Series

Opioid overdoses kill hundreds of Wisconsinites every year, amid a nationwide surge in painkiller and heroin abuse that's been building since the turn of the century. Opioids are a category of pain relief drugs that include long-known substances like morphine and heroin, but also powerful synthetic pharmaceuticals like hydrocodone and fentanyl. Years of widespread opioid prescriptions helped initiate the crisis, and the increasing cheap cost of these drugs fueled the spread of abuse in rural, suburban and urban communities alike. All levels of government are mobilizing to address opioid abuse, and like many states, Wisconsin is adopting policies that focus on public health approaches over emphasizing criminalization. As the contours of this epidemic continues to shift, so do efforts to contain and reverse it among health care providers, law enforcement and community organizations.More
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Years of budget cuts, increased state funding for private schools, Act 10, an increase in teacher retirements and a decrease in young educators entering the workforce have reshaped the face of public education in Wisconsin over the past decade. But these changes are amplified in rural school districts around the state. Many of Wisconsin's rural counties are slowly losing population, which results in shrinking school enrollment numbers and local tax bases, putting pressure on districts budgets. With a growing teacher shortage nationwide, schools in sparsely populated areas struggle to attract new staff. At the same time, districts across the state are increasingly turning to referendums to fill the funding gap.More
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Climate change is already beginning to affect Wisconsin in subtle but important ways. As the average global temperature creeps upward, climatologists have projected that the upper Midwest will experience heavier precipitation. This shift means not just a greater volume of water in the form of rain or snow, but also more intense storms happening more frequently. While climate change on its own isn't necessarily the culprit behind a given storm, its effects can intensify existing weather patterns and make long-running climatic cycles more unpredictable. While researchers work to understand how climate change interacts with seasonal cycles like El Niño and how human activities affect the outcome of catastrophic floods, communities across the state face new challenges protecting people, infrastructure and their economy.More
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Dairy is iconic in Wisconsin, with the production of milk and cheese a longstanding foundation of the state's identity and global reputation. This industry is a significant component of Wisconsin's economy, dependent on the fluctuations of international markets and tastes of consumers, with each affecting the livelihoods of farmers and their employees. Meanwhile, the structure of the business is changing, with the number of farms decreasing as their average size is increasing. Around Wisconsin, the direction of the dairy industry will define the future for producers and communities.More
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Agriculture is a cornerstone of the Wisconsin economy, and farmers across the state rely on international markets for customers. The commodities exported around the world include some of Wisconsin's most common agricultural products, including cheese and soybeans, as well as a host of specialized products that have come to symbolize the state's bounty, such as ginseng and cranberries. In the early 21st century, Wisconsin's largest agricultural export destination by far has been Canada, followed by Mexico, China and other nations. Farmers who rely on exports face uncertainties driven by fluctuating international demand, variable commodities markets and shifts in global politics, including an escalating series of tariffs levied between the United States and some of its closest trading partners. These changing conditions have impacts that ripple across the state’s broader agricultural economy.More
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