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GOP budget increases K-12 spending less than 10% of Tony Evers' proposal
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K-12 SPENDING

GOP budget increases K-12 spending less than 10% of Tony Evers' proposal

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The Legislature’s GOP-led budget committee voted Thursday to increase state taxpayer funding for schools by $128 million over the next two-year budget, less than 10% of the roughly $1.6 billion increase sought by Democratic Gov. Tony Evers.

In what has become a common talking point this budget cycle, Republicans said the K-12 spending plan, which passed 11-4 along party lines, is an effort to account for billions in federal stimulus funds provided to the state during the pandemic. However, the GOP budget may fall short of what the state needs to spend in order to get all those dollars, according to the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau.

Top takeaways from the Madison School District 2021-22 preliminary budget

“It is hard to talk about how we’re going to fund our schools and ignore the fact that we have so much fed funding coming into the state,” said committee member Rep. Jessie Rodriguez, R-Oak Creek. “It is part of the conversation.”

Wisconsin schools are set to receive roughly $2.6 billion in federal aid through several coronavirus stimulus packages passed by Congress over the course of the pandemic.

In order to receive the more than $1.5 billion in education funding included in the latest federal package, the state needs to spend at least the average K-12 allocation made from fiscal years 2016-17 through 2017-18, the Fiscal Bureau said. The bureau notes that the state needs to increase education spending by $387 million over the two-year period in order to reach the threshold needed to get the federal funds.

“By cutting or keeping spending levels flat, you continue to jeopardize Wisconsin’s short-term economic recovery and long-term economic prospects by not investing in our future,” Evers wrote in a letter to the committee’s co-chairs Thursday.

Committee co-chair Rep. Mark Born, R-Beaver Dam, said he recently became aware of the federal requirement, despite the fiscal bureau first mentioning it in an April 8 memo.

“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.

It’s not clear if the GOP plan would meet the state’s requirement to receive those funds, but Republicans on the committee said those details will be fleshed out during the budget process.

Republicans also voted to put an additional $350 million into the state’s budget stabilization fund to “maintain education funding stability in the future,” but that fund can be tapped for any purpose so there’s no guarantee those dollars would end up going to schools.

Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-West Point, said the GOP’s K-12 budget falls close to $200 million short of meeting the threshold for federal funds.

“The $1.5 billion for education that you’re counting on, you’re not getting it,” Erpenbach said during the meeting. “This K-12 budget is absolutely nothing to be proud of and it’s certainly not something I would be talking about publicly if I were you.”

Committee co-chair Sen. Howard Marklein, R-Spring Green, said it’s possible federal guidelines for the money could change and the risk is “manageable.”

While the majority of federal funds are directed to schools based on the number of low-income students, roughly $154 million of those dollars can be allocated by the state. Republicans on Thursday voted to direct close to $114 million of that money to school districts that have provided in-person classes for at least 50% of the current school year.

“We want to make sure districts doing the right thing are rewarded,” said Sen. Duey Stroebel, R-Saukville.

Rep. Evan Goyke, D-Milwaukee, criticized the proposal as one that punishes schools that were forced to shift to online classes during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It wasn’t a partisan effort to go virtual,” Goyke said. “Now it’s become partisan.”

The budget committee earlier this year voted to allocate 10% of the roughly $686 million provided to Wisconsin schools in a previous stimulus package based in part on how much in-person classes districts provided in the current school year.

In the state budget, Republicans voted Thursday to provide a $39 per-pupil increase to school districts that held in-person classes for more than 50% of the 2020-21 school year, for a minimum of $781 per student. Schools that did not provide that level of in-person instruction would see no increase in funding.

The GOP budget proposal also would increase special education reimbursements to school districts from 28.2% to 30%.

Evers had proposed increasing the reimbursement rate to 50% by the end of the 2021-23 biennium, which Beth Sweeden, executive director of the Wisconsin Board for People with Developmental Disabilities, described as a much-needed increase to provide school districts with the level of funding necessary to provide adequate special education services.

“When extra services are needed for special education, oftentimes they have to be taken out of the overall school budget … this is an investment that has a ripple effect in keeping school districts healthy,” Sweeden said. “I think it’s very important to understand how special education programming investments benefit the entire school district.”

Other measures in the GOP budget plan include: a $12 million increase to mental health aid to schools; $7 million for school-based mental health collaboration grants; a $6.3 million increase to sparsity aid; and $13 million for high-cost transportation aid.

Evers had proposed an increase of about $1.6 billion in state tax dollars for schools, similar to his original proposal two years ago. Republicans and Evers in 2019 eventually agreed to a budget that increased education spending by about $570 million, including $97 million to special education.

"It is hard to talk about how we’re going to fund our schools and ignore the fact that we have so much fed funding coming into the state. It is part of the conversation.”

Rep. Jessie Rodriguez, R-Oak Creek

Option 1

Wisconsin schools are set to receive roughly $2.6 billion in federal aid through several coronavirus stimulus packages passed by Congress over the course of the pandemic.

Option 2
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