With schools ‘at the tipping point,’ educators ask legislators to ‘do the right thing’ and pass Evers’ budget

As the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee concluded its statewide budget hearings Wednesday in Green Bay, educators continued to encourage legislators to “do the right thing” and support Governor Evers’ budget plan that supports children, public schools and our dedicated teachers and education support professionals.

“Today, I urge you to fully support the components in the governor’s budget designed to improve public education,” said Green Bay special education teacher Justin Delfosse, who is president of the Green Bay Education Association. “That includes the complete package of funding increases, preparation time for teachers, and repeal of online alternative education preparation programs for Wisconsin teacher licensure that do not require any hands-on classroom training.”

Delfosse noted that since the passage of the anti-public education law called ACT 10 in 2011, colleges of education have seen a dramatic decrease of student enrollment in teacher education programs. “This has led to a serious teacher shortage in Wisconsin, particularly in hard-to-fill positions such as special education, ESL, and bilingual,” he said.

“I tell you this because Green Bay Area Public Schools, and schools around Wisconsin are at a tipping point. Wisconsin has neglected funding for public education for too long. Wisconsin has fallen to 33rdin the country in terms of paying teachers.”

Delfosse said that students and their families “depend on us, and we are depending on you to be a part of the solution.”

“The solution,” he said, “includes funding increases outlined in the budget in front of us, and it comes with using some of that funding to restore educator pay so professionals who dedicate themselves to teaching can provide for our families and make this a career instead of a stop along the way to a family-supporting job.

“As a teacher, I go above and beyond for my students,” Delfosse said. “I’m asking you to do your part for all students in Wisconsin because our children deserve this investment.”

In addition to testifying in person when possible, such as Delfosse did, educators, parents and supporters of public education have been sending emails and submitting testimony to the committee in support of Governor Evers’ budget. Brad Klotz, a Lake Mills band teacher, communicated with the committee through a video which he posted to Facebook.

Klotz said he is concerned that as Wisconsin teachers salaries continue to fall – dropping already from 18th to 33rd among the states – that “motivated educators such as myself” will leave the profession or the state, adding to the challenges created by a growing teacher shortage.

“There is a way to fix this,” he said. “Legislature of the State of Wisconsin, we are looking to you to do the right thing here … and pass Governor Evers’ budget.”


Educators and supporters of public schools continue to advocate for school funding increases

Educators continued to advocate for public education this week as the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee held hearings on the state budget.

Educators and supporters of public education testified at those hearings, submitted written testimony and shared their thoughts through letters to their legislators and in letters submitted to local media throughout the state. There are plenty more chances to get involved in the state budget:

  • Monday, April 15: Joint Finance Committee hearing, 10 a.m.-5 p.m., University Center – Riverview Ballroom, UW-River Falls.
  • Monday, April 15: Governor’s Budget Listening Session, 6-7:30 p.m. (Doors open at 5:15 p.m.), UW-Superior, Yellowjacket Union1605 Catlin Ave., Superior. REGISTER HERE!
  • Tuesday, April 16: Governor’s Budget Listening Session, 5 p.m., Chippewa Valley Technical College – Business Education Center, Student Commons, 620 W. Clairemont Ave., Eau Claire.
  • Wednesday, April 24: Joint Finance Committee hearing, 10 a.m.-5 p.m., University Union – Phoenix Rooms, UW-Green Bay.

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This week’s budget hearings
On Wednesday, supporters of public education packed a Joint Finance Committee hearing in Oak Creek, speaking in favor of Governor Evers’ proposals to increase general public education funding as well as special education funding.

Among them was Greendale High School teacher Zach Geiger, who said he is concerned about attracting and retaining qualified teachers who provide quality education to all students. 

“I started my career five years ago and have seen teacher after teacher leave the profession in search of careers with more predictability, respect, and adequate compensation,” he told the Joint Finance Committee. “Most of these teachers were in their first five years, and I am afraid that this trend is lowering students’ access to teachers who have developed their practice over years.”

