A new era supportive of public education and educators is about to begin, Evers says in phone call to WEAC members

Governor-Elect Tony Evers personally thanked WEAC members for the critically important role they played in helping him win this month’s “watershed” election that will change the way Wisconsin state government treats public schools and educators.

“The hard work of the campaign is over. The hard work of governing and making sure that we are being supportive of the people who work in the schools begins now in earnest,” Evers said during a Tele-Town Hall conversation with WEAC members throughout the state. All WEAC members were invited to participate in the phone call last week.

“I can’t thank you enough for all the good work you have done to get us this far, to get us through eight years that have been exhausting, exacerbating and frankly demoralizing for the people who work in our schools and work with our kids. Those things are over. The issue of making sure that we value the people who work in our schools, that will never be a problem for me. I did it as State Superintendent and I will do it as governor of the State of Wisconsin.

“Survive we will. Thrive we will,” Evers said.

Evers said his top priority as governor will be “to make sure that educators have the resources they need and have the policies in place” that lead to quality public education. And, he said, it is important that educators have a voice in making decisions. “I give you my pledge,” he said, “that we’ll be working with your leadership and you personally if you want to be involved in any way possible.”

The governor-elect asked educators to keep advocating for public education and to work to support the budget he will be presenting to the Legislature early next year. That budget will include a large increase in public school funding, additional money for programs that serve students with disabilities, and increased funding for after-school, 4-K, mental health and English learner programs.

“It’s going to take your efforts across the state of Wisconsin to get our budget passed,” he said. “I’m looking forward to working with you all. I certainly appreciate your support and guidance in the past. Now we’re in a position where we’re going to govern.”

Listen to Governor-Elect Tony Evers’ message to WEAC members:

Public school supporters call for results at final School Funding Commission hearing

From the Wisconsin Public Education Network

Wisconsin public education supporters united at the Capitol Monday to send a final message to members of the Blue Ribbon Commission on School Funding, which is holding the last of its statewide tour of public hearings in Madison.

“We have attended every single one of these hearings,” said Heather DuBois Bourenane, Executive Director of Wisconsin Public Education Network. “And we have heard superintendents, board members, parents, and teachers say the same thing from one end of the state to the other: Our system of school funding is not working and is not fair.

“We believe every student in every public school in Wisconsin deserves equal access and equal opportunity to receive an equally excellent public education.  The state is not currently meeting this obligation. To do so, our public school districts and community members have made clear their needs for a funding formula that is predictable, sustainable, transparent, and adequate to meet student needs.”

These advocates called on members of the Blue Ribbon Commission to take what they have heard and use it to develop a comprehensive plan — including policy and budget recommendations, and future legislation — to address the funding inequities in the current system.

“We heard so many unique stories around the state,” DuBois Bourenane said, “but clear patterns emerged. We took careful notes and compiled a summary of the main categories of concerns. The bottom line is that the state is not meeting its moral, legal, or constitutional obligation to our children.”

The bulk of public testimony at Blue Ribbon hearings has revealed five main issues of concern for school leaders and community members:

  1. Revenue limits, which vary widely and do not correspond to financial need, are unfair and widen the gaps between “have” and “have not” districts.
  2. The funding formula is broken, overly complicated, and doesn’t do what it’s supposed to. It should be overhauled to adequately meet  the most pressing needs of our students (particularly to address poverty, needs of English language learners and students with special needs, mental health issues, and challenges facing rural schools).
  3. Special education funding is inadequate and must be sufficiently restored. Public schools have a mandate to meet the needs of every child, and local communities should not be responsible for paying the lion’s share of these increasing costs.
  4. Wisconsin’s teacher crisis creates tensions within and between districts, and has resulted in winners and losers as many (and especially rural) districts cannot afford to “compete” with others.
  5. The growing costs of privatization and the lack of taxpayer transparency for publicly funded private schools is problematic and costly for urban and rural schools alike.

Commission member Dr. Julie Underwood, the Susan Engeleiter Prof. of Education Law, Policy & Practice at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, hopes the Commission’s findings will lead to a system where children are treated equitably: “We have heard from the public. We have heard from fiscal experts. We have heard from Wisconsin school administrators. The message is clear; we are falling short on our responsibilities to our children. They deserve better.”

“In the 2011 Budget Repair Bill, schools were cut $1.6 billion.  That cut continues to harm Wisconsin’s children today. The few increases to funding that we have had, have come nowhere near making up for the damage done,” Underwood said.

“In spite of Wisconsin’s history of open and transparent public policy making, school finance is not open and transparent,” Underwood added. “Transparency is threatened by a complexity that makes it difficult — if not impossible — to understand certain programs. For example, the school levy credit looks like a funding path for public education, when in fact it is a program for property tax relief. Another example is when local school districts have to levy additional taxes if they want to make up for the funds which are sent to the private schools under the state’s various voucher programs. We need truth in budgeting.”

