Educate All Students: Larry Miller's Blog

January 5, 2013

Will Wisconsin Republicans Increase Education Funding?

Filed under: Public Education — millerlf @ 10:43 am

By JACK CRAVER
The Capital Times January 3, 2013

The same discord over taxes that we see among Republicans in Congress is
taking place in the Wisconsin Legislature.
On Wednesday morning I wrote that some moderates in the state Senate,
such as Sen. Luther Olsen, R-Ripon, are suggesting the Legislature
authorize increased spending on K-12 education at the local level by
allowing school districts to increase property taxes.

Olsen’s idea is to restore some of the cuts made in the last legislative
session, when Republicans imposed a 5.5 percent decrease (or roughly
$250 per student) in the revenue limits for school districts. Olsen
would like to raise the limits by roughly $200 – nearly restoring the
pre-Walker levels.

That was apparently news to Rep. Steve Nass, R-Town of La Grange, who
lashed out later Wednesday in a press release to Assembly Republican
leadership after reading the article.

“The last time the Assembly Republican majority failed to stop tax
increases was 2007,” he warns. “The voters punished that failure on
taxes by giving us the minority status after the 2008 election.”

Nass spokesman Mike Mikalsen says any suggestion that property taxes
could go up sends the wrong message to taxpayers, as well as to school
districts.

“Statements like Luther’s are taken very seriously by school district
administrators,” he says. “That $200 figure is now a target that every
school administrator is going to be shooting for. That’s the problem, it
builds up hope.”

A spokesperson for Olsen said the senator had no comment in response.

Although some insiders shrugged off Nass’ outburst (he’s gained a
reputation for inflammatory statements), they acknowledge it represents
a contentious debate that will likely take place within the GOP caucus
over spending in the coming months. While many Republicans say they will
support increased state spending on education, many of the most fiscally
conservative members bristle at suggestions that school districts need
the ability to raise more money.

“The (revenue limits) were put in pretty tight but we gave them other
tools to use,” says Rep. Pat Strachota, R-West Bend, referring to the
near-elimination of collective bargaining for school district employees,
as well as mandates that employees pick up a larger share of their
health insurance and pension.

Rep. Dean Knudson, R-Hudson, who sits on the Joint Finance Committee
with Strachota, echoed that logic.

“Districts are creatively implementing changes that will help them keep
costs under control,” he wrote in an email. “I would be surprised to see
a return to large annual increases in the revenue limit for all
schools.”

Incoming state Rep. Dianne Hesselbein, D-Middleton, says she hopes both
parties can get behind increased funding for schools. She is
nevertheless skeptical.

“It’s hard to move forward on addressing it when so many Republicans
have taken pledges not to raise taxes,” she says.

It does not appear leadership has taken a position on revenue limits.

“At this juncture, it isn’t beneficial to the process to get into
hypotheticals,” says Tom Evenson, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader
Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau. “We’ll get a better view of the landscape
when Governor Walker presents his budget proposal in February.”

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