Randy Bryce entered the theater at UW-Whitewater at Rock County in blue jeans on Monday night.
Bryan Steil wore a business suit to their final debate.
The two men who want to replace Rep. Paul Ryan in Congress spent the next hour displaying styles and substance as disparate as their wardrobes.
The third candidate in the race, independent Ken Yorgan, was not invited.
Democrat Bryce and Republican Steil got into a sometimes-intense back-and-forth about health insurance.
Steil said the solution to such problems is to lower the cost of health care.
Steil said patients should be able to shop for insurance, which he said would drive down prices.
“You need to have individuals have some stake in the game as they’re making their health care decisions,” Steil said.
Steil went on to say that it’s like when he was in college and shopped for dental care he could afford with a high-deductible plan.
Steil said health savings accounts would put people in charge of some of those decisions.
Bryce, on the other hand, is “suggesting a government takeover of health care. That would end private insurance as we know it. That would destabilize Medicare that millions of seniors rely on,” Steil charged.
Bryce indeed is calling for a single-payer system dubbed Medicare for all.
Bryce said most people have struggled to pay for health care, and he talked about his fight with cancer when he didn’t have insurance.
“It’s a little bit of a different story hearing what a millionaire has to go through as far as paying for his health care,” Bryce said.
Steil never challenged Bryce’s assertion that Steil is a millionaire.
With Bryce’s plan, Steil said, millions of Wisconsinites would lose the ability to choose their doctor and instead put government in charge of that decision.
Bryce responded that people who now see their earnings going to a paycheck deduction for health insurance would pay less. He cited a “Koch brothers” study that he claimed showed Medicare for all would save $2 trillion in health care costs.
Politifact looked at that claim and found the study also raised a second possibility: that it would increase costs by $3.3 trillion.
“I don’t know where we’re getting this enormous price tag from,” Bryce said.
“What’s the price? What’s the price? What’s the price?” Steil interrupted.
Bryce: “$32 trillion.”
Steil: “So how are you going to pay $32 trillion?”
“Mr. Steil, would you let Mr. Bryce answer,” said one of the moderators, UW-Whitewater professor Susan Johnson.
Bryce: “Right now we’re probably paying more for insurance than anybody else. Every industrialized country around us has some form of universal health care. ... It’s not going to be perfect. It’s going to have bumps, but it’s something that our people definitely deserve, especially when you’re talking about giving $1.5 trillion away to the richest people, and we’re getting nothing in return for it,” Bryce said, referring to the federal Tax Cuts and Jobs Act Republicans passed last year.
Steil: “So we agree there’s a $32 trillion program, so now how do you pay for it? So the question is, is it debt, or do you raise taxes?”
Bryce: “It’s already being paid for, (with) what we already pay now.”
Steil, interrupting loudly: “We already noted that the debt’s out of control. You just added $32 trillion to it.”
Bryce, also raising his voice: “Paul Ryan just left us this deficit, this hole.”
The exchange fizzled as moderators cut them off and moved on.
The question the two men agreed on was that the executive branch has too much power at the expense of Congress.
They also partially agreed on climate change, saying it’s a problem.
Bryce, however, called for working toward relying only on renewable energy, while Steil said China and India should be held accountable while the United States keeps energy affordable.
And they agreed that something must be done to provide a path to legal residence for people brought to the U.S. illegally as children.
President Donald Trump came up near the end of the debate in a question the Bryce campaign submitted ahead of time.
The question was whether Steil would condemn Trump for the sexual harassment allegations made against Trump and support an investigation.
Steil did not answer directly, saying any sexual harassment or assault allegation has to be taken seriously and that he would not tolerate them in his office.
The Steil campaign’s question for Bryce involved tweets Bryce posted about impeaching the president, asking what the president did to deserve impeachment.
Bryce said the FBI investigation into whether the Trump campaign conspired with Russia to swing the 2016 election needs to continue. He also said violating the Constitution’s emoluments clause, which forbids a president from receiving gifts from foreign governments as some progressives say Trump has done, would be grounds for impeachment.
More and more Janesville teenagers are becoming college students while still in high school.
In the past decade, the number of Janesville high school students requesting college courses has more than doubled, from 63 to 152.
During the same period, the number of technical college and four-year college credits they have requested has nearly tripled, from 307 to 860.
The trend isn’t uniformly upward, but it does show more students are trying to get a jump on their careers.
What might have had the biggest impact was a change of mindset among local educators.
State law requires that school districts pay for up to 18 credits in college-level courses. To qualify as a college course, at least 80 percent of the material must be different from a similar high school course.
Programs that allow high school students to take college-level courses include:
Students can take classes during the school year or in summer, said Kolleen Onsrud, Janesville School District curriculum coordinator.
School officials also have worked with Blackhawk Technical College to increase the number of dual-credit courses taught at the high schools. Those courses count for high school and college credit.
For example, juniors can pick from several chemistry classes, including two or three that qualify for both high school and college credit, Onsrud said.
Will colleges or universities accept a college chemistry class taken in high school?
“It depends,” Onsrud said. “If you’re going into a health sciences field, the chemistry course might count as one of your electives.”
For liberal arts students, that chemistry class might fill a science elective.
Such courses differ from Advanced Placement courses. In an AP course, students might earn college credit, but only if they do well enough on the final exam and only if the college accepts such credits.
But an AP course can be a dual-credit course, which ensures that the student gets some type of advanced credit, Onsrud said.
A new mindset
The Janesville School District really started encouraging college credit in the 2016-17 school year, when it made college and advanced-training courses part of students’ career planning work, Onsrud said.
That was good timing. In 2016, Tracy Pierner made high school recruitment and dual-credit courses a priority when he was hired as Blackhawk Technical College’s new president.
“I noticed a significant shift the minute Dr. Pierner came,” Onsrud said.
Meanwhile, when Rock University High School had to move out of its home at UW-Rock County, Pierner welcomed the charter school to Blackhawk Tech. Since then, he has worked to strengthen the ties between the school district and the college.
Between 2014 and 2018, the number of dual-enrollment credits earned at—or in conjunction with—Blackhawk Tech jumped from 484 to 1,697, an increase of 250 percent.
Changing the narrative
Over time, the school district’s strategy has been to make college-level courses accessible to as many students as possible, Onsrud said.
That strategy became policy in 2017, when Superintendent Steve Pophal rolled out the district’s “five promises,” a series of goals in areas such as academic achievement, fiscal responsibility, teacher quality and parent satisfaction.
The promises include this: “90 percent of graduates will successfully complete an advanced-placement, transcripted, industry credential or dual-enrollment credit class.”
“I think we all recognize that kids have to continue their training after high school,” Pophal said. “A high school diploma alone will prepare kids for a minimal-wage job, not a living-wage job.”
The biggest challenge?
“We have so many kids that don’t believe they belong in higher education,” Pophal said. “They don’t believe they belong at Blackhawk or at UW-Rock County or in an apprenticeship program because they don’t have anyone in their family that’s gone on” for more training or education.
Pophal believes it’s the school district’s job to “change the narrative” for those students.
If students can succeed in advanced coursework or training while they are in a supportive environment, they’re likely to do so after high school as well, he said.
Changing the narrative for those students gives them a chance to break out of the cycle of poverty, Pophal said. About 50 percent of students in Janesville schools qualify for free and reduced-priced lunches, which is an indicator of poverty in a school district.
If the district can help those students move forward, it will change the narrative for the community as well, he said.
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