Legislative Update – September 18 – Senate passes budget, sends to governor

The State Senate passed a $76 billion state budget over the weekend, clearing the way for the governor to act – likely this week. The governor has said he will veto some measures, so this is your chance to send a letter asking him to veto bad budget provisions like restrictions on local control of school boards in referendums and the break-apart of the Racine Unified School District.

Email the Governor

The budget is a mixed bag for public schools. It represents a 6 percent increase in state funding for K-12 schools – the first public school increase in six years. That includes a per-pupil increase outside of the school funding formula of $200 and $204 each year of the budget. Increases in categorical aids are also included, in areas such as mental health supports and rural school support.

The budget also continues the state’s practice of siphoning funds from public schools to subsidize private school tuition. Private school vouchers will be increased $217 per pupil each year of the budget, and the income limit is expanded to allow high-earning households to receive tax-funded tuition vouchers. Special needs vouchers are also expanded, and funding is increased substantially.

Teacher licensure is upended in the budget, and performance-based funding for higher education is also implemented.

According to senators who held up a vote based on their objections, the governor has already agreed to use his veto pen to:

  • Remove an option for school districts to hold a special election in November of odd-numbered years. The measure is part of referendum restrictions contained in the budget requiring districts to conduct referendums only on regularly scheduled primary and general election days.
  • Eliminate the energy efficiency exemption to the school district revenue limit. Districts currently are allowed to undertake cost-saving efficiency measures outside of the revenue limit, but this puts an end to that option starting in the first year of the budget.
  • Repeal prevailing wage on state projects immediately, instead of the in September 2018.

The Senate voted 19-14 to pass the budget, with all Republicans except Sen. David Craig, from the Town of Vernon, in favor and all Democrats against. Craig objected to overall spending increases.

To see key components of the budget bill, go to www.weac.org/budget.

Key amendments for schools voted down
Senate Democrats introduced budget amendments allowing Wisconsinites to refinance student loans through a new state authority, accepting the Medicaid expansion, boosting funding for broadband expansion grants and putting more money toward K-12. All were voted down. Senator Janet Bewley of Ashland said Republicans approved a $3 billion incentive package for Foxconn while underfunding rural schools. “We shouldn’t pay Foxconn first and our kids later. This is not fair. I am not proud of this budget.”

Coming up in the Legislature
Late Friday, the Senate Committee on Judiciary and Public Safety scheduled a vote for Tuesday on a bill (SB 169) to repeal Wisconsin’s state “gun-free school zones” statute. The bill was met with heated debate at a public hearing in May and many news outlets have editorialized against it.

The Assembly Education Committee has scheduled a vote on several education-related bills for Thursday, including AB 423 to expand teacher licenses for Montessori programs; AB 477 to incorporate into law a supplemental aid program for a school district having 500 or fewer pupils and that is at least 200 square miles; and AB 488 to require the Department of Public Instruction to make available, upon request, practice examinations or sample items related to knowledge and concept examinations required to be administered under state law. Under current law, DPI must allow a person to view a knowledge and concepts examination if the person submits a written request within 90 days after the examination is administered.

WEAC continues to monitor legislative activity and the impact on educators and working families. Look for our updates and encourage your colleagues to sign up for them as well. Direct your questions to communications@weac.org.