“Wisconsin schools are facing dire levels of unmet needs for students with mental health and behavioral health challenges,” said Joanne Juhnke, policy director for Wisconsin Family Ties. “Ten years of frozen special education funding is ten years too many, and our staffing ratios for school social workers and counselors and psychologists are sadly inadequate. Wisconsin will continue to struggle to build the kinds of school-based relationships that lift our children up when the funding is stretched this thin.”

Pecatonica School District Superintendent Jill Underly shared these concerns, and said she worries that rural schools are impacted disproportionately by the current system. “I hope that the Blue Ribbon Commission looks at the innate funding inequities that smaller, rural schools in particular face compared to larger more populated school districts with much higher property values that are able to raise revenue without much taxpayer impact,” Underly said.

“Our students deserve the same quality of instruction, facilities, and programming — the same opportunities — that their peers receive in higher populated areas. On the other end of that, I sympathize a bit with the faster growing districts that cannot fully plan for growth and are cash-strapped. I also empathize with Green Bay and Milwaukee that have a lower value per student member but have higher needs like poverty and English language learners.”

Like many others who have testified at public hearings, Madison teacher Andrew Waity said he worries the combined impact of under-resourcing our public schools while expanding private school tuition subsidies stretches resources to the limit.

“The dysfunctional funding system we have creates inequities across our state and puts unnecessary financial strains on local school budgets and taxpayers,” said Waity, President of Madison Teachers, Inc. “This is compounded by policies and budgets on the state level that have cut funding for schools and diverted substantial amounts of money to non-instrumentality charter schools and private school vouchers.”

“People who understand best the challenges facing our schools have spent the past six months sharing their concerns, and have called on the members of this Commission to produce results. We’re here today to let them know we expect them to deliver,” said DuBois Bourenane. “There is no mystery surrounding what our schools need to succeed; the mystery is why we haven’t provided the resources for them to do so.

Watch the Wisconsin Public Education Network news conference:

See more on the Wisconsin Public Education Network Facebook page.

 

Legislative Update – May 29 – What’s next for the School Funding Commission?

WEAC members for the past half-year spoke up at a series of legislative public hearings about the resources we need to adequately teach our students, and now leaders of the panel holding the forums are talking about what may come next. The final hearing is set Monday, June 4, in Madison.

The co-chairs of the commission say they may address critical issues such as declining enrollment and special education reimbursements. Particularly telling was that Republicans Senator Luther Olsen and Representative Joel Kitchens don’t anticipate they’ll touch school vouchers or open enrollment – both topics they said were in the scope of their work when the commission formed in December.

WEAC President Ron Martin said it was disappointing that the commission may back away from voucher transparency and fixing the damage vouchers cause to neighborhood public schools. Much of the testimony the panel received from public school advocates centered on how private school vouchers take vital funding from neighborhood public schools, without accountability to taxpayers. To make up for lost state aid tied to the voucher system, school districts throughout Wisconsin had to levy an additional $37 million in property taxes in 2017-18, and will have to levy an anticipated $47 million in 2018-19.

The commission also looks like it might not get to the root of adequate school funding so districts can hire and retain qualified educators for the long haul. Instead, one co-chair said we might see bills encouraging retired educators to substitute as a solution to the state’s teacher shortage.

The co-chairs, speaking to Capitol insiders at WisPolitics, said they were looking at changes to the school funding formula but weren’t in agreement what that could look like. Kitchens left the door open to “completely overhauling it,” saying it’s “pretty clear there will be some fundamental changes we will recommend, but the extent of that is up in the air,” while Olsen said he doesn’t see an overhaul on the horizon and instead emphasized the need to provide more funding to declining enrollment districts.

Other items that may be recommended include combined services like grade sharing, more K-8 districts, and consolidation. The governor in 2017 vetoed a provision promoting grade sharing between districts.

Olsen mentioned tweaking components of the equalization aid formula, which most education advocates say doesn’t go far enough. Neither lawmaker embraced going beyond the new plan to boost the revenue ceiling for low-spending districts, saying that was solved with the recent legislation.

While the co-chairs signaled the possibility of recommending an increase in the state’s special education reimbursements, WEAC President Martin noted that a similar proposal did not make it into the last few state budgets and instead only a high-cost special education reimbursement rate received a boost.

It’s uncertain whether recommendations will come forward in the next state budget, as stand-alone bills, or a mixture of both.

