As the dust settles around Gov. Walker’s budget proposal, the picture that is emerging for Wisconsin’s 424 school districts is grim. There are four bills currently in play that will impact our public schools:.
AB1: the Assembly ‘school accountability bill’, introduced in January in a chaotic rush. Before the first person even had a chance to speak at the bill’s public hearing on January 14, author Rep. Jeremy Thiesfeldt announced the bill would be amended. The amendments have not yet materialized, but fiscal estimates for the original bill can be found here. During the 8+ hours of public testimony, not one person spoke in support of the bill.
SB1: the Senate ‘school accountability bill’, introduced two weeks after AB1. Public testimony stressed the need for one assessment test to be used by all schools receiving taxpayer dollars, public or private, and encouraged legislators to steer away from letter grades on the ‘school report cards’ used to evaluate performance. Fiscal estimates for SB1 can be found here.
AB21 and SB21: the biennial state budget bills released this week.
How will the process unfold for the budget (bills)?
February – the Legislative Fiscal Bureau will review the numbers.
Early March – The Joint Finance Committee will hold hearings with agency and department heads.
Mid-March – The Joint Finance Committee is expected to hold four public hearings, one each in the Fox Valley, southeastern, southwestern and northern regions of the state.
April – Public hearings in Madison will be held.
May – After the public hearings conclude, the Joint Finance Committee will make its final adjustments to the budget and send it to both houses. Final approval of the budget is expected by Memorial Day.
What does the proposed budget hold for K-12 public schools?
The bottom line is that this budget both reduces funding to our public schools and transfers funding from our public schools to privately-run schools. Damage to public school funding occurs in (at least) three places in the budget:
Per-Pupil Aid provided in the last budget ($150/year) will be eliminated in the first year and $165 provided in the second year. This is a $135 per-pupil CUT to our public schools.
Vouchers. Beginning this fall, vouchers in the Racine Parental Choice Program and Wisconsin Parental Choice Program will be paid with funds set aside for public schools. Preference for new vouchers will be given to students enrolled in public schools; the aid associated with these students (varies by district) will be transferred into a ‘voucher pool’. The pool will then be divided by the number of new vouchers so each voucher will have the same value. There will be no limit placed on the number of new vouchers.
A Charter School Oversight Board will be created at the state level. Privately-run charter schools will no longer be restricted to southeast Wisconsin. Funding for these charter schools comes ‘off the top’ of state aid before the remainder is divided up among the 424 public school districts.
Another item of note:
Accountability – the budget calls for ‘A-F’ letter grades and the option to choose from a variety of tests. Both of these provisions were strongly objected to during public testimony in January.
1) For the first time privately-run charter schools will be eligible for state transportation funds.
2) The premier example of public school choice — the Chapter 220 Milwaukee/Suburban Desegregation program — is to be eliminated. How ironic that while “choice” is being expanded throughout the state via more voucher schools and privately-run charter schools, the one public school “choice” program that is aimed at reducing racial segregation and mainly affects children of color is being eliminated.
You may be aware of proposed cuts to UW System. Some of these cuts will have direct impacts on our public schools. For example, the Wisconsin Center for Environmental Education (WCEE), housed at UW-Stevens Point, is well-known for its collaborative work with public schools. WCEE’s future is uncertain, as it has been deleted from the state budget.
It is clear we have legislators who do not want to support public education at any level. It is up to all of us to change their minds. Please reach out to your legislators and share your concerns about the proposed budget and its lack of funding for public schools. Based on the public hearings held in January on AB1 and SB1, we know it makes a real difference when legislators hear from us.