The Joint Finance Committee took up K-12 education this week, passing along party lines a Republican omnibus motion representing a mixed bag for public schools in the state budget. Democrats had proposed a plan that would restore funding for public schools, but it was defeated along party lines. The state is three months behind in approving a budget, and as the majority of schools open next week they’ll be operating under last year’s budget until something is approved – probably mid-September.
The budget package comes in at $639 million, compared to the governor’s original proposal of $649 million. The version that passed out of committee includes a $200 increase in per-pupil funding for public school students in the first year of the budget and $204 in 2018-19 to $654 per student in the final year of the budget. That payment would be $630 in 2019-20 and every year after that.
The budget plan calls for a $500 million increase in categorical aids, the first such increase under the current governor. WEAC President Ron Martin welcomed the much-needed funding for students, saying future investments will also be critical. That’s because along with the per-pupil increase and some boosts in aid, the committee’s recommendation shifts a hefty chunk of tax dollars to private voucher schools, funding that could have restored public education funding that’s been lost to years of cuts.
The budget that’s taking shape is proof-positive that politicians should refrain from meddling in areas within which they have no expertise. Out of the 132 elected representatives in the Legislature, only one is an educator, holding a lifetime teaching license. “We believe the experts — namely the gifted public school educators who work with students every day — are best equipped to make policy and budget decisions that help students,” Martin said. “Many of the budget and policy decisions forwarded through this budget motion and in separate bills are clearly flawed.”
Special Needs Vouchers on Docket Next Week
The committee will again meet on September 5, taking up the school levy tax credit and special needs vouchers. It’s believed special needs open enrollment may also be affected, representing more funding siphoned from public schools to pay for private tuition. Specifically, language has been circulated to change the amount private schools get under special needs vouchers and open enrollment for special needs students from $12,000 to the actual costs incurred by the private school to implement the child’s most recent IEP or services plan.
The education package in the budget, by the issue:
Act 10 Reporting. A proposal to require school districts to prove they were shifting health care costs onto employees or lose student funding was removed.
Consolidation. There are several components to encourage districts to consolidate, including extra aid for districts that share administrative functions, participate in whole grade sharing and consolidate. Under the consolidation incentive, districts that make the move would receive $150 per pupil attending the consolidated district for the first five years after joining. In the sixth, the consolidated districts would qualify for 50 percent of that aid in the fifth year. In the seventh year, they’d get 25 percent of the aid from that fifth year. While consolidation may make sense for some districts, it could also lead to higher transportation costs and travel distances for students, especially in rural areas.
Energy Efficiency. The plan halts the ability for districts to exceed revenue limits for energy efficiency measures for one year. Last year, 120 districts utilized the exemption to enact long-term cost-saving measures. The governor had sought to eliminate the exemption.
Licensure. There are several provisions regarding teacher licensure, although lifetime licenses were not part of the omnibus motion. WEAC is analyzing the content and will provide analysis as it is available, as much relies on future procedures and implementation by the Department of Public Instruction.
Low-Spending Districts. An adjustment was made to the low-revenue ceiling to allow historically low-spending districts to catch up to other districts. The revenue limits for low-spending districts, now $9,100 per student, would increase to $9,300 per pupil in 2017-18 and $9,400 in 2018-19. The limit would then increase $100 per year through 2022-23, when it would be $9,800 per student.
Mental Health. Over $6 million in aid and grants to support student mental health services and bullying prevention in public schools and independently run private charters. Along with categorical aid, collaboration grants and training are included.
Open Enrollment. The level of funding for open enrollment transfers would increase $100 per pupil each year from 2017-18 through 2020-21 above any increase provided under the current law, from $6,748 in the last school year to $7,048 this year and $7,352 in 2018-19.
Racine Unified Break-Apart Plan. Similar to the failed Milwaukee Public Schools takeover maneuver, Republican lawmakers included a break-apart plan that targets the Racine Unified School District. The proposal would allow a break-apart czar to be appointed by politicians and, if students score low on standardized tests, would give the district one year to improve test scores before allowing villages to create their own school districts. There’s no telling if area villages would seek to absorb the costs associated with starting and maintaining a new school district, and watchers note that this appears in direct contradiction to the portions of the budget that reward districts for consolidating. Send an Email to Your Elected Officials.
Referendum Restrictions. Restrictions to local school referendums would tie the hands of local school boards when it comes to raising funds to keep schools afloat for students. WEAC has issued an action alert to urge elected officials to reject these restrictions so our students have the schools and resources they need to succeed. Under the plan, referendums would only be allowed on the regularly scheduled election days (spring primary and general each year and the partisan primary and general in even-numbered years, or the second Tuesday in November of odd-numbered years).
Sparsity Aid. The JFC plan nixes the governor’s proposal to add $20 million to expand sparsity aid, is designed to help rural districts. Instead, those that qualified in one year, but not the following, would receive 50 percent of their prior year award.
Vouchers. Income limits would be expanded for state-funded private school tuition vouchers in the statewide program. The current limit is $44,955 for a family of four in 2017-18. That would go to $53,460. Expanding the income limits would add an additional 550 students in 2018-19. Local school districts have to pay for those vouchers, and in the budget plan would be allowed to raise local property taxes. Statewide, that could signal an additional $30 million in property taxes.
Other Education Bills in the Works
The education provisions in the budget are only part of the picture when it comes to the legislative session. The Senate Education Committee passed a series of bills Thursday, including:
- Financial Literacy. Incorporating financial literacy into the curriculum of public schools (AB 280).
- Licensure. Grants initial license for completing Montessori teacher education program (SB 299).
- Pupil Data. Requiring an inventory of pupil data, (AB 71) and outlining responsibilities of the state superintendent related to privacy and security of pupil data (AB 72).
- Summer School. Changes funding for summer school and interim session classes (SB 301).
Insider Deals around Foxconn Revealed on State’s Handout of 17 Cents for Every $1 in Salary
Insider deals were revealed this week showing that Wisconsin more than doubled its incentive package in a handwritten note for Foxconn after initially offering the Taiwanese manufacturer $1.1 billion to bring jobs to the state, WisPolitics reported. Along with pushing the state’s share of the incentive package to $2.85 billion, Wisconsin went from offering Foxconn 10 cents for every $1 in salary it paid workers at the proposed plant to 17 cents for every $1, according to records from Gov. Scott Walker’s office.
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