Listen to a recording of the interview with Senator Luther Olsen

Listen to a recording of the interview with Representative Joel Kitchens

Next Steps: After the final public hearing June 4, the co-chairs will sit down individually with each of the 16 commission members and representatives from the Legislative Fiscal Bureau to see what legislation they’d like to come out of the body.

Legislative Update – April 19

The Wisconsin Supreme Court will again take up a case about the independent authority of the elected state superintendent. The Court is responding to a lawsuit from the conservative Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL) over the DPI’s independent rule-making authority. State Superintendent Tony Evers won a case affirming his independent authority in a 5-2 ruling back in 2016, with conservatives in the majority on the bench. “Educators are scratching their heads at this latest move by the far-right to play by different rules than our Constitution calls for,” said WEAC President Ron Martin, a middle school social studies teacher. Read more.

School Funding Commission Public Hearing is Monday in Oshkosh
Details for the next public hearing for a school funding commission created by the Legislature have been announced:

  • Monday, April 23, 2-6 p.m., CESA 6, 2300 Highway 44, Oshkosh. Invited testimony will be heard, and then the public may make comment. The time limit for comments is five minutes each.

Other hearings are set:

  • Monday, May 7 – Tomahawk
  • Monday, May 21 – Turtle Lake
  • Monday, June 4 – Madison

Bills signed into law
The governor has signed a slew of bills, including the child tax rebate and sales tax holiday. Check out the status of the bills we are watching at www.weac.org/bills.

Here’s a list of recently-signed bills:

School board elections. Changes the signature requirement for nomination of candidates to school board in school districts that contain territory lying within a second class city, allowing a reduction in the number of signatures required on nomination papers submitted by school board candidates. Act 321

Supplemental aid. Provides for supplemental aid for school districts with a large area. Act 300

Availability of state practice tests. Requires the Department of Public Instruction to make available, upon request, practice examinations or sample items related to knowledge and concept examinations required to be administered under state law. The bill also would repeal the chapter of the administrative code that DPI promulgated to implement current law. Act 335

Usurp local control on workplace standards. Preempts a local municipality from enacting a local living wage, fair scheduling standard, and a host of other measures that would improve the lives of working people. Act 327

Merit Scholarships. Provides merit scholarships for UW-Stevens Point students. Act 314

College Credit in High School. Excludes certain college credit in high school programs from the Early College Credit Program. Act 307

Career and Tech Ed Grants. Provides career and technical education incentive grants for school districts and completion awards for pupils and makes an appropriation. Act 336

Robotics League Grants. Extends robotics league participation grants to middle schools. Act 315

Funding-Related Bills That Passed This Session
It’s hard to keep track of everything that passed in the long Legislative session that has just concluded. That’s why WEAC is providing a wrap-up of various bills that passed, and didn’t, in various areas impacting public education. Here’s a round-up on funding-related bills:

PASSED

Sparsity Aid. An increase in sparsity aid per student will begin in 2019, raising sparsity aid per pupil amount from $300 to $400 — an increase in sparsity aid appropriation of $6.5 million in 2019. Sparsity aid was vetoed by the governor in the 2017-19 state budget, but he changed course at the end of the Legislative session.

Supplemental aid. Provides for supplemental aid for school districts with a large area. Act 300

DID NOT PASS

Common School Funds. This bill would have eliminated the authority of the Board of Commissioners of Public Lands to make state trust fund loans, broaden the authority of the BCPL to delegate its authority to invest state trust fund moneys, and remove certain restrictions on the use of common school fund income moneys. As educators working in schools with shoestring budgets, we know the Common School Funds are often the only monies available to keep our school libraries running. Voters soundly rejected eliminating the role of state treasurer in the April election, which oversees the Common School Funds for libraries.

Excluding capital improvements from shared cost. This bill would have excluded expenditures from either a school district’s general fund or debt service fund that are authorized by a capital referendum from the school district’s shared cost if the school district is a negative tertiary school district. In other words, a negative tertiary school district would not lose equalization aid for capital expenditures that exceed the tertiary guarantee and are funded by referenda. The bill included protections for some school districts in areas with high property wealth and per-pupil spending from seeing general aid deductions in the school funding formula in cases where voters approved capital projects.

Revenue limit adjustment for workforce development improvements. This would have created a school district revenue limit adjustment for workforce development improvements to support vocational or technical education. Any school board that received a petition and adopts a resolution to initiate workforce development improvements would be allowed to increase its revenue limit by the amount the school district spends on the improvements in a school year, including amounts spent for a 20-year-max debt service on a bond, note, or state trust fund loan used to finance the improvements. The petition would be filed jointly by the president of a local chamber of commerce or a chamber of commerce and a regional workforce development board.

Special Education Funding. This called for state funding of special education at 33 percent.

