Budget now in governor’s hands

2017-19 State Budget

The Legislature has completed its work on the 2017-19 state budget and sent it to the governor. To make sure you stay up date on all the developments and insights, sign up for email alerts on the left side of this page. You will receive an email asking you to confirm your subscription.

Education bills we’re watching

State budget talking points

2017-19 state budget proposal


The Legislature has sent the state budget to the governor, who has authority to make partial vetoes before signing it into law.

The Budget Bill contains many harmful proposals for students, educators and public schools.

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 proposal:

Act 10 Removed from Budget Proposal.

  • A proposal to require school districts to prove they were shifting health care costs onto employees or lose student funding was removed.

Charter Schools

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


  • 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 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.


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

Higher Ed

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


  • Per-pupil funding for public schools would see a $200 increase in 2017-18 and $204 in 2018-19.
  • General school aids funding would remain 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 under the Senate proposal, 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.


  • WEAC is closely monitoring several provisions included in the state budget that impact teacher licensure. With any of the measures, which insiders say are likely to pass, 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 FactoriesThe 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 would be 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 would increase $200 in fiscal year 2017-18 and $204 in 2018-19. Overall, the governor proposes a plan to provide $648,892,200 over the biennium per pupil aid increase: $197,417,300 in FY2017-18, $451,474,900 in FY2018-19, which includes $10,100,000 in FY2017-18 and $20,200,000 in FY2018-19 be funded with savings from self-insurance health benefits for state employees.  Per pupil aid payments will increase $200 FY2017-18 and $204 in FY2018-19.  School districts would be required to certify they are compliant with 2011 Wisconsin Act 10 to receive the aid, and the aid must go directly to individual school buildings.

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 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).

Revenue Limits

  • Energy efficiency exemption in revenue limits. Eliminate 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.

Self-insurance for state employees

  • The Joint Finance Committee will meet regarding objections to self-insurance on Thursday, June 15. The governor’s budget proposal includes anticipated savings, about which elected leaders on both sides of the aisle have expressed doubts. About 22,000 of WEA Trust’s 82,000 members are in the state worker health plan. AFSCME  has criticized the plan, saying that with a new administration in Washington promising to upend the nation’s health care system now is the wrong time for Wisconsin to roll the dice on a risky rewrite of its own system.


  • Property Taxes. End 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. Cut 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. Reduce 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

  • Amending performance-based funding for technical colleges. The budget would maintain 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.


  • Per-pupil aid payments for voucher school students would increase $217 each year. The governor provides for fully funding of expected changes in privately run charter schools, vouchers, and for special needs 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.
  • The JFC is considering a change in 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.

Special Needs Vouchers

  • Eliminate 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.
  • Eliminate Prior Year Public School Enrollment Requirement. Beginning next year, current private school students could 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 would receive $12,000 from the public school district. The following year, the private school would receive 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.

Read more:

The Wisconsin Budget Project’s summary of the governor’s proposed 2017-19 budget for education