John Nygren (copy)

Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette, and fellow Republicans on the state's budget committee voted Thursday to approve a proposed $500 million increase in education funding over the next two years. 

The Wisconsin Legislature’s budget committee signed off on a Republican education funding plan Thursday over protests from Democrats who argued the proposal didn’t go far enough.

The overall plan, just shy of a $500 million increase over the next two years, falls short of the $1.4 billion extra Gov. Tony Evers proposed for K-12 over the next biennium. It passed the Joint Finance Committee on an 11-4 vote, with all Republicans supporting it.

The vote came after legislative Republicans reached a deal on their public education funding plan, which includes a $97 million raise for special education funding — rather than the $606 million Evers proposed — and increases for per-student aids.

Democrats Thursday criticized the plan for leaving out Evers’ additional funding increases for special education and his proposal 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.

Rep. Evan Goyke, D-Milwaukee, said the GOP plan fails to “bring comprehensive change to the way we fund schools in the state of Wisconsin.”

And he praised Evers’ budget for recognizing “that investing in a young person today will pay off the return for the next generations.”

Republicans and Joint Finance Committee Co-chair John Nygren countered their planned investment — in addition to prioritizing kids — is sustainable in the years to come and would be something districts “can count on being there.”

“I don’t ever want to go back on a commitment we make to our kids,” Nygren said, knocking Democrats for being “willing to make a promise” that the state may not be able to continue.

Democratic members of the Legislature’s budget committee earlier Thursday afternoon also proposed a motion to amend the GOP plan to increase special education funding. The motion would have substituted the Republicans’ $96.8 million raise in funding for Evers’ $606 million.

But it was defeated on a 4-11 party-line vote, with all Republicans opposing it over Democratic objections. Republicans also refused to consider a separate motion from Democrats to adopt Evers' education funding plan, including items the committee had already voted to take out of the budget. 

“This governor makes these needed, targeted investments that school district after school district has urged us to make,” Rep. Chris Taylor, D-Madison, said. “And a central piece is special education.”

Sen. Luther Olsen, R-Ripon, countered the funding increase would allow districts to reach a 30% reimbursement rate for special education in the second year of the biennium — the level Evers as state superintendent had requested in his previous budget ask.

“Today we are hitting 30%, exactly the highest number Gov. Evers put in his budget when his only concern was K-12 education,” he said.

In addition to increasing special education funding, the GOP plan would also increase per-student funding by $200 in the first year of the budget and $204 in the second year. The sum would be covered through a combination of categorical aids and revenue limit adjustments.

And it would let low-spending school districts raise their revenue limits, which are currently set at $9,400 per student, to $9,700 in the first year of the budget and $10,000 in the second year; in addition to increasing funding for school mental health services and high-cost transportation aid for rural school districts. The money provides extra funding for districts based on student population density.

In all, Republicans expect the plan wouldn’t raise property taxes by more than 1% during the budget. Evers’ proposal was projected to increase them by around 2% in each of the next two years.

The budget committee is planning to meet again next Tuesday, when members are expected to vote on budgets from the University of Wisconsin System and Department of Natural Resources, among others.

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