Assembly passes school safety package and sends it to the governor for his signature

The State Assembly on Thursday passed a package of school safety measures and sent it to Governor Walker for his signature. The measures would establish a new Office of School Safety at the state Department of Justice and give it $100 million to provide one-time grants to school districts for security measures.

The bill also requires public and private schools to conduct annual school violence drills and requires reporting of school violence threats by teachers, school administrators, counselors, other school employees, physicians, and other medical and mental health professionals.

In a separate vote, the Assembly passed a measure to strengthen background checks for sales of long guns such as rifles and shotguns. That measure goes to the Senate, where its fate is uncertain.

The Legislative actions capped a week in which school safety issues took center stage, and educators pushed for broader approaches to addressing school violence.

In testimony submitted Tuesday to the Assembly Education Committee, WEAC President Ron Martin said the solution to school violence is not more guns but proper resources to address issues that include student mental health, school safety improvements, staff training and common sense gun laws. “While the package of bills under consideration appropriates funding for more armed guards, more equipment, more reporting requirements, it is imperative the committee recognizes what is missing,” Martin said. “The package of bills under consideration by the committee contains not one of the recommendations for safe schools forwarded by those of us who work in and with them.”

Also, leaders of Madison Teachers Inc., the Madison school district and Dane County asked Governor Walker and the Legislature to listen to students and our communities and address school safety by focusing on how we can support students and schools.

Legislative Update – March 12 – Governor signs bill increasing sparsity aid

Assembly Bill 835 – which increases the sparsity aid per student – was signed into law Monday by Governor Walker. Beginning in 2019, the bill increases the sparsity aid per pupil amount from $300 to $400. Under the bill, the appropriation for sparsity aid would be increased by $6.5 million in 2019. Sparsity aid increases were vetoed by the governor in the 2017-19 state budget, but he has since changed his position.

The bill will also increase the revenue limit ceiling for school districts to $9,400 in the 2018-19 school year, with the ceiling increasing by $100 each year until it reaches $9,800 in the 2022-23 school year. The current revenue limit ceiling is $9,100.

Read more:

Schools with low budgets, rural locations to get extra funding, under bill signed by Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker

MADISON – Wisconsin schools with small budgets or rural locations could get additional funding, under legislation signed by Gov. Scott Walker. The Republican governor also said Monday that he wants the state to provide additional money to improve safety in schools in the same way the federal government helped improve safety in airports.

 

 

Legislative Update – February 26

The Assembly and Senate, and committees, continued acting on a large number of bills last week, as they hustle toward recess.

Here are some updates to catch you up on last week’s happenings:

Thiesfeldt bill. AB-693 was approved by the Assembly Judiciary Committee on a party line 5-3 vote and was passed by the Assembly. A companion bill, SB 821, was introduced in the Senate and referred to the Senate Education Committee. The Assembly committee incorporated an amendment to allow teachers to terminate their employment without penalty in certain cases of “physical assault” or violent crime. The bill, introduced by Representative Jeremy Thiesfeldt, severely threatens student privacy under the guise of protecting teachers. WEAC continues to monitor. Read this column by teacher Andy Waity, president of Madison Teachers Inc. Take Action Now!

Guns in School. A Wisconsin legislator is circulating a proposal called the Private School Carry Act. The bill would allow anyone with a concealed-carry license to carry that gun on school grounds, and, if the school board passes a policy, those guns could be concealed-carried into buildings. Under the proposal, if a school district doesn’t allow it and someone forgets they have a gun strapped to their ankle or other part of their body, the penalty is decreased to a forfeiture (which isn’t really a crime), instead of the current felony. The deadline for legislators to sign onto the proposal was Friday.

Usurp local control on workplace standards. The Assembly Local Government Committee passed AB 748 / SB 634 on a 6-3 vote. The bill pre-empts a local municipality from enacting a local living wage, fair scheduling standard, and a host of other measures that would improve the lives of working people. The bill has already been passed by the Senate Labor Committee. 

Dual Enrollment. AB 851 / SB 711  requires the University of Wisconsin System to award grants to school districts, independent charter schools and voucher schools to support dual enrollment programs taught in high schools. Under the bill, grants are awarded to assist high school teachers in meeting the minimal qualifications necessary to teach dual enrollment courses. The grants would end after June 30, 2022.

Sparsity Aid. Assembly Democrats introduced an amendment to a bill to increase sparsity aid / low revenue ceiling. The amendment calls for a  School Safety Plan Revenue Limit Exemption, a timely and useful amendments for our members. Under the exemption plan, school districts would receive a revenue limit exemption for certain school safety expenditures made under a school safety plan equal to the greater of $40,000 or $100 times the number of pupils in the school district. It is estimated that districts would utilize $60 million in revenue limit authority related to this item.

