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

Evers Wants Special Session On Education Funding And Tax Relief

Emily Files
Gov. Tony Evers speaks at the 2019 State Education Conference in Milwaukee.

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers is trying again to increase state support of schools. This time, by calling a special session for Feb. 11 on the topic. But the proposal appears to be dead on arrival with Republican leadership.  

Evers wants to use $250 million of an expected budget surplus to restore the state’s commitment to funding two-thirds of K-12 education costs.

In January, lawmakers were notified that the state would collect about $800 million more in taxes than projected. Half of that will go into savings. But the other $400 million is fair game.  

“This may come as a surprise to you, but I’d like to use some of that to invest in our kids,” Evers said at a Thursday press conference. He was surrounded by public education advocates, including the superintendent and school board president of Milwaukee Public Schools.  

The proposal would also provide tax relief by putting $130 million into the school equalization aid formula. That formula determines how much schools can levy in property taxes.

In making his case, Evers said it was unsustainable for Wisconsin schools to continue relying on voter referendums to balance budgets. The referendums allow districts to collect taxes beyond state-imposed caps.

"We need to help around the issue of rising property taxes, we get that. Investing in our schools will do that." - Gov. Tony Evers

“That reinvestment will help districts get out from under, going to referendum every two years and continuing that spiral of borrowing money,” Evers said. “We need to help around the issue of rising property taxes, we get that. Investing in our schools will do that.”

READ: Balancing School Budgets Via Referendum Has Become Routine. What Happens When Voters Say No?

Evers’ proposal would provide $10 million in sparsity aid for rural schools, $79 million for special education categorical aid, and about $22 million in student mental health support.

Mental health was a central topic at an MPS Black Lives Matter at School forum Monday. MPS high schoolers, like North Division’s Javonna Richards, said they need better access to school counselors and psychologists.

“I feel like we don’t have enough support, we don’t have a good enough support system,” Richards said. “Sometimes when you come from a damaged home, and you come here, [you’re] chaotic … we need some people who really care about how we feel.”

To support services like mental health, MPS is seeking its first tax referendum in more than 20 years. If voters approve the $87 million referendum, it may be the only additional support MPS receives for now.

READ: MPS Seeks $87 Million Operating Referendum

That’s because Evers’ school spending proposal was immediately dismissed by the two most powerful Republicans in the state Legislature.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald indicated that they want to use the state’s revenue surplus for property tax relief alone.  

“It shouldn’t come as a surprise that when there’s a surplus, Republicans look to return those dollars to the hardworking taxpayers of the state,” Vos tweeted. “Democrats are fixated on growing the size of government, which they know we won’t do.”

Vos and other GOP lawmakers have previously expressed their support for the state funding two-thirds of K-12 education costs. That benchmark was not met in the current state budget, even though it included a $570 million increase for schools.

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Emily is WUWM's educational reporter.
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