Evers’ Veto Extends Increases for Public Schools for 400 Years
Impact will vary by district, still work to do to achieve schools our students deserve.
Governor Tony Evers has signed the 2023-25 state budget, using his veto pen to create a minimum per-pupil funding threshold for the next 400 years. By crossing out 34 characters, Evers significantly changed the future of school funding to the tune of nearly $270 million annually.
WEAC will provide more details as we learn more about how the line-item vetoes were accomplished and how individual districts will be impacted.
The move, which surprised Capitol insiders, ensured districts’ state-imposed limits on how much revenue they are allowed to raise will be increased by $325 per student each year until 2425, creating a permanent annual stream of new revenue for public schools and potentially curbing a key debate between Democrats and Republicans during each state budget-writing cycle. Evers said he took the step to “provide school districts with predictable long-term increases for the foreseeable future.”
Evers crafted the four-century school aid extension by striking a hyphen and a “20” from a reference to the 2024-25 school year. The increase of $325 per student is the highest single-year increase in revenue limits in state history.
WEAC advocacy made a huge difference during the budget process and while there is still work to be done to provide students with the public schools they deserve, this is a better budget than Wisconsin has seen in many years. Districts will be able to raise more resources for student programs, special education students will have more opportunities and low-spending districts will no longer be penalized under revenue limits.
“Guaranteed minimum increases for public school districts is a game-changer for Wisconsin Public Schools,” said WEAC President Peggy Wirtz-Olsen. “The governor took the budget that came out of the Joint Finance Committee and improved it. The governor has put educators in a better position to continue improving public schools and the lives of our students.”
Wirtz-Olsen continued, “We absolutely do not support any voucher school expansion and with polling showing a majority of Wisconsinites supporting the use of tax dollars for public school funding over private voucher schools, our union will continue our work to strengthen the public schools that serve all students – no exceptions.”
WEAC will continue to advocate for resources and policy that supports students and keeps educators in the profession. Up first is working in collaboration with groups including the state reading association to defeat a harmful bill to legislate reading curriculum backed by national for-profit companies with lobbyists in Wisconsin.
Here is a brief overview of the results from his veto actions:
Providing guaranteed minimum of $325 per pupil revenue limit adjustment for 400 years. “I object to the failure of the Legislature to address the long-term financial needs of school districts,” the governor said. “This veto makes no changes to the per pupil revenue limit adjustment provided in the 2023-24 and 2024-25 school years and provides school districts with predictable long-term spending authority increases. I have repeatedly recommended restoring the inflationary indexing of the per pupil revenue limit adjustment, which was in place prior to fiscal year 2009-10. Providing increased and continuing resources to school districts through the per pupil revenue limit adjustment, as recommended by the Legislature’s 2019 Blue Ribbon Commission on School Funding, should be something all Wisconsinites can support. I have often said that what is best for our kids is what is best for our state.”
Retaining high poverty aid for districts to support students in need. The governor saved high poverty aid, which would have been eliminated under the Legislature’s budget plan. “I object to eliminating this aid program without also providing sufficient increases in general equalization aid,” he said. Evers noted that under the legislative proposal there is a greater investment in the school levy tax credit – which does not provide funding for schools – than general equalization aid that goes into classrooms. “This is a less equitable funding model for school district costs and is in direct conflict with recommendations by the Legislature’s 2019 Blue Ribbon Commission on School Funding,” Evers continued. “Through this veto, I am retaining the [high poverty aid] appropriation so that the state has a clear pathway to support high poverty school districts.”
Rejecting tax funding for a single charter school while ignoring the majority of students. Governor Evers objected to providing a state grant to a single charter school – Lakeland STAR Academy – since the legislative budget fails to provide the needed level of state dollars in a number of critical programs that serve schools statewide, such as special education, school nutrition, or mental health categorical aid programs. “There are hundreds of charter schools authorized by public school districts, and it is unfair and inequitable to single only one school out for a state grant,” Evers said. “As I have said before, every kid in Wisconsin should be able to get a great education in a public school regardless of what district they live in, and state funding decisions should not pick winners and losers among our kids.”
Refusing to extend early learning pilot with low participation and results. The governor objected to extending the existing sunset date on an early learning pilot program in six school districts, citing that annual reports have not yet been made public. The program, which aims to provide prekindergarten online instruction in six school districts, has seen lower than expected participation and had less than 20 percent of children complete the final assessment in the only year in which that data is available. “If the participating school districts find sufficient value from services provided by the contracted program administrator, they may utilize their significantly increased revenue limit authority to support such services in the future,” Evers said.