Nutrition Education. The Assembly passed SB159 /AB-215, which would require a school board to modify its instruction about nutrition to include knowledge of the nutritive value of foods and the role of a nutritious diet in promoting health. Current law requires school boards to provide instruction about the vitamin content of food and food and health values of dairy products. The bill also requires a nutrition education component be incorporated into the health education credit requirement to receive a high school diploma.

Introduced in Senate:

Academic excellence higher education scholarships. SB840 addresses the awarding of academic excellence higher education scholarships to pupils of public and tribal high schools with enrollments of at least 20 but fewer than 500 pupils, and not more than ten scholarships to be awarded statewide to seniors from public or tribal high schools enrolling fewer than 20 pupils and to seniors from private high schools enrolling fewer than 80 pupils. Scholarship deadlines for these schools are also impacted. The bill was referred to the Senate Committee on Education.

Rural teacher grants. SB 841 would create a grant program to encourage eligible teachers to teach in schools operated by eligible rural school districts. To be eligible, a teacher must be nominated by her school district and submit a claim for financial assistance. The teacher must include a commitment to use the financial assistance to repay student loans. The maximum grant amount is $1,000 for the first school year, $2,000 for the second school year, $2,000 for the third school year, $2,000 for the fourth school year, and $3,000 for the fifth school year. Districts would be limited to four eligible teachers in the grant program each year.

Phasing out vouchers. AB 968 would provide for new regulations under Wisconsin’s voucher programs, and eventually phase them out altogether. This bill prohibits a pupil who has attended a private school under any voucher program and who has completed the highest grade level at that private school from attending any other private school under vouchers. Also, beginning in the 2020-21 school year, no new voucher school may added. Additionally, no pupil may attend a private voucher school unless the pupil was attending that private school under the program in the 2019-20 school year. Finally, beginning in the 2020-21 school year, no private school may accept pupils under the voucher program unless the school was participating in the program in the 2019-20 school year, and no pupil may attend a private voucher school unless the pupil was attending that private school under the program in the prior year.

County jailers and the WRS. SB 577, which would classify county jailers as protective occupation participants under the Wisconsin Retirement System and under the Municipal Employment Relations Act, was referred to the Senate Committee on Government Operation, Technology and Consumer Protection. While the bill would likely not have a cost impact on the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission, there is insufficient knowledge as to whether this bill would increase or decrease county costs.

The Blue Ribbon Commission on School Funding has scheduled its next public hearing for Monday, March 5, 2018, in La Crosse. The hearing will begin at 1:30 p.m. and conclude at 6:00 p.m. The hearing will take place at the: North Woods International School N2541 Sablewood Rd. La Crosse.

 

Legislative Update – February 15 – Bill that severely threatens student privacy up for a vote on Tuesday

AB-693 will be up for an Assembly committee vote next Tuesday. The bill, introduced by Representative Jeremy Thiesfeldt, severely threatens student privacy under the guise of protecting teachers. So far, there’s no companion bill, and WEAC continues to monitor. Read this column by teacher Andy Waity, president of Madison Teachers Inc.

Welfare Overhaul. The Assembly took up the special session welfare overhaul package on the floor this afternoon. All 10 of the bills have cleared a Senate committee as of this week. Juvenile corrections were also up for a joint public hearing. A rundown of other bills in the mix is below. Find details on all here: All the Bills We’re Watching.

The Assembly is also set to vote today on the following bills:

County jailers and the WRS. AB 676 / SB 577 would classify county jailers as protective occupation participants under the Wisconsin Retirement System and under the Municipal Employment Relations Act. While the bill would likely not have a cost impact on the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission, there is insufficient knowledge as to whether this bill would increase or decrease county costs. Fiscal estimate

AB-872 Career and Tech Ed Grants (Loudenbeck, Amy) Career and technical education incentive grants for school districts and completion awards for pupils and making an appropriation.

AB-804 Merit Scholarships (August, Tyler) Merit scholarships for certain University of Wisconsin System students and making an appropriation.

The Assembly is set to vote Tuesday, February 20, on the following bills:

AB-215 Nutrition Education (Petryk, Warren) Education about nutrition.

AB-564 Robotics League Grants (Neylon, Adam) Robotics league participation grants.

AB-569 School Reports (Kitchens, Joel) Publication of school and school district accountability reports.

AB-745 Apprenticeship Participation (Quinn, Romaine) Participation in an apprenticeship program by a high school senior and granting rule-making authority.

AB-808 Apprenticeship Grants (Jacque, Andre) Grants to technical college students for apprenticeships expenses and making an appropriation.

