I first ran for public office when I saw that the Sturgeon Bay School District had lost the support of the community and was facing serious financial difficulties. I have always passionately believed that education is the key to allowing every member of our society to reach his or her full potential. I viewed this challenge as an opportunity to repay the community that has been so great to my family and me.
We had to make difficult decisions, but through sound financial management, we were able to regain the trust of the community. I served on the board for 15 years, 13 of those as president. My time on the board was invaluable in helping me to understand the challenges our schools face, as well as the complexities of school funding.
As vice chairman of the Assembly Education Committee and co-chairman of the Blue Ribbon Task Force on School Funding, I studied our school funding formula extensively. Ours is actually more equitable
than most states. The fundamental flaw in our formula is in how it handles districts experiencing declining enrollment, which is nearly all districts in rural Wisconsin. If re-elected, I will be introducing
legislation next session to address that issue.
I will also continue to write bills that help our students become more proficient in reading. Research has shown that children who cannot read at grade level in fourth grade will struggle to graduate from high school and are far less likely to lead productive lives. About 85 percent of juvenile offenders are functionally illiterate, as are 70 percent of prison inmates. More than 75 percent of those on welfare have difficulties in reading the simplest texts.
Sadly, close to 65 percent of fourth graders in Wisconsin are not proficient readers, with 34 percent failing to meet even basic standards. I introduced legislation last session that would help teachers identify struggling readers earlier, but it was vetoed by the governor. I plan on reintroducing that proposal next session because too much is at
stake. This issue must be addressed.
Tourism is one of the pillars of the economy in all of Wisconsin, but particularly in the 1st Assembly District. This industry has been hit particularly hard by the pandemic but had shown very strong growth throughout the decade prior to that. As fear of the virus subsides, we will undoubtedly see a tremendous rebound.
Tourism promotion shows a tremendous return on investment and it is important that Wisconsin keeps pace with surrounding states. We have increased our tourism promotion in Chicago and the Twin Cities with great results, but there is more to be done. As a member of the Assembly Tourism Committee, I will continue to be a strong advocate for the tourism industry.
While tourism has shown steady growth in Door County, Kewaunee County is now beginning to realize its underappreciated potential as a tourism destination. One of my proudest accomplishments during my first term was my role in securing the $4.2 million grant to rebuild the Kewaunee harbor area. I wrote the amendment that put this into the budget and fought hard for its inclusion. This project will revitalize one of the most beautiful harbors on the Great Lakes and energize the tourism economy of Kewaunee and the entire county.
Economy and Jobs
Helping the private sector create and maintain jobs in our area will always be a high priority for me. Our businesses must view government as an ally in helping them overcome their challenges, not as a roadblock to their growth. I have worked extensively with our local governments and economic development agencies to achieve this goal.
I am very proud that over the past 10 years, Wisconsin has gone from being consistently ranked in the bottom 10 states for business climate to being in the top half. However, we are currently experiencing a
labor shortage that is having a significant impact on our economy. Simply put, we need to get more workers back in the workforce.
Last session I supported the Stronger Workforce Initiative, which made it easier for people to go back to work and reduced fraud in our unemployment system. I want to build further on that. Another factor that is playing a role in our worker shortage is a lack of affordable housing. I have had legislation signed into law that allows municipalities to build more affordable housing and I will continue to work hard to ensure people can move to our area to fill many of the open jobs.
We must also continue to address the lack of skilled workers in or state. This skills gap is not unique to our area and it is one of our most urgent challenges. I have supported the Fast Track program to provide grants for training workers and I authored legislation to provide better career counseling to our students.
Furthermore, I will also look to reform our tax code to make it simpler and more competitive with other states. We have improved our business climate tremendously over the past decade and we must keep
moving in that direction.
As chairman of the Assembly Environment Committee, another one of my top priorities is protecting our environment and natural resources.
Our district is surrounded by water and our local economy and way of life are intrinsically dependent on it. We also have less topsoil than anywhere else in the state, so our groundwater is extremely
susceptible to contamination from agricultural and human waste.
My approach to agricultural contamination has been to bring both the farming and conservation communities together to find solutions. I played a large role in developing manure spreading standards that were specific to our Karst region.
During the previous session, I authored legislation that was signed into law that addresses nitrate contamination of groundwater. Additionally, I worked successfully to increase funding for producer-led watershed groups, like Peninsula Pride. These funds help incentivize farmers to try new methods of reducing water pollution and they have been extremely successful.
All of these initiatives have received overwhelming support from both the agricultural and conservation communities. I have received numerous awards from conservation groups. Most recently, I was named the Legislator of the Year by the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation.
Our efforts have been effective. The recent test results from Door County wells show that, while we have the most vulnerable geology in the state, our drinking water is much cleaner than the state as a
whole in every category.
I have also been recognized for my leadership in preserving the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Programand I will continue to do everything within my power to protect it.
Paid for by Joel Kitchens for Assembly