Legislative Update

 


Education bills we’re watching


2017-19 state budget

The governor has signed the state budget into law, after using his veto power on several provisions including one provision that would have helped low spending districts.

The budget is a mixed bag for public schools. It represents a 6 percent increase in state funding for K-12 schools – the first public school increase in six years. That includes a per-pupil increase outside of the school funding formula of $200 and $204 each year of the budget. Increases in categorical aids are also included, in areas such as mental health supports and rural school support.

The budget also continues the state’s practice of siphoning funds from public schools to subsidize private school tuition. Private school vouchers will be increased $217 per pupil each year of the budget, and the income limit is expanded to allow high-earning households to receive tax-funded tuition vouchers. Special needs vouchers are also expanded, and funding is increased substantially.

Teacher licensure is upended, and WEAC is advocate intensely as administrative rules and procedures are developed to ensure Wisconsin students have qualified teachers and that the education professions are maintained and respected for their critical role in our democracy. Guidance and analysis are being developed by WEAC’s licensure experts and will be available to members going forward.

Here are some key facts to know:

Uneven Funding for Vouchers + Public Schools. The Budget proposes increased funding for K-12 public schools for the first time in six years in the areas of per-pupil funding and some categorical aids. However, the increases in this budget won’t restore the nearly $1 billion that has been cut. On top of that, the proposed budget calls for more state and local funding to be siphoned off for unaccountable private voucher schools. For instance, the income cap is raised from 125 to 220 percent of the federal poverty level, and boosts funding for special needs vouchers – essentially issuing a blank check for private schools that receive those subsidies.

The budget proposal 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.”

Below find key proposals included in the budget:

Charter Schools

  • Allows any UW Chancellor and any technical college district board to authorize independent charter schools anywhere in the state.

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.
  • At the same time, the budget proposal allows for the break-apart of the Racine Unified School District, in direct conflict with its incentives for schools to consolidate. Read more about that below.

Course Options and Youth Options merged into Early College Credit program

  • Effective with the 2017-18 school year, the Course Options and Youth Options programs would be merged into a new Early College Credit program to simplify how high school students could obtain college credit. The proposal would limit per-credit charges and designate who is responsible for paying those credit costs. The proposal also allows pupils to take dual enrollment courses during the summer. Any public high school pupil could enroll in a UW System institution, a technical college within the WTCS, a tribal college, or a private, nonprofit institution of higher education located in Wisconsin to take one or more nonsectarian courses, including during a summer semester or session.

Energy Efficiency

  • The plan eliminates 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.

Farm-to-School

  • Eliminates the farm-to-school coordinator position and 15-member farm-to-school advisory council.

Higher Ed

  • Eliminates the Educational Approval Board, which regulates for-profit higher education institutions. Lawmakers stripped that proposal out from the 2015-17 budget.

Funding 

  • Per-pupil funding for public schools increases $200 in 2017-18 and $204 in 2018-19.
  • General school aids funding remains at base level funding of $4,584,098,000 in 2017-18 and increase to $4,656,848,000 in 2018-19. This would represent an increase of 1.6% in 2018- 19 compared to the prior year.
  • High-cost special education aid is expanded, increasing the amount school districts are reimbursed for high-cost special education to 90 percent of eligible prior year costs above $30,000. Currently districts are reimbursed at 70 percent.
  • $20 million is added 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.

Licenses

  • WEAC is closely analyzing several provisions that impact teacher licensure. The DPI will have a big role in developing the rules for enactment. WEAC leaders are committed to being front-and-center as an educator voice as procedures are adopted. Read more. Related: Emergency rules in effect for the 2017-18 school year and rules recently made permanent.
  • Online License Factories. The Budget creates a backdoor way to lower teaching standards by allowing initial teaching licenses to be granted to individuals certified by online licensing factories that refuse to meet minimum standards set by the Legislature and Department of Public Instruction. This opens the door to outfits such as the American Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence, which operates in Florida, Arkansas and Tennessee, to name a few. The Board’s website promotes its program as a way to earn teacher certification in less than one year, without taking on debt or returning to school. Student teaching is not required as a basis of certification. Note: WEAC and the DPI strenuously objected to this provision, as Wisconsin has existing alternative pathways and also recognizes out-of-state licenses. Read all the license provisions included in the budget.

