenga, a Republican, is running for re-election in Assembly District 14. He faces Democrat Chris Rockwood on the Nov. 8 ballot. Here are Kooyenga's answers to the Shepherd's candidate questionnaire.
Your current occupation, education and career and personal information you’d like our readers to know:
I am currently a business consultant in Milwaukee for early stage companies. I am also a member of the U.S. Army Reserves. My current assignment is Company Commander of a Counterintelligence Military Intelligence unit headquartered in Milwaukee. My wife and I just recently celebrated our 10-year wedding anniversary by having a “StayCation” in our favorite city—Milwaukee. My greatest joy is spending time with our four children ages 8, 7, 4 and 3.
Why are you running for office?
After returning from Iraq, I felt politicians of both parties were largely out of touch. Although my primary criticism was directed at the federal level, I felt that service at the state level would provide a greater opportunity to make a positive impact.
What are the top three issues you’d like to address, and how would you address them?
We need to expect more from our K-12 schools in Milwaukee. There needs to be accountability across the spectrum—vouchers, charters and public schools. There is now more accountability required for voucher schools, last session I authored legislation that requires Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) and audits of all voucher schools. Charter schools are arguably the most accountable of the three models since charter schools need to be reauthorized typically every five years by their authorizer.
More accountability is also necessary for public schools so Senator Darling and I authored the Opportunity Schools Partnership Program (OSPP). We are disappointed the law has not been followed to date. The OSPP reform requires an elected third party (County Executive of Milwaukee) to appoint new leadership (a Commissioner) at 3-5 failing schools a year. The goal of OSPP is to concentrate on improving student performance and once that has been achieved, return those schools to the traditional MPS governance structure. Critics have argued this was an attack on MPS, but if the details of the law are understood, it is clear the plan is centered around reforming, not breaking up MPS.
We cannot continue to accept the status quo— the education of our children is too important. MPS schools such as Bradley Tech and Barack Obama High School have graduation rates hovering around 50%. Dozens of elementary schools have reading proficiencies of less than 10%. But even higher achieving schools such as Rufus King, with many successful students of which we are proud, are still producing one-third of their students who require remedial classes upon entering the University of Wisconsin System schools. This setback results in increased costs and difficulty for these students to graduate in four years.
I do appreciate the new portfolio strategy that is being discussion for MPS. However, I am skeptical that the MPS School Board will embrace such a model when they have been so reluctant to decentralize power and embrace new models for education.
We have also made progress on taxes. During my first term on the Joint Finance Committee I accomplished the elimination of 17 largely special interest tax credits and used the revenue pickup for overall tax cuts and the elimination of a tax bracket. Our tax code is still very broken. It is overly complicated and my goal is to make politicians less powerful by simplifying the tax code.
Overall Social Justice
I believe the most significant social injustice relates to the Milwaukee Public School System. It is unjust that Milwaukee’s black children are 50% more likely to attend a failing school (as identified by the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction) than other Milwaukee children.
I have been working with Rep. Gary Hebl (D-Madison) and Senators Van Wanggaard (R-Racine) and Fred Risser (D-Madison) on a bill related to fairly compensating individuals who have been wrongly convicted and I am optimistic we can get it across the finish line next session. In Wisconsin, someone who has been wrongly incarcerated receives only $5,000 a year (capped at $25,000) versus $50,000 from most states and the federal government. And to add insult to injury, the state never even apologizes to the wrongfully convicted. Our bill from last session would have expunged the charges from the record, which raised concerns from open government advocates. Passing this bill is important. I am confident that if we compromise to not expunge the initial charge, it will allow us to pass the bill and compensation, health care and job training to these wrongfully incarcerated individuals.
Occupational licensing is also a significant issue that prevents those in our community from obtaining meaningful work. The state should decrease the hours and education required for occupations that do not have a public health or safety impact. Additionally, there is duplicative regulation from the state and local government. One example is the City of Milwaukee previously required a license to be a photographer but once this was brought to the public’s attention, the city repealed the ordinance. These additional requirements may be easy to overcome for people with money and time, but they create significant burdens for individuals who are short on time and wealth.
Do you support the way Wisconsin currently funds public schools? If so, why? If not, what would you like to see instead?
No. The school aid funding formula is overly complicated and lacks transparency. Most politicians don’t even understand it, let alone the average citizen. The system needs to be simplified.
Do you think the state should support more voucher and charter schools? Should their per-pupil funding increase?
Yes. We should have a student-centered approach to education. If a school does not align with a parent’s academic standards or principles, a parent should have the opportunity to select a school that is better aligned with their child’s interests, beliefs and academic standards. Currently, overall funding for voucher and charter schools is less than that for public schools. Funding should be equal across all educational options—a child is a child no matter what type of school the student attends.
Should the state further intervene in the Milwaukee Public Schools?
Yes and Senator Tammy Baldwin and President Obama appear to agree. Both are Democrats and both supported the Every Child Succeeds Act which requires states to take action to address the lowest performing 5% of schools in the state. The lowest performing schools in MPS accounts for 4.1% of Wisconsin’s failing schools.
The most common question I receive is how does this reconcile with local control? My Assembly district includes one of the highest performing school districts (Elmbrook) as well as MPS. As a state legislator, my objective is to maximize flexibility at the local level for well performing districts but encourage reform for districts that are underperforming. It is not acceptable that several MPS high schools have a 50% 4-year graduation rate.
Most people would agree that civil rights cannot and should not be superseded by state or local governments. Our rights are enshrined in our Constitution and no government, at any level, should be able to deny an individual’s right to justice as a result.
How should the state pay for freeway projects and local roadways?
First step is to ensure the Department of Transportation is operating effectively. I am hesitant to raise the gas tax and/or registration fees as they disproportionately hurt the poor and middle class. Continually taking money from general purpose revenue is not sustainable; therefore, we should seek a segregated funding solution reliant on transportation-related revenue. I am open to hearing ideas from all perspectives on what our transportation system should look like including how we pay for it.
Is the state adequately funding public transit?
Would you support allowing local communities increase their sales tax?
No. The sales tax disproportionately taxes the poor and middle class as a percentage of their income. Additionally, it may be scored as short-term revenue pick up but since numerous online sales are not taxed under federal law, my concern is over time sales tax revenue may actually decrease as individuals respond by purchasing more items online.
Do you believe a woman has the right to choose an abortion?
I am pro-life.
Is the state doing an adequate job of protecting Wisconsin’s natural resources?
Yes. The largest purchase of conservation forest land in Wisconsin history was made in 2015. We also passed a bill that makes Wisconsin one of seven states to ban the use of microbeads in personal care products. Microbeads are non-biodegradable and threatened waterways and ecosystems. Wisconsin’s natural resources need to be protected and serve as the foundation for healthy Wisconsin living, recreation, tourism and commerce.
To learn more about Dale Kooyenga, go to dalekooyenga.com.