State budget sent to governor is a mixed bag; WEAC advocates for several vetoes

With the governor likely to act soon on a state budget that includes a funding increase at long last for public schools, WEAC members are pleased elected officials have responded to the public’s call to increase funding for public schools. And while educators are welcoming the positive aspects of the budget document, they are also advocating for several vetoes on provisions that do not serve students well. Those include:

Energy Efficiency
The proposal halts the ability for districts to exceed revenue limits for energy efficiency measures for one year. Last year, 120 districts utilized the exemption to enact long-term cost-saving measures. The governor, who originally sought to eliminate the exemption, says he’ll veto the program entirely when he takes up the budget.

Referendum Restrictions
Restrictions to local school referendums in the budget would tie the hands of local school boards when it comes to raising funds to keep schools afloat for students. Under the plan, referendums would only be allowed on the regularly scheduled election days – spring primary and general each year and the partisan primary and general in even-numbered years, or the second Tuesday in November of odd-numbered years. The governor says he plans to veto the ability to go to referendum in November of non-election years.

Voucher Income Expansion
Income limits would be expanded for state-funded private school tuition vouchers in the statewide program. The current limit is $44,955 for a family of four in 2017-18. That would go to $53,460. Expanding the income limits would add an additional 550 students in 2018-19. Local school districts have to pay for those vouchers, and in the budget plan would be allowed to raise local property taxes. Statewide, that could signal an additional $30 million in property taxes.

Special Needs Vouchers
Elimination of Prior Year Open Enrollment Requirement. Pupils would no longer have been denied under the open enrollment program in order to receive a special needs voucher. That change alone is estimated to increase the number of pupils in the program by 50 next year, and increase voucher payments by $621,400. The school districts the pupils live in would pay for the voucher tuition, but would be allowed to raise local property taxes to cover the private school price tag.

Eliminate Prior Year Public School Enrollment Requirement. Beginning next year, current private school students would receive tax-funded tuition under the special needs voucher program. Law now says they had to be enrolled in a public school the prior year. It is estimated that the change could increase the number of pupils participating in the program by 200 pupils next year and increase voucher payments by $2.5 million. Again, school districts would be allowed to raise local property taxes to cover the private school price tag.

Voucher PaymentsIn the first year a pupil receives a special needs voucher, the private school would receive $12,000 from the public school district. The following year, the private school would receive the greater amount of these two scenarios:

  • Either the actual costs incurred by the private school the year before based on what they file with the DPI to document what it cost to implement the child’s most recent IEP or services plan (as modified by agreement between the private school and the child’s parent) plus related services agreed to by the private school and the child’s parent that are not included in the IEP or services plan; or
  • A flat rate of $12,000.

This is a no-win for taxpayers, with private schools in the voucher program required to provide little to no accountability for meeting student needs or being fiscally responsible. State aid would be siphoned from local public school aid and shifted to private schools up to 150 percent of the per-pupil payment (again allowing school boards to raise local property taxes to make it up). Special needs voucher costs above the 150 percent would result in the state shifting tax dollars to cover the private school tuition bill, up to 90 percent above the remaining amount.

Privately Run Charter Schools
Allows any UW Chancellor and any technical college district board to authorize independent charter schools anywhere in the state.

Racine Unified Break-Apart Plan
Similar to the failed takeover maneuver aimed at Milwaukee Public Schools, Republican lawmakers included a break-apart plan that targets the Racine Unified School District. The proposal would allow a break-apart czar to be appointed by politicians and, if students score low on standardized tests, would give the district one year to improve test scores before allowing villages to create their own school districts.

Alternative teacher preparation programs
Initial teaching licenses would be awarded to anyone with a bachelor’s degree and who has completed an alternative certification program (aka online licensing factories that refuse to meet minimum standards set by the legislature). Under the measure, the certification program must be operated by a provider that is a non-profit organization under the internal revenue code, that operates in at least five states and has been in operation for at least 10 years, and that requires the candidate to pass a subject area exam and the Professional Teaching Knowledge exam. This opens the door to outfits such as the American Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence, which operates in Florida, Arkansas and Tennessee, to name a few. The Board’s website promotes its program as a way to earn teacher certification in less than one year, without taking on debt or returning to school. Student teaching is not required as a basis of certification.