Updates on collective bargaining, retirement and more

A plan for unlimited, full and fair negotiations between educators and our employers has been issued a bill number, SB 853. The bill is assigned to the Senate Committee for Regulatory and Labor Reform. With the bill being introduced just as the Assembly has adjourned, it appears the bill will not move forward.

“This marks the start of building momentum to reestablish collective bargaining,” WEAC President Ron Martin said. “WEAC has allies in the state legislature who support us and we will continue to partner with many labor allies to create a path going forward.

“Through our union, we all have a part in building support and activity among educators and allies around collective bargaining,” Martin continued. “Now is the time to build the movement that we need.”

Senate, Assembly Republicans pass plan to cut taxes instead of investing in schools
A tax plan passed by State Senate and Assembly Republicans now rests with the governor, who says he’ll give their proposal as  much consideration as they gave his school investment plan.

Republicans failed to move on the governor’s call for a special session on school funding and instead passed their tax plan before the Assembly adjourned for the session. In addition to supporting the plan to use a state surplus for tax cuts amounting to about $2 a week for the average resident and providing big breaks for wealthy corporations, Republicans supported a package to spend nearly $1 billion for prisons.

“Republicans pushed students to the back of the line this week,” WEAC President Ron Martin said. “While they had no problem approving almost $1 billion for prisons, they balked at restoring what they’ve cut from schools. They voted for tax breaks for wealthy corporations but thumbed their noses at investing in children.”

Governor Tony Evers had urged the Legislature to use $250 million in state surplus funds to restore funding for public schools but Republican leaders refused to take up the proposal. The governor’s plan would have restored two-thirds funding to schools, including more resources for students with disabilities, mental health services and rural aid while still providing property tax relief.

The Republicans countered with a tax break bill and quickly moved it through committee this week before the full Senate and Assembly approved it along party lines. The Republican tax cut plan would cut income taxes by $106 annually for average filers, implement a $45 million personal property tax cut for businesses and direct $100 million toward paying down debt.

The governor signaled a veto, saying he’s as open to supporting the Republicans’ tax bill as they have been to his education plan.

The series of prison bills also approved along party lines contains one change that the Department of Corrections estimates would require two new prisons to be built. Currently, Wisconsin is ranked in the top twenty states that spends more on prison inmates than it does on students. Currently, Wisconsin taxpayers spend $33,000 per incarcerated person each year compared to $11,456 per student.

Teacher Retirement Age
A bill to raise the teacher retirement age (SB 612 / AB 670) won’t likely move forward this session now that Assembly has adjourned. The bill, which WEAC registered against, would raise the minimum retirement age for teachers to 59.5, who can now retire at 55. Under the proposal, retired public employees could work up to 36 months while collecting their pensions. The bill would apply to employees under the age of 40. While the bill would apply to teachers, a primarily female workforce, it would not apply to employees in male-dominated fields of protective services, including police officers, firefighters, most correctional officers and the state patrol.

Other Bills We’re Watching
The Assembly, which met for the final time this session, has approved the following bills we’re watching:

  • Cursive Writing Mandate (AB 459 / SB 414)  A public hearing was held this week on the Senate version of this bill to incorporate cursive writing into the state model English language arts standards and require cursive writing instruction in elementary grades. The Assembly held a hearing on the bill earlier this month, which is estimated to cost $6 million to implement if passed. 
  • Online Early Learning (SB-595 / AB-662). This would create an online early learning pilot program, with the DPI awarding a three-year contract to a service provider to administer for low-income children who live in three urban school districts and three rural school districts selected by\ the DPI. 
  • Athletic Participation (AB-779 / SB 705). This bill would allow a pupil who attends a virtual charter school to participate in interscholastic athletics and extracurricular activities in the pupil’s resident school district. The bill also provides that school districts are not allowed to be members of an interscholastic athletic association unless the association requires school district members to allow home-schooled pupils and virtual charter school pupils residing in a school district to participate in school district athletics. 
  • Expanding Part-Time Open Enrollment (AB 849). This bill expands the part-time open enrollment program and renames it the course choice program. Under the current part-time open enrollment program, a pupil enrolled in a public school in the high school grades may attend a course at a public school in a nonresident school district. Under the bill, a pupil enrolled in an educational institution, as defined in the bill, in grades one to twelve may attend a course at another educational institution. A pupil may attend no more than a total of two courses at any one time under the current part-time open enrollment program or under the bill’s course choice program. 
  • Seclusion and Restraint (SB 527).. The bill would require school districts to pass along the number of incidents of seclusion or restraint incidents to the state Department of Public Instruction. 
  • Holocaust Education (AB 816 / SB 744).This bill would require the Holocaust and other incorporating the Holocaust and other genocides into the state model social studies standards and requiring instruction on the Holocaust and other genocides.
  • School-based mental health consultation (SB-608 / AB-644). Would require the Department of Health Services to create and administer a school-based mental health consultation pilot program in Outagamie County to assist participating school-based providers in providing enhanced care to students with mental health care needs, to provide referral support for those students, and to provide additional services. The bill now goes to the governor.
  • School Accounting (SB-743 / AB-810). This would require the DPI to establish a new computerized uniform budget and accounting system by 2021-22 for the annual transmission of financial information from school districts, independent charter schools, and county children with disabilities education boards related to the receipt and expenditure of state, federal, and local funds at the school district and school level. The DPI would be required to post the information on its website and allow the public to download, sort, search and access the data at no cost. The bill also requires DPI to annually conduct a public information campaign on the availability of financial data on its Internet site. 

The Senate approved the following bills we’re watching:

  • Revenue Limit Ceiling (SB-437 / AB-473). This bill would create an exception to the freeze on using the low revenue ceiling adjustment after an operating referendum that failed in the 2018-19 school year if the referendum was for the cost of maintaining a new school and, at the same election, voters rejected a referendum for constructing a new building. The Freedom Area School District is the only one in Wisconsin that meets this criteria. The bill now goes to the governor.

Partial Veto Constitutional Amendment
The Assembly Constitution and Ethics Committee has approved the following:

  • Partial Veto Prohibition (AJR-108).  This constitutional amendment would prohibiting the governor from using the partial veto to increase state expenditures. WEAC has registered against.