Joint Finance Committee passes education budget that provides just a fraction of what Evers has requested

The Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee on Thursday voted – 11-4 along party lines – to advance an education budget providing a fraction of what Governor Tony Evers proposed: a $500 million increase, versus the $1.4 billion Evers has proposed in his People’s Budget.

“Politicians don’t stand face-to-face with children who need extra help,” said WEAC President Ron Martin. “They don’t spend hours in the evening communicating with families to make the difference for students. They don’t accept declining pay and benefits and increasing stress for the privilege to educate. But we do.”

Martin said he is encouraged to see $1.6 million included for high cost transportation funding that will help students in rural areas, $12.5 million in funding for student mental health, as well as $2 million for school libraries. “The investment in special education is a needed increase after a decade of flat funding,” he said.

Here are some specifics of what the Joint Finance Committee passed Thursday:

  • Total $500 million increase over the next two years. This is far below the $1.4 billion increase in funding Gov. Tony Evers proposed for K-12 over the next biennium.
  • $97 million raise for special education funding. The governor proposed $606 million. The reimbursement rate was increased to 30 percent, half of the 60 percent requested by the governor. It’s notable that Joint Finance Committee Republicans have supported continuing the 90 percent special education reimbursement rate for private voucher schools.
  • Increase for per-student funding by $200 in the first year of the budget and $204 in the second year. The sum would be covered through a combination of categorical aids and revenue limit adjustments.
  • Allowance for low-spending school districts to raise their revenue limits, which are currently set at $9,400 per student, to $9,700 in the first year of the budget and $10,000 in the second year.
  • Increase funding for school mental health services and high-cost transportation aid for rural school districts, although at a much lower level than proposed by the governor.

In addition to scaling back investments in public schools, the Republican majority opted not to overhaul the state’s school funding formula to set a minimum level of funding per student and add a poverty component in allocating funding, which would weigh families’ abilities to support schools in their district.

There will be more negotiations at some point because the governor has to sign any budget into law. What that looks like, and what the result could be, nobody knows.

“From here, it is even more important than ever to take up the role as advocates,” Martin said. “We must all be educators who fight every day, in every way, for our students.”

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