'Here & Now' Highlights: Peter Barca, Tracey Dent, Todd Feathers

Here's what guests on the May 19, 2023 episode said about increasing the federal debt ceiling, reckless driving in Milwaukee and forecasting who graduates from high school.

By Frederica Freyberg | Here & Now

May 22, 2023

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Peter Barca and Frederica Freyberg sit in chairs behind a multi-seat bench-style desk in a room with a Wisconsin flag and windows with lowered open blinds and tied open curtains.

Frederica Freyberg and Sec. Peter Barca (Credit: PBS Wisconsin)

A June 1 deadline for when the U.S. treasury does not have congressional approval to pay its bills is fast approaching, and Wisconsin Department of Revenue Secretary Peter Barca said politics in Washington, D.C. over raising the federal debt ceiling is making economists for the state nervous. Reckless drivers in Wisconsin can expect tougher penalties under a new state law, which is a good step for safer streets according to Milwaukee community activist and Uber driver Tracey Dent. Todd Feathers, a reporter who investigates big tech, described a predictive tracking model used in Wisconsin high schools to determine students at high risk for not graduating as racially inequitable.

Peter Barca
Secretary, Wisconsin Department of Revenue

  • In Washington, fears over a national financial default have lawmakers scrambling to make a down-to-the-wire deal once again to raise the federal debt ceiling. Barca said a Moody’s Analytics model shows Wisconsin could lose 16,400 jobs right away if the federal government defaults on its loans.
  • Barca: “Our economists are watching this very closely, and we’re very nervous ourselves. I mean, we do not want to see at a time when Wisconsin’s never been stronger economically, where, you know, we do have a Triple-A bond rating for the first time in 40 years. We do have the lowest number of people on unemployment ever. We’ve got one of the greatest growth in manufacturing jobs. This is the last thing we want to see right now.”


Tracey Dent
Director, Peace for Change Alliance

  • Five people were killed – including a baby – in a reckless driving collision in Milwaukee on Mother’s Day, May 14. A driver going 80 miles per hour on a city street ran a red light and the 20 year old behind the wheel did not have a license, according to police. Reckless, deadly driving in Milwaukee has spurred a new state law increasing penalties for offenses, but Dent, an Uber driver who has had close calls himself on the roads, said there should be “zero tolerance” for dangerous driving.
  • Dent: “So, like two years ago I was tired and afraid, and now we’re tired and we’re angry. This should have never happened. You know, even a baby was killed, and it’s devastating. The whole city is devastated. We’re tired and we’re angry, and it’s time for action. …It’s like the Indy 500. It’s like people cut you off. People run red lights. People, they are just reckless out there. It’s like they don’t have any sense of the value of life.”


Todd Feathers
Reporter, The Markup

  • A sophisticated algorithm called the Dropout Early Warning System is used by the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction to predict students at risk of not graduating from high school. The system is not well known to the public, but Feathers researched its use and reported its predictions to be flawed.
  • Feathers: “The Dropout Early Warning System is a system built in 2012 that uses machine learning algorithms to predict whether students will graduate on time. The system generates the prediction for every student in sixth grade in the state, and it also labels them either high, moderate or low risk of dropping out. This is supposed to help schools with the right resources supporting students who need it most. But what we found is the system is wrong, nearly three-quarters of the time … It’s wrong more often about Black and Hispanic students not graduating than it is about white students. On top of that, at the same time as our reporting is going on, some academic researchers based out of the University of California, Berkeley, conducted a study [released in April 2023], the largest of its kind on DEWS, that found that the system was not achieving its primary goal of improving graduation outcomes for the students it labels higher risk.”


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