Geiger said he is also concerned at the amount of public school funding that is being allocated for private school vouchers and independent charter schools. 

“This should concern all of us because I believe public schools build successful communities of educated citizens,” he said. “The investments in education proposed in this budget are necessary to stop the damages that public education has withstood in the past eight years and re-establish teaching as an attractive profession and Wisconsin education as a point of pride.”

At an earlier hearing in Janesville, WEAC Vice President Peggy Wirtz-Olsen said our public schools “are struggling to find teachers—substitute teachers, regular education teachers, special education teachers.”

“We’ve neglected funding for public education for too long,” she said.  “Wisconsin has fallen to 33rd in the country in terms of paying teachers. We need to increase state funding by 1.4 billion over the next two years — with a $200 per-pupil funding level for 2019-20 and $204 for 2020-21.  

“My local community passed a referendum last fall — in an attempt to solve the budget shortfalls in pay and in deferred maintenance,” Wirtz-Olsen said. “The state must do its part for allstudents in Wisconsin because our children deserve this investment. I encourage you to pass the People’s Budget – investing in our public education system, criminal justice reform, healthcare. These are the first steps to a brighter future in Wisconsin.”

La Crosse teacher Jon Havlicek submitted a column to the La Crosse Tribune providing a firsthand account of how school funding shortcomings impact his classrooms daily.

“As a Spanish teacher at Central High School for the last 21 years, I can tell you that the state has underfunded public schools for over a generation,” Havlicek wrote. ” In particular, the state has reneged on its promise to cover 66%, or two thirds, of the cost of special education services in our public schools. This cost continues to grow, as more and more students are identified as needing more support.  While private schools can and do exclude many students who need special support, public schools must not and do not shirk our duty to provide the best education we can, for ALL students.  

 “However, the state commitment to special education funding has dropped almost every year, to the point where it stands at about 25% today, far short of the promised 66%,” Havlicek wrote. “Governor Evers, in his People’s Budget, has called on the legislature to pass a budget that moves toward fulfilling the state’s obligation to these students and their families. He also campaigned on a promise to significantly increase general school funding, to make up for the stripping of support that our students and families have suffered over the last eight years.

“We can keep the world class education system we have here in Wisconsin,” he concluded, “but we need to fund it properly.”

WEAC Secretary-Treasurer Kim Schroeder, a fourth-grade teacher in Milwaukee Public Schools, asked Joint Finance Committee members to be open-minded and supportive of public schools rather than just saying Governor Evers’ budget is “dead on arrival.”

For those legislators who refuse to be open-minded, Schroeder said, “Stop. Stop saying you care about education. Stop saying you care about parents.  Stop saying you care about the children of this state. We don’t believe you anyway.”

“What matters are actions. We are tired of the false rhetoric. We are tired of you playing politics with the future of our students.  

“We are watching. The parents are watching.  And, most importantly, the students are watching.”

Voters support ‘major increase’ in special education funding

A large majority of Wisconsin’s registered voters – 74 percent – agree with Governor Evers that there should be a “major increase” in state aid for special education, according to results from the latest Marquette University Law School poll. As part of his state budget plan, Evers has proposed a $600 million increase.

Evers’ plan would increase the state reimbursement rate for special education costs from 27% to 60% and free up funding for other programs at the local school district level.

WEAC President Ron Martin has applauded Evers’ proposal, saying that years of underfunding of special education worsened under former Governor Scott Walker. “It’s incredibly important at a time when so many children have unique needs that we provide the resources needed so all kids can be successful no matter their learning style or ability,” Martin said.

In releasing its plan, the Department of Public Instruction said, “After decades of cutting or freezing support, Wisconsin provides less reimbursement to local schools for special education than any other state in the nation. In order to pay for these required services, school districts have to make difficult decisions, even reducing or cutting other opportunities for students.”

The state budget is currently being debated in the Republican-controlled Legislature.

