The K-12 spending plan Republicans on the Wisconsin Legislature's powerful budget committee approved Thursday could force more than $2.5 million in cuts from the Madison Metropolitan School District’s preliminary budget.
School districts often plan their annual budgets with assumptions built in as they wait for the Legislature to settle on final numbers, with MMSD approving its preliminary budget each June ahead of the July 1 start to the fiscal year.
Often, especially when the governor and legislative majority are in the same party, signals on how much funding will change begin to come early in biennial budget years. With that not the case this year, it left more guesswork for district budget managers, including in MMSD.
Part of MMSD’s guesswork was an assumed $100 per student increase in the revenue limit, which governs how much a district can receive through the combination of state aid and local property taxes.
Thursday, the Joint Finance Committee approved a K-12 spending plan that instead included zero increase on the revenue limit.
With more than 25,000 students, that means a $2.5 million cut from the MMSD preliminary budget publicly released in April and expected to receive School Board approval late next month.
District chief financial officer Kelly Ruppel wrote in an email Friday that the district is still hoping to see changes before the final state budget is approved.
“We have a long way to go in the State budgeting process before we know the full impacts of (the) final state budget,” Ruppel wrote. “But, we will start discussing contingency planning internally while we hope the legislators put students at the center in the next few weeks.”
It’s unclear which programs or initiatives could be at risk if MMSD has to cut $2.5 million from its current preliminary budget proposal. The School Board is expected to vote on its preliminary budget at its June 28 meeting.
The $128 million increase legislators approved Thursday, which marked less than one-tenth of the funding increase proposed by Gov. Tony Evers, was predicated on the billions in federal COVID-19 aid headed to schools over the next couple of years.
But the plan Republicans approved might put that same federal funding in jeopardy. The relief money for schools is contingent on states spending the same or more on K-12 education as they have on average over the last three fiscal years, as a proportion of their budget.
The increase is well below the $428 million two-year investment in K-12 and higher education that would be required, as WisPolitics.com reported. Republicans tried to make up the difference by putting $350 million into the state’s rainy day fund earmarked for education, but a letter sent from a U.S. Department of Education official Friday said the plan puts the money at risk.
“The failure of the Wisconsin legislature to appropriate sufficient levels of funds specifically for K-12 education may preclude the State from meeting applicable (maintenance of effort) requirements,” the letter states. “Specifically, Wisconsin may not consider funds that the legislature transfers to the budget stabilization fund to be State support for K-12 education until such time as those funds are appropriated by the legislature for the sole purpose of supporting K-12 education and made available to school districts for their use during the applicable fiscal year.”
JFC co-chair and Rep. Mark Born, R-Beaver Dam, said before JFC met Thursday that lawmakers had just learned of the requirement “a couple days ago,” though the Department of Public Instruction on April 1 sent a request to the committee that noted the requirement. Born and other lawmakers didn’t answer a reporter’s questions about the memo Thursday during a press conference.
"We certainly will build a budget and invest in the priorities of the state of Wisconsin, as we've intended to do the entire time, and we will deal with that maintenance of effort issue along the way," Born said. "We deal with part of it today certainly by making additional investments like we've been talking about in education."
Share your opinion on this topic by sending a letter to the editor to email@example.com. Include your full name, hometown and phone number. Your name and town will be published. The phone number is for verification purposes only. Please keep your letter to 250 words or less.