Committee votes next week:

Thiesfeldt Teacher Bill. AB-693 will be up for an Assembly committee vote. The bill severely threatens student privacy under the guise of protecting teachers. So far, there’s no companion bill, and WEAC continues to monitor. Take Action Now!

4K Pilot Program. The Assembly Children and Families Committee will hold a public hearing Wednesday, February 21, on AB-797, a Department of Children and Families pilot project to expand 4-year-old kindergarten programs. The Senate Education Committee has passed the companion bill, SB-663.

Passed by Assembly

AB-805 College Credit in High School (Kooyenga, Dale) Excluding certain college credit in high school programs from the Early College Credit Program. Am. 1 to Sub. 2 adopted, (Voice Vote).  Sub. 2 adopted, (Voice Vote).  Passed, (Voice Vote).  Messaged.  

AB-835 Sparsity Aid (Nygren, John) Sparsity aid, the revenue limit ceiling for school districts, and making an appropriation. Am. 3 adopted, (Voice Vote). Passed, 90-3.  Messaged

Passed by Senate Education Committee

AB-221 Pupil Instruction Pilot Program (Kremer, Jesse) Creating a pilot program under which certain school districts are not required to provide a minimum number of hours of direct pupil instruction. Passage failed recommendation, 3-4.  

SB-105 Pupil Instruction Pilot Program (Olsen, Luther) Creating a pilot program under which certain school districts are not required to provide a minimum number of hours of direct pupil instruction. Passage failed recommendation, 3-4.  

Passed by the Assembly Education Committee:

Dual Enrollment. The Assembly Education Committee approved AB 851 / SB 711, which requires the University of Wisconsin System to award grants to school districts, independent charter schools and voucher schools to support dual enrollment programs taught in high schools. Under the bill, grants are awarded to assist high school teachers in meeting the minimal qualifications necessary to teach dual enrollment courses. The grants would end after June 30, 2022.

Earlier this week:

Career and Tech Ed Grants. The Joint Finance Committee meets Tuesday to take up AB-872 / SB-746, which establishes career and technical education incentive grants for school districts and completion awards for pupils.

Workers Comp Changes. The Senate Labor Committee meets Wednesday to take up SB 665, with changes to the worker’s compensation law.

Updates on important issues:

WI FMLA. We shared last week that the Senate Labor Chair is indicating in emails that he has no intention of moving ahead with a bill to eviscerate WI FMLA. WEAC has been on-the-job since October activating members, and you can keep the pressure up by using our Action Alert. We’ve had about 500 action-takers to date, and almost 50 of them have also sent a note to Senator Steve Nass to let him know we’re watching now that he’s committed NOT to advance the bill this session.

See All the Bills We’re Watching

 

Legislative Update – February 14 – Assembly OKs rural schools bill

After lengthy debate, the Assembly passed a bill 91-2 to help rural schools. The two members voting against the bill were Reps. Andre Jacque, R-De Pere, and Adam Jarchow, R-Balsam Lake. An amendment allows districts with a failed referendum to present another one to voters. If successful, they would then qualify. This provision in the bill, even with the added amendment, received sharp criticism from Democrats. Rep. Sondy Pope, D-Mt. Horeb, the ranking member of the Assembly Education Committee, voted for the bill, but said she was still troubled over its retroactive provision. “Now that the majority party has finally decided to take meaningful action in funding education, they want to punish districts who did what they had to do just to survive,” Pope said. Here’s more about the bill, from a recent WEAC Legislative Update:

Low Revenue Ceiling and Sparsity Aid. The Joint Finance Committee (JFC) amended Senate Bill 690 before unanimously passing it. The amendment allows for nine school districts that would have been frozen under the proposal the ability to go to advisory referendum to use the low revenue ceiling increase. If the referendum passes, districts could raise the local levy using the low revenue ceiling adjustment. If the referendum fails, a new three-year freeze wouldn’t be enacted but the district would still have to wait the three years since the operational referendum failed to use the low revenue ceiling. The Assembly Education Committee has already passed companion bill AB 835, so the next stop for this one is in the full Senate. Here are the details of the bill:

  • Low Revenue Ceiling: Would increase the low revenue ceiling from $9,100 to $9,400 in 2019. The bill also would increase the low revenue ceiling by $100 each school year, beginning in 2020, until the ceiling reaches $9,800 in 2023. The DPI estimates the statewide cost of this bill to be a maximum of $21.8 million in 2019, depending on whether nine additional school districts going to referendum this spring are successful.
  • Sparsity Aid: This would, beginning in 2019, increase the sparsity aid per pupil amount from $300 to $400. Under the bill, the appropriation for sparsity aid would be increased by $6.5 million in 2019. Sparsity aid was vetoed by the governor in the 2017-19 state budget, but he has said he supports the provisions now.