In other results from the Marquette poll released Wednesday:

  • 70 percent said the state should accept federal funds to expand Medicaid, while 23 percent were opposed.
  • 57 percent support increasing the minimum wage, while 38 percent were opposed. Evers is calling for an increase to $8.25 an hour on January 1 and then to $9 in 2021. It would increase another 75 cents each of the following two years before being indexed for inflation.
  • 57 percent preferred to keep gas taxes and vehicle registration fees at current levels, while 39 percent supported an increase. Evers has called for an increase of 8 cents in the gas tax.
  • 41 percent supported freezing enrollment in voucher schools and a pause on new independent charter schools, while 46 percent were opposed.

Read more:

Evers’ Approval, Disapproval Both Up In Latest Marquette Poll

Public approval – and disapproval – of Gov. Tony Evers went up in the latest Marquette University Law School poll as more people familiarized themselves with the first-term governor after three months on the job. The survey also saw a slight uptick in support for President Donald Trump among Wisconsin voters and a larger jump in support for Vermont U.S.

Educators ask Joint Finance Committee to support public education funding increases and measures to attract and retain quality teachers

Advocates of public education testified in Janesville Friday at the first of four state budget hearings by the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee, expressing strong support for Governor Evers’ proposals to increase public education funding and to attract and retain quality educators.

“Wisconsin’s professional educators, like myself, are locked into an unfair and unrewarding economic system,” said Janesville social studies teachers Steve Strieker.

“Working conditions and professional pay have declined. A teacher shortage looms with the continued exodus of colleagues. Teacher training is being gutted and fast tracked for easy licensure. Precious public school monies have been diverted to mostly less-needy private school students in the form of vouchers. And public school funding has been slashed. This situation stinks for public school teachers, as well as the parents, and students we serve,” Strieker said.

Others testifying Friday included WEAC Vice President Peggy Wirtz-Olsen, WEAC Secretary-Treasurer Kim Schroeder and Lake Mills teacher Brenda Morris.

These and other educators asked the committee to support measures proposed both by Governor Evers in his state budget plan and by the Legislature’s own Blue Ribbon Commission on school funding. They include increased special education funding, predictable revenue cap increases and salary increases to attract and retain teachers.

Other hearings scheduled are:

  • Wednesday, April 10, Oak Creek Community Center, Oak Creek.
  • Monday, April 15, University Center – Riverview Ballroom, UW-River Falls.
  • Wednesday, April 24, University Union – Phoenix Rooms, UW-Green Bay.

Find out more about the state budget at weac.org/budget.

Lake Mills teacher Brenda Morris testifies before the Joint Finance Committee (above). WEAC Vice President Peggy Wirtz-Olsen poses with WEAC members outside the hearing (below).

Legislative Update – JFC hears from State Superintendent

The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction testified on its proposed 2019-21 budget in front of the Joint Finance Committee today, Wednesday, April 3.

The DPI budget proposal, which would increase public school funding by $1.4 billion, is a move toward restoring what’s been cut over the past eight years. Democratic legislators on the committee and State Superintendent Carolyn Stanford Taylor stood their ground on the need to increase funding for students while Republican JFC members repeatedly knocked the proposal.

While the JFC is holding hearings on the governor’s budget proposal, they’ve made clear they are considering they’ll ignore his proposal altogether and instead introduce their own budget. Given public sentiment to reinvest in education, Republican leaders have said a funding increase is on table but have questioned how much money that would include – and how it would be divided between public and private voucher schools. Republican members of the JFC did point out the funding for education in their last budget, which did not restore funding they had cut previously but marked the first time they hadn’t made cuts in many years. They also spoke out against capping voucher enrollment.

