Governor Evers supports public schools, educators in his first State Budget Address

Governor Tony Evers Thursday night unveiled a state budget increasing state funding of public K-12 schools by $1.4 billion over the next two years, requiring that teachers receive preparation time as part of their workday, and achieving two-thirds state funding of education without raising property taxes. 

In addition, he made the case for higher educator pay, saying, “Wisconsin pays our public school teachers less than the national average… We need to do our part to make sure our educators know that the work they do is valued and to use these funding increases to do everything they can to keep our talented educators here in Wisconsin.”

“Governor Evers listened to the people and is making public schools a priority,” said Ron Martin, a teacher and president of the Wisconsin Education Association Council. “Through this budget, he reveals the heart of an educator — embracing opportunity for all students, protecting the most vulnerable among us, and respecting the noble profession of teaching.”

Governor Evers’ Biennial Budget

Teacher Quality. There are several initiatives that demonstrate respect for the education professions:

  • A requirement that teachers receive 45 minutes or a single class period each day of preparation time.
  • Repeal of alternative education preparation programs for Wisconsin teacher licensure, such as the American Board of Certified Teachers.
  • Allows districts to rehire retired teachers after 30 days without a contract. That retiree may not participate in the state retirement system, to prevent “double-dipping.”

School Funding. The budget represents a 10 percent increase — $1.4 billion – in state spending for schools:

  • Returns the state to two-thirds funding of public schools in 2020 by transferring high poverty aid into general equalization aid, increasing the low revenue ceiling from the current $9,400 to $9,700 in 2020 and to $10,000 in 2021, and transferring funding from the levy tax credit and first dollar credit.
  • Reforms the state’s broken school funding system to help districts of all sizes, including revenue limit fairness so lower spending districts can catch up and all districts can plan for the future.
  • Eliminates delayed equalized aid payments to districts.

Special Education. Provides $606 million over the biennium in special education funding and categorical aid, increasing the reimbursement rate from 25 percent to 60 percent. (Click here for one-pager) This includes:

  • $7 million over the biennium additional funding for special education transition readiness grants.
  • Repeals actual cost basis payment calculation for special needs students who open enroll.

Student Mental Health and School Safety. Nearly $64 million more for student mental health funding, a tenfold increase. The budget also moves the Office of School Safety to the Department of Public Instruction instead of the Department of Justice.

  • $150,000 for the Youth Risk Behavior Survey
  • $26 million each year for annual school climate surveys
  • Expanded Trauma Sensitive Schools first aid training
  • $22 million in reimbursements for general mental health
  • $7 million each year for mental health collaboration grants

English Language Learners. Several funding options are available to school districts, ensuring students get the help and attention they need.

  • $35.3 million over the biennium for bilingual/bicultural aid
  • $2.5 million in 2021 in new support grants for dual language and ELL support
  • $2.4 million in aid to school districts that do not receive bilingual/bicultural aid, with $100 per learner to provide support
  • $3.4 million in 2021 to provide $100 per learner in schools at lower levels of English proficiency

Rural Schools. Sparsity aid is increased and gaps are closed to help rural schools.

  • Transportation aid is increased by $220,000, upping the reimbursement rate is increased for students traveling over 12 miles

Urban Schools. The budget funds achievement initiatives in Milwaukee, Madison, Kenosha, Green Bay and Racine.

  • $5 million in early childhood grants for 3K
  • $7.2 million to expand summer school grants
  • $1.2 million for district grants for teachers who work in high poverty schools
  • $500,000 for the Wisconsin Urban Leaders Program
  • $2 million for collaborative community partnerships

4-Year-Old Kindergarten. Fully funds 4K and expands it statewide by 2021.

After School Programs. Creates the first funding stream for after-school programs.

Drivers Ed. Creates a categorical aid for drivers education programs, at $200 per pupil who completes a designated program.

Urban Initiatives. The budget eliminates language allowing school takeovers in Milwaukee, to align with the governor’s plan to phase out vouchers and privately run charter schools. Other initiatives include:

  • Grants for MPS and UW-Milwaukee to train, place and support math teachers.
  • Vouchers and Privately Run Charters. Freezing enrollment in private school voucher programs beginning in the 2021-22 school year, suspend the creation of new independent charter schools until 2023 and creating new minimum standards for teacher licensing and school accreditation for private schools. The number of available vouchers would be frozen beginning in 2021. There are currently about 28,000 students using vouchers in Milwaukee and 10,000 in other parts of the state combined. Roughly 600 schools participate in the program, which has been growing. According to the governor’s office, the state’s voucher programs grew 8.7 percent in the 2018-19 school year, while costs grew about 12 percent. The estimated total cost of vouchers in the current school years is roughly $302 million. Accountability and transparency. Requiring annual property tax bills to provide information about how much state aid school districts are losing because of private school vouchers, also called “voucher transparency.”

