As MPS welcomes back students, Evers announces push for $2 billion school funding increase
Democratic Gov. Tony Evers announced Tuesday that if reelected this November, he would push for a $2 billion increase for public schools in the next biennial state budget.
Evers unveiled the plan as Milwaukee Public Schools welcomed back most of its students for the first day of school. It’s a school year families hope will be back to normal, after two and half years of pandemic disruptions.
MPS rolled out the red carpet for students at the Academy of Accelerated Learning, an elementary school with about 600 students on Milwaukee's southwest side.
The students were greeted by Evers, who was Wisconsin’s state superintendent before becoming governor.
"I’ve always said what’s best for our kids is what’s best for our state," Evers said. "I know this is going to be a great year for kids and for schools across Wisconsin."
Evers noted that the last few years have been hard on kids. In MPS, school was virtual for almost the entire 2020-21 school year. Last year, some schools closed temporarily due to COVID numbers.
"We know our kids, our families and our schools need more help than ever to get caught up and get more educators and staff into our classrooms, and ensure every kid has the support and resources they need to be successful," Evers said when explaining the impetus for his $2 billion education spending proposal.
The big-ticket items in the proposal include $860 million in per-pupil funding and $750 million in special education aid. Evers said he would tap the state's $5 billion surplus to help pay for it.
Last week, Evers announced he was sending $90 million in one-time federal aid to schools to help them cope with inflation-driven costs. In the current biennial budget, Republican lawmakers gave schools a minimal increase in new, spendable funding.
Evers’ Republican opponent, Tim Michels, derided the $2 billion spending plan, blaming the governor for achievement declines in public schools, including MPS. Instead of increasing funding, Michels wants to redirect state money to pay for universal school choice, also known as school voucher programs.
"I believe there is enough money in education for universal school choice," Michels told reporters Monday. "Why is that? Universal school choice will bring competition into the education marketplace. Competition is a great motivator and will bring greater efficiency and greater focus on education."
If Evers is reelected, Republican lawmakers are unlikely to sign off on his proposal. In past budget cycles, they’ve thrown out most of his spending requests.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) tweeted: "This is a feeble ploy to try to win votes after the disastrous results of Governor Evers’ failures. The impact and damage done to children's education by shutting down schools for two years is not something their parents will easily forget."
Evers also wants to change state law to allow school districts to rehire retired teachers. He said it could help combat staffing shortages.
MPS spokesperson Molly Quirk refused to answer questions about teacher shortages Tuesday, saying the focus should be on the first-day-of-school celebration. There are about 250 teacher job openings on the MPS website.
School board president Bob Peterson said support teachers, paraprofessionals and central office staff are filling in as classroom teachers at some schools.
"Bottom line is we need more people," Peterson said. "Every day that we have a vacancy, it’s a hardship for someone."
Despite the cloud of teacher vacancies, and the political arguments over education, families at the Academy of Accelerated Learning were optimistic about returning to school.
"[I'm] a little nervous but I’m so excited," said Iris Crayton, a first grader who is going to school in-person for the first time ever.
Iris' mother, Sara Winski, kept her children in MPS's virtual option last year out of concern for her son, who has special needs.
"We opted as a family to keep the kids home last year," said Winski. "It was just safer instead of doing the schools closed, and coming back and stuff. So we’re excited to start the year off fresh and in-person."
Winski said she’s confident the teachers at AAL will help Iris and her two older children readjust to in-person school and catch up on anything they missed while virtual.
Editor's note: Lina Tran and Chuck Quirmbach contributed to this report. MPS is a financial contributor to WUWM.
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