Key points from the hearing:

  • “…the focus of our budget — and my agenda as Wisconsin’s state superintendent — is educational equity. Educational equity is providing each child the opportunities they need to achieve academic and personal success. It’s about fairness.” – State Superintendent Carolyn Stanford Taylor
  • “…taxpayers probably can’t afford it.” – Luther Olsen, Senate Education Committee Chairman
  • “This budget to me obviously indicates a real true investment in K-12 education, but it also underscores how much we haven’t been paying in the past budget.” – Sen. Jon Erpenbach

Some examples of how the budget advances fairness in education:

  • Increases investment in student mental health by $63 million. State support remains far short of demand and this budget significantly expands school-based services, pupil support staff, and mental health training. One in five students faces a mental health issue, and over 80 percent of these students going untreated.
  • Invests in early childhood education. All Wisconsin students benefit from full-day 4K, and there are 3K grants for the five largest school districts. To eliminate achievement gaps, Wisconsin will finally address learning deficits early. All children deserve access to high quality, developmentally-appropriate, early learning environments – no matter where they live or what their family circumstances are.
  • Establishes after-school program funding. $20 million in aid to fund after-school programming provides more children opportunities for high-quality, extended learning time.
  • Creates Urban Excellence Initiative. Multiple strategies tackle achievement gaps in the five largest school districts that educate 20 percent of all Wisconsin students.
  • Addresses the needs of English learners. Extra support, including an increase of the state reimbursement rate from 8 percent up to 30 percent by 2021, will help this population achieve academic success.
  • Funds special education for the most vulnerable students. This budget ends the decade long freeze on primary special education aid with a $606 million investment to increase the state’s reimbursement rate from 25 percent to 60 percent by 2021.

JFC takes up transportation

Along with the DPI, the Joint Finance Committee took up the governor’s proposed transportation budget. Prevailing wage and an increase in the gas tax were among questions the committee members posed to Transpo Secretary Craig Thompson. Here are the key points:

  • While Republican members of the JFC said they doubt the guv’s proposed 8 cent/gallon increase would be offset by the elimination of the minimum markup, Dems said the gas tax increase would build a path to a long-term plan to fund roads.
  • Thompson said the governor’s plan to reinstate prevailing wage will save money over time, ensure there are qualified workers on the job, and increase competition, but Republicans on the committee expressed firm desire not to bring it back – having just eliminated it.

Bills We’re Watching

  • Character Education (AB 149 / SB 138). The Assembly version of this bill was introduced Wednesday. This authorizes the Department of Public Instruction to award grants to school districts for teachers, pupil service professionals, principals, and school district administrators to participate in professional development trainings in character education. Under the bill, DPI is authorized to make these grants for 24 months.

Legislative Update: Education committee to take up student privacy and more

The Assembly Education Committee will hold public hearings on three bills at 10 a.m. Thursday, April 4, at the state Capitol. On the docket is a bill to expand student information schools can release to the public, safety drills and including arts opportunities in school report cards.

To weigh in on any of these bills, use the WEAC Action Alert!

CLICK HERE NOW TO SEND AN EMAIL
TO THE ASSEMBLY EDUCATION COMMITTEE

  • Pupil Information (AB53 / SB57). Expands pupil information allowed to be disclosed by a public school to include the names of parents or guardians. Under current law, the information that may be included in “directory data” that may be disclosed to any person (as long as a public school notifies families of the categories of information and informs families an opt out procedure) includes pupil name, address, telephone, date/place of birth, major field of study, activity/sport participation, attendance dates, photographs, weight and height as member of athletic team, degrees/awards, and most recent school attended. School districts may include all, some or none of the categories to designate as directory data.

  • Safety Drills (AB 54 / SB56). Allows the person having direct charge of the public or private school to provide previous warning of any of these drills if he or she determines that is in the best interest of pupils attending the school. Currently, no advance notice is allowed.

  • Arts Opportunities (AB67 /SB64). Requires the Department of Public Instruction to include the percentage of pupils participating in music, dance, drama, and visual arts in annual school and school district report cards. The DPI would include this information for each high school and school district, along with the statewide percentage of pupils participating in each subject. This information would not be allowed in evaluating school performance or district improvement.

To weigh in on any of these bills, use the WEAC Action Alert!