Meanwhile, voucher lobbyists continue to do their thing at the Capitol, looking for more ways to siphon funding meant for the majority of Wisconsin kids who attend public schools. In fact, SPECIAL NEEDS VOUCHERS ARE SET TO TRIPLE NEXT YEAR.

This week:

Dual Enrollment. The Assembly Education Committee approved AB 851 / SB 711, which requires the University of Wisconsin System to award grants to school districts, independent charter schools and voucher schools to support dual enrollment programs taught in high schools. Under the bill, grants are awarded to assist high school teachers in meeting the minimal qualifications necessary to teach dual enrollment courses. The grants would end after June 30, 2022.

Career and Tech Ed Grants. The Joint Finance Committee meets Tuesday to take up AB-872 / SB-746, which establishes career and technical education incentive grants for school districts and completion awards for pupils.

Workers Comp Changes. The Senate Labor Committee meets Wednesday to take up SB 665, with changes to the worker’s compensation law.

See All the Bills We’re Watching

Legislative Update – February 9 – FMLA bill ‘won’t move forward’

Senator Steve Nass, chairman of the Senate committee weighing a bill to end the Wisconsin Family and Medical Leave Act, said he has “no intention of moving this bill forward in the remaining days of this session.” Nass made the statement in response to WEAC’s Save Wisconsin FMLA emails, showing that our collective action makes a difference. Don’t stop now! SHARE OUR ACTION ALERT WITH OTHERS WHO HAVEN’T EMAILED YET.

Low Revenue Ceiling and Sparsity Aid. The Joint Finance Committee (JFC) amended Senate Bill 690 before unanimously passing it Thursday. The amendment allows for nine school districts that would have been frozen under the proposal the ability to go to advisory referendum to use the low revenue ceiling increase. If the referendum passes, districts could raise the local levy using the low revenue ceiling adjustment. If the referendum fails, a new three-year freeze wouldn’t be enacted but the district would still have to wait the three years since the operational referendum failed to use the low revenue ceiling. The Assembly Education Committee has already passed companion bill AB 835, so the next stop for this one is in the full Senate and Assembly. Here are the details of the bill:

  • Low Revenue Ceiling: Would increase the low revenue ceiling from $9,100 to $9,400 in 2019. The bill also would increase the low revenue ceiling by $100 each school year, beginning in 2020, until the ceiling reaches $9,800 in 2023. The DPI estimates the statewide cost of this bill to be a maximum of $21.8 million in 2019, depending on whether nine additional school districts going to referendum this spring are successful.
  • Sparsity Aid: This would, beginning in 2019, increase the sparsity aid per pupil amount from $300 to $400. Under the bill, the appropriation for sparsity aid would be increased by $6.5 million in 2019. Sparsity aid was vetoed by the governor in the 2017-19 state budget, but he has said he supports the provisions now.

Gifted and talented vouchers. A bill to begin gifted and talented education savings accounts (AKA vouchers) was pulled before a committee vote this week, as an amendment was introduced to require repayments to the state in cases of fraud, but it’s back on the legislative track now. The bill would allow any type of school to define “gifted and talented” without oversight, and as is the nature of privatization, collect public money.  The bill is SB 725 / AB 830, the nation’s first attempt at vouchers for gifted and talented children. The measure would pay private school tuition and expenses for 2,000 families who meet requirements set forth. The program would provide $1,000 for each “gifted and talented” student who is already eligible for free or reduced-price school lunches, which means the household’s annual income is at or below $45,510 annually for a family of four. Read national praise for this idea from privatizers at The 74.

Tax proposal. A one-time $100 per child tax credit, regardless of income, refunded by check in July and a sales tax holiday the first weekend of August for purchases under $100 are moving ahead. The governor is publicizing his agreement with Assembly Speaker Robin Vos. The bill will likely be introduced and sent to committee next week.  Senator Scott Fitzgerald said his caucus will talk about the proposal, but noted that the sales tax holiday was removed from the budget last year. Assembly GOP leaders, who worked with Walker on the plan, said it would cost $172 million. That includes $122 million for the per-child credit and an estimated $50 million for the sales tax holiday.

Circulating for co-sponsorship:

Supplemental Sparsity Aid. LRB-5382 would provide supplemental sparsity aid for school districts with high property valuation and making an appropriation. Read the memo.

Teacher Grant Program. LRB-5386  would create a grant program for teachers employed by sparsely populated school districts and requiring the exercise of rule-making authority. Read the memo.

Higher Ed Scholarships. LRB-5387 would award academic excellence higher education scholarships to pupils of public and tribal high schools with enrollments of at least 20 but fewer than 80 pupils. Read the memo.