UW System & Tech Schools. The budget continues a freeze on in-state tuition at University of Wisconsin (UW) System schools that has been in place since 2013, and also:

  • Provides the UW system an additional $150 million
  • Allows Wisconsin residents who entered the country without legal permission to pay in-state tuition rates
  • Requires technical colleges and the UW System to offer early college credit programs at no charge to school districts

Student Loan Refinancing. The governor’s plan would also set aside $50,000 to study the feasibility of creating a refinancing authority to allow Wisconsin students to refinance their college loans.

Grants. A number of new grants and enhancements are included:

  • Tribal language revitalization grants
  • Minority teacher grant program to encourage teachers of color to go into the profession
  • $250,000 per year in robotics grants
  • Recommends using current year freshman enrollment instead of membership base to calculate district computer and school performance improvement grants
  • Eliminates grants for information technology, redirecting the funding to other IT programs
  • Water filtration grants for schools are included, for water bottle refill stations

School Nutrition. The budget fully funds the school breakfast program and expands the facilities that qualify for it, along with fully funding the milk program, and also creates a coordinator position between the departments of public instruction and agriculture.

Libraries. Funding for public libraries is enhanced, including that for Badger Link and services for the blind. Adjustments are made to the Common Schools Fund.

Reading. The budget eliminates former Governor Scott Walker’s “Read to Lead” program (read more here). Instead, Governor Evers funds the Wisconsin Reading Corpsat $700,000 a year. 

Gifted & Talented. Funding is up $762,000 in 2020 and 2021, totaling over $1.5 million.

Referendum. Allows districts to hold over two referendums in a calendar year.

Technical Education. There are shifts in the departments that oversee some grant programs are located, along with a new DPI position to coordinate programs being transitioned, including:

  • Career and Technical Education will be moved to the Department of Workforce Development.
  • Technical Education Equipment will be moved from the DWD to the DPI.
  • Teacher Development Training and Equipment grants are merging and staying at the DWD.

Other state budget proposals:

Workers Rights. Repeal private sector right-to-work-for-less law and reinstate prevailing wage on state projects.

  • The governor called it a beginning to undo the harm that’s been done to organized labor. In an appearance after the budget unveiling, the governor said the state will now work to champion workers, collective bargaining and local control. He also voiced his goal of family supporting jobs that are labor friendly and willing to work with unions.
  • He also proposed to increase minimum wage to $8.25 on Jan. 1, 2020, and to $9 on Jan. 1, 2021, with additional 75-cent annual increases in 2022 and 2023. A task force would study ways to work toward a $15 minimum wage.

Child Welfare. Use tribal gaming revenues to fund a $1 million increase in grants for child welfare services for tribes over the next two years and earmark an additional $640,000 in tribal gaming revenues to prepare architectural plans for a proposed $8 million, 36-bed youth wellness/treatment center to treat opioid addiction for tribal and nontribal members.

Health Care. Provide $28 million for “Healthy Women, Healthy Babies” initiatives aimed at improving women’s access to health exams and addressing racial disparities in maternal and child health.

Juvenile Justice. Indefinitely delaying closing the state’s embattled youth prison, coupled with increasing the age for charging juveniles as adults from 17 to 18, beginning in 2021.Under the governor’s plan, closure of the Lincoln Hills School for Boys and Copper Lake School for Girls would be delayed until whenever new, regional facilities are developed to house the inmates. Evers’ plan also includes a roughly $200 million increase in state funding for building new regional youth prisons and expanding an existing facility in Madison. According to the Evers’ administration, Wisconsin is one of a handful of states that allows 17-year-olds to be criminally charged and tried as adults.

BadgerCare.The state could receive additional federal Medicaid funding first made available by the federal Affordable Care Act.According to the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau (LFB), the decision by the previous administration not to accept this funding resulted in a cumulative net loss to the state of more than $1 billion in federal funding. Expanding BadgerCare coverage from people who earn up to 100 percent of the federal poverty level (FPL) to people who earn up to 133 percent of the FPL would generate roughly $200 million in increased federal funding each year because it would by substantially increase the percentage of costs reimbursed by the federal government from about 58 percent to about 90 percent.

Gas tax. Studies indicate the state’s roads and highways are demonstrably worse shape than those of our neighboring states. Gov. Evers’ nominee to fill the Department of Transportation Secretary position estimates the state needs an additional $360 to $400 million per biennium just to maintain the current condition of the state highway system, not counting the additional funding needed to provide road aids to local governments or rebuild portions of the Interstate system within the state.