CLICK HERE NOW TO SEND AN EMAIL
TO THE ASSEMBLY EDUCATION COMMITTEE

 

Legislative Update: Judge blocks GOP’s lame duck session laws

Legislative Updates

A Dane County judge has issued a temporary injunction preventing enforcement of Republicans’ lame duck laws, ruling the Legislature didn’t lawfully convene. The judge refused to dismiss the suit brought forward by Democrats and denied a Republican request to stay his injunction. “There can be no justification for enforcement of the unconstitutional legislative actions emanating from the December 2018 ‘Extraordinary Session’ that is consistent with the rule of law,” he wrote.

On Friday, GOP lawmakers went to the 3rd District Court of Appeals seeking an emergency stay of the judge’s ruling.

Withdrawal from ACA suit. Governor Tony Evers immediately called on Attorney General Josh Kaul to “take whatever steps are necessary” to withdraw from the multi-state lawsuit challenging the Affordable Care Act. The lame duck laws included one barring the Department of Justice from withdrawing from lawsuits without the Legislature’s approval.

Tentative JFC hearings. A letter sent to agencies included the following tentative schedule for Joint Finance Committee state budget hearings:

  • Friday, April 5 – Janesville Area
  • Thursday, April 11 – Milwaukee Area
  • Monday, April 15 – River Falls/Hudson Area
  • Wednesday, April 24 – Green Bay Area

Dueling branches. Since Evers’ budget address in late February, there is plenty of back-and-forth between the governor and Republican legislative leaders over dueling versions of similar initiatives, such as middle-class tax cuts. In that example, Republicans passed their own tax cut plan, which was vetoed by the governor before he introduced his own as part of his budget. Things continue to heat up, as Republicans have begun hinting at introducing some education provisions as stand-alone bills, instead of supporting them as part of the governor’s budget. One of those is rehiring retired teachers. More here:

Rehiring retired teachers. Evers’ budget plan includes a provision to allow retired teachers to be rehired while continuing to collect their pensions and earn a new salary. That would reverse a 2013 change Republicans pushed through and also lines up with a recent recommendation from the Legislature’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Education Funding. Evers’ plan would require a 30-day break in service instead of 75, prohibit teachers from having an agreement in place at the time they retire, and hold their pension payments steady instead of increasing from the salary they earn by working again. Supporters say it’s a common sense solution, since waiting 75 days after retirement means a teacher could not be rehired in time for the start of a new school year.

According to the Department of Employee Trust Funds, there were 4,407 retirees who were rehired to public jobs in 2018. Of those, 55.7 percent were teachers. The vast majority worked less than two-thirds of full-time hours, allowing them to continue collecting their pensions. 

Capital deadlock. The state Building Commission deadlocked on Governor Tony Evers’ $2.5 billion capital budget, believed to be the first time that’s happened in the commission’s 70-year history. Evers was mystified that Republicans refused to recommend passage after every project in the document unanimously cleared committees earlier this week. “Disappointed is an understatement,” Evers said. 

Bills Circulating:

County jailers and the WRS (SB5/AB5). Public hearings were held for this bill, which would classify county jailers as protective occupation participants under the Wisconsin Retirement System and under the Municipal Employment Relations Act.

Human Trafficking (AB22)A public hearing was held on this bill that would fight human trafficking through trucker education. This legislation would establish industry-specific materials on the recognition and prevention of human trafficking for use in the instruction in driver education courses that provide instruction in the operation of commercial motor vehicles. This will affect new drivers only.

Prohibiting Conversion Therapy (SB107). Prohibits certain mental health providers from engaging in conversion therapy with a minor.  Conversion therapy is any practice that seeks to change an individual’s gender expression, gender identity, or sexual orientation. In addition, the bill specifies that a violation of the prohibition in the bill by a mental health provider is grounds for professional discipline by the appropriate credentialing board.

