Wisconsin Assembly Republicans are looking to raise investments in K-12 education by about $500 million over the next two years, about one-third of the $1.4 billion Gov. Tony Evers has proposed.
The plan GOP lawmakers unveiled Wednesday also includes the first increase in special education funding in more than a decade, totaling some $50 million.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, touted the "historic" investment that he said would bring K-12 funding to around $12 billion -- a plan he added would build on the current public education budget.
"Obviously if the last budget was kid friendly, this is like kid-friendly-plus," he said, referencing Evers' 2017 comments calling the 2017-19 budget "pro-kid."
Meanwhile, Evers honed in on the special education component of the Assembly Republican plan. While his office didn't return requests seeking comment, he shared a picture on Twitter that said he "will" increase that funding by his proposed $600 million.
"For too long, teachers and districts have been forced to do more with less in order to give kids the support they need. Let's do what's best for our kids and invest in special education," Evers wrote.
The announcement came one day before the Legislature’s budget committee is scheduled to meet to vote on the Department of Public Instruction funding plan for the next two years. It also came as Republican legislative leaders in both houses have been meeting to hammer out their differences on the issue, including during a meeting Wednesday with Evers.
Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, noted the meetings in a statement and said both chambers “seem to be headed in a very similar direction in crafting another pro-kid budget.”
Vos and Joint Finance Committee Co-chair Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette, said the caucuses would continue to work on the details but added they were optimistic they’d find agreement on the issue.
While the Assembly Republican education plan is about one-third of the $1.4 billion increase Evers has proposed, GOP lawmakers during their announcement said the two figures shouldn’t be compared apples-to-apples.
“The total amount of money that goes into the classroom, I think, is greater or no less than what Gov. Evers actually proposed,” Vos said, adding Evers “proposed a bunch of shifting of dollars” between districts and with property tax figures.
But Sen. Jon Erpenbach countered Vos is sending the message that Wisconsinites shouldn’t look at the budget “because he doesn’t want people to see what he’s doing or what he’s proposing.”
“It’s a situation where we have a governor who’s introduced a budget people support,” the Middleton Democrat and Joint Finance Committee member said. “He’s done the right thing, he’s done it responsibly, it’s paid for. And Republicans are gutting it at every chance they get.”
Under the GOP plan, lawmakers 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 through a mix of property taxes and state aid.
That component differs from Evers’ $618 million plan, which seeks to overhaul the state’s school funding formula to set a minimum level of funding per student and add a poverty component in allocating funding, which would weigh families’ abilities to support schools in their district.
Vos said Evers’ plan to overhaul the school funding formula, which the former state superintendent has proposed in his last four budgets, is off the table.
The Republican plan also calls for a $50 million increase in special education funding, a level that would raise the rate at which the state reimburses school districts for special education costs to 28 percent and represent the first increase in special education funding in more than a decade.
Still, the level is less than the $600 million increase Evers is seeking, which would increase the reimbursement rate to 60 percent by the second year of the budget.
The Department of Public Instruction has previously requested an increase in the amount of money to reimburse school districts for special education costs. The agency had looked to raise reimbursement rates from 26 percent to 28 percent in 2017-18 and 30 percent in 2018-19. But those requests didn’t ultimately make it into the current budget.
The issue has caused some school districts to use regular education money, or Fund 10, to cover special education costs.
The Assembly Republican plan would also increase student mental health funding by $20 million. It would also restore the state’s commitment to funding two-thirds of education costs, a measure Evers also backs.