GOP Lawmakers Advance $500 Million K-12 Budget Increase

May 23, 2019

Republicans in the Wisconsin Legislature have rejected Democratic Gov. Tony Evers’ proposal to increase K-12 spending by $1.4 billion over the next two years.

Instead, the Joint Committee on Finance advanced a plan Tuesday that would boost school funding by about $500 million.

Republicans called it a "pro-kid budget." But Democrats and Milwaukee school officials lambasted the proposal, saying it falls far short.

One of the biggest points of contention was funding for special education.

The state reimburses school districts for the extra money they spend on students with disabilities. But that reimbursement covers less than a quarter of schools’ special education costs.

Republicans on the Joint Finance Committee want to increase the reimbursement rate to 30% by 2020.

"When I have talked to superintendents around the state, they’re realistic," said GOP Sen. Luther Olsen of Ripon. "They said if you can get us 30 percent, Luther, we will be very happy."

Milwaukee Public Schools Superintendent Keith Posley said Sen. Olsen did not talk to him. At a press conference, Posley voiced support for Gov. Evers’ proposal to increase special education reimbursement to 60%.

"We serve about 20% students with disabilities," Posley said. "We believe that the reestablishment of the 60% reimbursement rate will not only help provide stability to attract and retain needed teaching professionals, as well as level the playing field for all of our students."

MPS Board President Larry Miller called the Republican education budget "a mockery."

Democrats on the Joint Finance Committee also had strong words for their Republican counterparts.

"At the end of this discussion, when I go back to my community, those children are not going to get any more than they have right now," said Sen. LaTonya Johnson of Milwaukee. "Underfunded schools, unexceptional schools, and a body that doesn’t give a damn about either."

Republicans emphasize that the budget needs to be sustainable. Rep. Shannon Zimmerman of River Falls said he plan looks out for both students and taxpayers.

"It supports our kids, it readies our workforce,” he said. "But it also protects those retirees, fixed income, and middle-class people who also have a right and say over their money."

The finance committee voted 11-4, on party lines, to advance Republicans’ education funding plan. It includes about $200 in additional per-pupil spending power for districts and it protects funding for choice and charter schools. It does not include any additional funding for bilingual education or urban school districts – something Gov. Evers is pushing for.

The governor tweeted that the state budget has a long way to go, and he is hopeful for budget negotiations with Republicans going forward.

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