Banning the ‘R’ Word. A bill was already introduced to ban terms such as “mentally retarded” from administrative rules when Governor Tony Evers recently issued an executive order to remove “mentally retarded,” “mental retardation” and “handicapped.” The Republican sponsor of the bill says he will continue to bring the bill forward, despite the executive order, because the legislative action would be a permanent solution because an executive order could be rescinded by a later governor. Evers has indicated he would sign the bill if it gets to his desk.

School Lunch Requirements (AB-084). A bill imposing requirements related to school lunch and breakfast programs in certain schools was referred to the Assembly Education Committee.

Apprenticeship Grants (SB-044). A hearing was held on this bill to provide grants to technical college students for apprenticeship expenses. 

 Youth Apprenticeship Program (SB-072). A hearing was held on this bill requiring certain occupational areas to be included in the youth apprenticeship program.

Youth Apprenticeships (SB-088) A hearing was held on this bill regarding youth apprenticeship programs.

School Hours (SB-112). An emergency exception for high performing school districts to the number of hours of direct pupil instruction requirement. 

Minority Teacher Loan Program (SB55/ AB51). An amendment to include tribal schools in the expansion of the minority teacher loan program has been added to this bill.

Circulating for Co-Sponsorship:

 UW Tuition Grants (LRB-2266). Grants for certain University of Wisconsin and technical college graduates who paid nonresident tuition; granting rule-making authority.

WRS Military Service (LRB-0930). Creditable military service under the Wisconsin Retirement System. 

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.

59 school referendums totaling nearly $1.2 billion are on April 2 ballot

On April 2, Wisconsin residents will vote on 59 school referendums totaling nearly $1.2 billion. That is on top of more than $2 billion in school referendums approved by voters last year, including $1.37 billion in November.

The largest referendums on the April ballot are $164 million for a new high school in Sun Prairie, $129.6 million for a new middle school and other upgrades in Neenah, $125 million for a new intermediate school and other upgrades in DeForest, and $91.5 million for maintenance and improvement projects in Fond du Lac.

Due to many years of stagnant state support for local schools, districts have increasingly turned to local voters for referendum approvals, and voters have overwhelmingly shown their support for public schools by passing them. Last year, more than 90 percent of 157 referendums passed, including 94 percent of 77 ballot questions in November.

In his state budget plan this week, Governor Tony Evers is proposing a $1.4 billion increase in K-12 education funding over the next two years.

Below is the complete list of school referendums on the April 2 ballot (click here to open):

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Evers to propose freezing voucher and charter school enrollments

Governor Tony Evers is expected to include in his state budget plan this week proposals to freeze the number of students attending private voucher and charter schools, place tougher teacher certification standards on private schools accepting students with special needs, and abolish the law that allows Milwaukee Public Schools to be taken over by private entities.

“This signals a good first step on Wisconsin’s journey to provide all children with opportunity through high-quality, fully funded public schools,” said WEAC President Ron Martin. “For three decades, privatization lobbyists have siphoned funding from public schools into private operations. If we care about all students, Wisconsin should invest in the schools that serve all students. That’s common sense.”

The governor’s plan, which would be accomplished through a phased-in approach:

  • Freezes the number of students who may enroll in private voucher schools;
  • Suspends the creation of new privately run charter schools until 2023;
  • Eliminates the law requiring Milwaukee County officials to turn public schools into charter schools without district officials’ approval;
  • Increases standards for teachers in private voucher schools;
  • Requires tax-funded private schools to be accredited; and
  • Provides taxpayers with information about how much of their taxes are siphoned from public schools to pay private school tuition.

Republican legislative leaders and private school lobbyists have said they will oppose the governor’s plans, despite overwhelming support for public schools demonstrated by voters leading up to last November’s election.

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Gov. Tony Evers seeks to freeze enrollment in private voucher schools, suspend charter school expansion

Gov.-elect Tony Evers chats with high school students at an event in the Wisconsin Operating Engineers’ training center in Coloma. (Photo11: Molly Beck / Milwaukee Journal Sentinel) MADISON – Gov. Tony Evers in his first state budget is seeking to undo expansions of private voucher schools and independent charter schools passed by Republicans over the last decade.