Megan Loritz’s heart sank when she learned a family was no longer on her list of clients receiving home behavioral treatment for autistic children.
“The child was diligent and bright for his condition,” the La Follette School student says, “but his family could no longer afford his treatment. Even though this hard-working, generous family had health insurance, their insurance company, along with the bulk of insurance companies in Wisconsin, did not provide coverage for autism treatment services. And so their son had to go without help.”
Loritz worked as a line therapist while attending the University of Wisconsin–Green Bay. She initially planned to major in human development and psychology. “My ultimate goal was to help children and families through difficult times as a social worker or clinical psychologist.” she says. “I found the work to be extremely rewarding, but I questioned myself numerous times, wondering what more I could do for these children with behavioral problems.”
The State of Wisconsin does offer financial assistance to families with autistic children through a state waiver program, Loritz says, but the waiting list is long because of high demand. “I learned that only through appropriate government policy can disadvantaged people be helped and protected so that all children may have an equal opportunity to education and success,” Loritz says. “Since then, I have been fully determined to devote myself to the cause of public service.”
She switched her degree to a double major in public administration and political science. After graduating in 2010, she enrolled at the La Follette School to acquire the technical skills she needs to bring about policy changes that will improve the lives of families like those she encountered as a line therapist.
“I chose the La Follette School because of its emphasis on quantitative skills and analytics — the ‘toolbox’ courses such as policy analysis, cost-benefit analysis and program evaluation,” says Loritz, who is pursuing a master of public affairs degree. “The school also has exposed me to a wealth of practical experience in Wisconsin’s state agencies, given its close proximity to the state Capitol. La Follette’s small class sizes and in-state tuition was attractive to me as well.”
The La Follette School’s Public Budgeting course taught by Paul Soglin, who is now Madison’s mayor, proved to be one of the most useful courses Loritz has taken. “The knowledge gained from this course not only has assisted me in analyzing budgets, whether the analysis is a unit cost analysis or a trend analysis, but it showed me just how important it is to understand the budget authority of the state or local municipalities,” she says. “No matter how impressive a policy change or program may be, the common concern is the policy’s fiscal feasibility. Soglin’s public budgeting course taught me how to use my budget analyses in order to conduct a strong fiscal argument.”
Loritz has applied these skills in two internships and now in her full-time job with a state agency. After completing her first year at La Follette, she went home to Green Bay and interned with the city’s finance director. “I saw firsthand the operations and general fiscal concerns of city officials as an assistant to the city of Green Bay’s finance director,” Loritz says. “I looked into establishing a debt policy to set rules and provisions for the management of existing debt and for the issuance of additional debt. I also researched and crafted a capital improvement program to schedule and budget for major city projects expected to be undertaken during the next five years. Last, I researched information pertaining to the management and use of the city’s general fund reserve. I eventually presented my research to the finance director who then directed me to draft the three policies.” Toward the end of the summer, Loritz learned that the council passed the general fund policy.
“If it wasn’t for Professor Soglin focusing on local government budgeting, I would have been lost on many of these key issues, and thus would not have understood the importance of the City of Green Bay having these policies in place,” Loritz says.
Loritz returned to Madison halfway through the summer to start an internship with the Wisconsin Department of Regulation and Licensing. “That experience familiarized me with general fiscal and accounting work, including developing and maintaining spreadsheets, tracking financial transactions, handling correspondence and conducting unit cost analyses,” she says. “Most useful was learning how to work with the State of Wisconsin’s accounting system, WiSMART.”
In September 2011 Loritz accepted a full-time position with the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families as a budget and policy analyst in the Bureau of Budget and Policy. The flexibility of the La Follette School program allowed her to change her status to part time, and she anticipates graduating in May 2013.
She credits the skills she gained during her two internships and the La Follette School’s analytical approach toward policy with helping her attain the job at DCF.
“I will brief the department’s secretary on child support policy, estimate appropriation levels and position needs for child support programs, develop technical documents related to the agency’s biennial budget request, and act as the liaison to the State Budget Office and the Legislative Fiscal Bureau regarding child support programs during the budget process,” Loritz says.
“I will be able to help children and families in a way that a career in social work or psychology never could; I now have the opportunity to help thousands rather than a few.”
— posted December 19, 2011