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WUWM's Emily Files reports on education in southeastern Wisconsin.

Milwaukee education, business leaders say some of state budget surplus should go to schools

People on stage
Emily Files
South Milwaukee School District business manager Blaise Paul and Zilber LTD executive John Kersey spoke at press conference at the Riverside Theater calling for increased school funding.

A coalition of Milwaukee groups that are often at odds are campaigning together for state lawmakers to spend some of Wisconsin’s $4 billion surplus on schools.

They included representatives from the competing public, private choice and charter school sectors, along with business leaders like Tim Sheehy from the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce and Milwaukee Bucks President Peter Feigin.

The joint effort grew from a meeting between business executives and leaders from Milwaukee’s school sectors, said Executive Vice President of Zilber LTD John Kersey.

"What if we put aside for a second all of our differences and combined our voices and advocate for something that would benefit all of our kids?" Kersey said during a press conference Wednesday at the Riverside Theater.

The coalition is asking the state to tap into its significant reserves to pay for a $343 per-pupil funding increase and 50% reimbursement rate for special education costs. The state currently reimburses schools for about 30% of special education costs, leaving districts to make up the rest by pulling money from general education.

Republican legislators kept K-12 funding mostly flat in the biennial budget, pointing to the windfall of federal COVID relief money coming to schools.

>>Federal COVID Relief Backfires On Wisconsin Schools In State Budget Proposal

South Milwaukee School District Director of Business Services Blaise Paul spoke at Wednesday’s press conference. He said the COVID relief is for one-time expenses related to the pandemic, and schools need money for increased costs due to inflation.

"Right now, as we speak, we’re trying to close the gap on a $1 million deficit," said Paul. "This we consider somewhat of a manufactured crisis. We do have a decent state surplus that is available and it’s our hope that the state will see that allocating some of that surplus for education is a wise investment."

Democratic Gov. Tony Evers is calling the Legislature into special session March 8 to take up his proposal for the budget surplus, which includes increasing education funding and sending $150 checks to residents. Republican legislative leaders have expressed opposition to that plan.

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Emily is WUWM's education reporter and a news editor.
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