Here are the specific K-12 education-related points the governor made in his veto message:
“Building on our historic progress in fully funding our public schools, this budget and 2023 Wisconsin Act 11 provide an overall increase of nearly $1.2 billion in spendable authority for public school districts, including state categorical aids. This increase will be more than ten times larger than what the increase in spendable authority was for public school districts in the 2021-23 biennium.
“While this is progress compared to the last biennium, this budget is well short of my proposed level of spending for our schools. We must continue to work to prioritize school funding during this biennium and into the future. This budget is an important step toward meeting our ultimate goals for our schools and our kids.
- The 2023-25 biennial budget increases the level of state support from 67.8 percent in fiscal year 2022-23 to an estimated 68.8 percent in fiscal year 2023-24 and 69.4 percent in fiscal year 2024-25. These will be the highest levels of state support for school districts since the calculation was initiated in fiscal year 1996-97 under the state’s former “two-thirds” funding goal.
- This historic investment is generated by a $325 per pupil increase on revenue limits in each fiscal year, in addition to an increase in the low revenue ceiling from $10,000 to $11,000 per pupil in the first year of the biennium. This is the largest increase in statewide revenue limit authority since revenue limits were first imposed on K-12 schools in 1993-94, and it is permanent and basebuilding.
- Through my veto, in future biennia and effectively in perpetuity, school districts will have continued, additive per pupil revenue adjustments of $325 every year, sustaining school district spending for years to come. This veto provides school districts with a level of budgeting certainty that they have not experienced since the statutory indexing mechanism for the adjustments was deleted in 2009-10.
- These record-high per pupil revenue limit increases also have the potential to take the burden off community members when it comes to school funding, as it reduces the need for districts to seek operating referenda.
- Estimates show more than half of the state’s 421 school districts would be able to use the low revenue ceiling increase in fiscal year 2024-25, meaning that countless students across the state will be able to attend schools that are better able to ensure that they have the staff, facilities, and resources they need to succeed.
- Every kid has the right to a quality education, regardless of their ability, yet Wisconsin, like many other states across the nation, has faced a special education staffing crisis. This budget:
- Provides $97 million GPR over the biennium to achieve a special education reimbursement rate of 33.3 percent each year, which is the highest reimbursement rate our state has seen in over 20 years; and
- Invests $4.6 million GPR over the biennium for high-cost special education aid, increasing the reimbursement rate of these programs from its current 39.5 percent to 45 percent in 2023-24 and 50 percent in 2024-25. This aid helps school districts pay a portion of their eligible special education costs for pupils with specific and elevated educational needs.
- Wisconsin’s strength lies in its diversity, which is why this budget provides $3 million GPR over the biennium for bilingual-bicultural aid. This will be the largest biennial increase in bilingual-bicultural aid in at least 30 years, ensuring that English language learners are properly supported and receive an education that addresses their specific language needs.
- Wisconsin’s students can’t succeed in the classroom if they can’t get to school, which is why this budget provides $5.9 million GPR over the biennium to increase the reimbursement rate for high-cost transportation aid to 75 percent in each year and increases the state reimbursement rate to districts transporting students 12 miles to and from school from $375 to $400, beginning in fiscal year 2023-24. These investments will provide better access to school transportation to students in rural and isolated areas.
- I have been working to address literacy issues since long before being elected Governor, and improving reading outcomes remains a top priority for me. This budget makes a significant investment in improving our kids’ reading skills by providing $50 million GPR to fund a new literacy initiative.
- Earlier this year, I declared 2023 the Year of Mental Health in Wisconsin because I know our kids can only achieve their full and best potential when they can bring their full and best selves to the classroom. To address the mental health crisis facing our kids, this budget provides $30 million GPR over the biennium to continue funding for school-based mental health modeled on my “Get Kids Ahead” initiative, helping schools provide needed mental health services to their pupils through community partnerships.
- The budget increases state funding by $1.2 million GPR over the biennium to fully fund the state’s sparsity aid program for eligible districts in both fiscal year 2023-24 and fiscal year 2024-25.
- The budget increases state funding by $14 million SEG over the biennium for school library aids.”