BILLS WE ARE WATCHING

Public hearings Wednesday:

Usurp local control on workplace standards. The Assembly Local Government Committee will hold a public hearing Wednesday on AB 748 / SB 634. The bill preempts a local municipality from enacting a local living wage, fair scheduling standard, and a host of other measures that would improve the lives of working people. The bill has passed the Senate Committee on Labor.

Dual Enrollment. The Assembly Education Committee will hold its public hearing on AB 851. The bill requires the University of Wisconsin System to award grants to school districts, independent charter schools and voucher schools to support dual enrollment programs taught in high schools. Under the bill, grants are awarded to assist high school teachers in meeting the minimal qualifications necessary to teach dual enrollment courses. The grants would end after June 30, 2022. The Senate version, SB 711, received a public hearing Tuesday.

Ready for votes:

Firearm Possession at School. The Senate Judiciary and Public Safety committee will vote on AB-496, regarding suspending and expelling a pupil for possession of a firearm at school. Its companion bill, SB-402, has passed out of committee.

County jailers and the WRS. AB 676 / SB 577, which would classify county jailers as protective occupation participants under the Wisconsin Retirement System and under the Municipal Employment Relations Act, is ready to be scheduled for an Assembly vote. While the bill would likely not have a cost impact on the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission, there is insufficient knowledge as to whether this bill would increase or decrease county costs. Fiscal estimate

Grants to schools for public safety training. The Assembly Committee on Workforce Development will vote Tuesday on AB 872, which would create an incentive grant program for school districts that provide training for certain public safety occupations and provides completion awards for students who complete those programs. The companion bill, SB 746, is set for a Senate committee vote on Thursday.

Drug abuse awareness, prevention in school. SB 767 lists requirements for counselors and specialists to be certified, and also goes beyond current law to require school boards to incorporate drug abuse awareness and prevention in health instructional programs.

Passed through committee:

Career and Tech Ed Grants. An Assembly committee unanimously passed AB-872, which would provide career and technical education incentive grants for school districts and completion awards for pupils. The Senate version, SB-746, is up for a public hearing Thursday.  Read the fiscal estimate.

Votes scheduled:

Merit scholarships. The Senate Government Operations, Technology & Consumer Protection Committee will vote Thursday on SB-700, which would provide merit scholarships for certain University of Wisconsin System students.

Bill circulating for co-sponsorship:

Local Minimum Wage. LRB-4544 would allow for the enactment of local minimum wage ordinances. Currently, in Wisconsin, local units of government are preempted by state statute from establishing a local minimum wage. Wisconsin’s minimum has stayed stagnant since 2009 at $7.25 an hour. Twenty five percent of Wisconsinites are working low wage jobs that pay less than $11.56 per hour which, even working full time, cannot keep a family of four out of poverty. Read the memo.

LRB-2581 Memo DOA Duties (Vinehout, Kathleen) The duties and function of the Department of Administration, the Department of Revenue, and the Office of the State Treasurer and making appropriations. Deadline: Friday, February 16, 3 pm

Public hearings held Tuesday:

College Credit in High SchoolSB 677 / AB-805 would exclude certain college credit in high school programs from the Early College Credit Program. The bill was approved by the Assembly Colleges and Universities Committee this week.

Expanding 4KSB 663 would allow the Department of Children and Families, as a pilot project, to award grants to organizations, including school boards, with existing four-year-old kindergarten programs for the purpose of expanding those programs.

Repealing rules around large-area supplemental aid. SB 685 / AB 477 would repeal the administrative rules promulgated by the Department of Public Instruction to administer a supplemental aid program for a school district having 500 or fewer pupils and that is at least 200 square miles and incorporates the repealed provisions into current law. The bill also changes, from enrollment to membership, the terminology used to refer to the number of pupils counted to determine the school district’s eligibility to receive the supplemental aid.

Human Trafficking + Drivers Ed. The Senate Universities & Tech College Committee will hold a public hearing Tuesday on SB 444 / AB 540, which would require education instruction on human trafficking in drivers education courses, along with two Wisconsin Technical College System Board appointments.

Other updates:

LEGISLATIVE AUDIT BUREAU RELEASES UW SYSTEM AUDIT. The Legislative Audit Bureau has released an audit of the UW System. According to the audit, LAB “have reported concerns related to information technology (IT) security policies, procedures, and controls at UW System since the early 1990s. Such weaknesses increase the risk that unauthorized or erroneous transactions could be processed or changes could be made to accounting, payroll, and student data. We continued to identify weaknesses and reported these weaknesses as a significant deficiency in internal control in our Independent Auditor’s Report on Internal Control over Financial Reporting and on Compliance and Other Matters.”