Gov. Tony Evers knocked legislative Republicans' K-12 funding proposal to boost education dollars by $500 million, but added he's "hopeful" negotiations will continue.
But GOP leaders countered the plan is likely the Legislature's best offer and they advised Evers to accept their increase, which represents roughly one-third of the $1.4 billion the governor is seeking in public education funding over the next two years.
The comments Thursday came after Assembly and Senate Republicans reached a deal on their K-12 funding plan, which would allocate an additional $350 million in equalized aid to school districts and almost $100 million extra for special education funding.
While the special ed funding level is up from the $50 million Assembly GOP lawmakers announced Wednesday as discussions between the two caucuses were continuing, it still falls short of the $606 million Evers proposed in his budget plan.
Evers in a tweet Thursday morning said the Republican proposal "doesn't get us where we need to be."
"I remain hopeful that I can continue to work with Republicans to give our schools and our kids the resources they need to be successful," Evers wrote. "There's still a long way to go in the budget process, but we're not going to negotiate against ourselves or our kids."
But Joint Finance Committee member Sen. Luther Olsen, R-Ripon, told reporters he doesn't see the spending levels getting "much better from this, if at all."
"As I said, word to the wise, sign it," he said. "Schools are happy, very very happy and we’re putting the money in the classrooms."
The back-and-forth came ahead of the Legislature's Joint Finance Committee meeting Thursday to vote on the K-12 spending plan.
Ahead of the meeting, Democratic members of the committee and members of the Wisconsin Public Education Network in separate news conferences criticized the GOP plan, saying it falls short of what Evers envisioned.
"Our Republican colleagues are making this budget about winners and losers," Sen. LaTonya Johnson, D-Milwaukee, told reporters. "And they’re doing this with our children."
But Joint Finance Committee Co-chair John Nygren, R-Marinette, said Evers' initial $1.4 billion plan amounted to "a political document, more of a campaign document" than a real budget. He added education officials had questioned whether the increases were "realistic."
Specifically, the GOP plan would increase per-student expenditures by $200 in the first year of the biennium and $204 in the second year — a proposal that would be funded in part through a property-tax increase in addition to categorical aids.
Republicans said their goal is to keep property taxes at under 1 percent each year of the biennium.
It would also put an extra nearly $100 million into special education funding, which would increase the rate schools are reimbursed for those costs to 30 percent by the end of the biennium.
The Department of Public Instruction under Evers' leadership as superintendent had previously requested a similar increase, including during the last budget. At that time, the agency wanted to raise reimbursement rates to 28 percent in 2017-18 and 30 percent in 2018-19.
Evers' current budget plan, though, would have raised the reimbursement rate to 60 percent over the next two years.
The GOP plan would also increase student mental health funding, among other things.