Mental Health Programming

  • 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.

Part-time open enrollment

  • A part-time open enrollment program is reinstated, allowing public high school students to attend a public school in another district to take a course offered by the nonresident school district. Under the proposal, students could not attend more than two courses at another school at the same time.

Per-Pupil Funding

  • Per Pupil Increase. Per-pupil aid payments for public school students increases $200 in fiscal year 2017-18 and $204 in 2018-19.

Racine Unified Break-Apart Plan

  • Similar to the failed takeover maneuver aimed at Milwaukee Public Schools, Republican lawmakers included a break-apart plan that targets the Racine Unified School District. The proposal allowd a break-apart czar to be appointed by politicians and, if students score low on standardized tests, gives 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.

Referendum Restrictions

  • Restrictions to local school referendums tie the hands of local school boards when it comes to raising funds to keep schools afloat for students. Referendums are 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.

Revenue Limits

  • Energy efficiency exemption in revenue limits. Eliminates Act 32, which allows school districts to move forward on energy efficiency projects outside of revenue limits. School districts would need to go to referendum for such energy efficiency projects outside operational budgets.

Taxes

  • Property Taxes. Ends the state-portion of the property tax levy – thereby eliminating one source of ongoing property tax increases. A sum sufficient appropriation will be established to ensure continued funding for forestry programs equal to the amount that the state-levied property tax would have raised.
  • Income Taxes. Cuts individual income taxes by reducing the tax imposed on the first $37,450 of taxable income for married-joint filers and the first $28,900 for single filers.
  • Income Taxes. Reduces the bottom two tax brackets – the bottom bracket will go from 4% to 3.9%; the next bracket will be reduced from 5.84% to 5.74% and the bracket will be expanded by 25%.

Technical Colleges

  • Amends performance-based funding for technical colleges. The budget maintains the 30 percent portion of state aid distrusted based on performance, but would modify it to include weighted-scale categories: affordability and attainment, workforce readiness, student success in the workforce, and efficiency.

Vouchers

  • Per-pupil aid payments for voucher school students increases $217 each year. The budget provides for fully funding changes in privately run charter schools, vouchers, and for special needs vouchers.
  • Income limits are 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 goes up to $53,460. Expanding the income limits is expected to add an additional 550 students in 2018-19. Local school districts have to pay for those vouchers, and in the budget plan allows them to raise local property taxes. Statewide, that could signal an additional $30 million in property taxes.
  • The funding amount private schools get under special needs vouchers and open enrollment for special needs students is increased from $12,000 to the actual costs incurred by the private school to implement the child’s most recent IEP or services plan. (See more below.)

Special Needs Vouchers

  • Eliminates Prior Year Open Enrollment Requirement. Pupils would no longer be denied under the open enrollment program in order to receive a special needs voucher. That change alone is estimated to increase the number of pupils in the program by 50 next year, and increase voucher payments by $621,400. The school districts the pupils live in would pay for the voucher tuition, but would be allowed to raise local property taxes to cover the private school price tag.
  • Eliminates Prior Year Public School Enrollment Requirement. Beginning next year, current private school students can receive tax-funded tuition under the special needs voucher program. Law now says they had to be enrolled in a public school the prior year. It is estimated that the change could increase the number of pupils participating in the program by 200 pupils next year and increase voucher payments by $2.5 million. Again, school districts would be allowed to raise local property taxes to cover the private school price tag.
  • Voucher Payments. In the first year a pupil receives a special needs voucher, the private school receives $12,000 from the public school district. The following year, the private school receives the greater amount of these two scenarios:
    • Either the actual costs incurred by the private school the year before based on what they file with the DPI to document what it cost to implement the child’s most recent IEP or services plan (as modified by agreement between the private school and the child’s parent) plus related services agreed to by the private school and the child’s parent that are not included in the IEP or services plan; or
    • A flat rate of $12,000.

This is a no-win for taxpayers, with private schools in the voucher program required to provide little to no accountability for meeting student needs or being fiscally responsible. State aid would be siphoned from local public school aid and shifted to private schools up to 150 percent of the per-pupil payment (again allowing school boards to raise local property taxes to make it up). Special needs voucher costs above the 150 percent would result in the state shifting tax dollars to cover the private school tuition bill, up to 90 percent above the remaining amount.

 

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