School funding commission schedules hearing March 5 in La Crosse

The Legislature’s Blue Ribbon Commission on School Funding will hold a public hearing Monday, March 5, 2018, beginning at 1:30 p.m. at the North Woods International School, N2541 Sablewood Rd., La Crosse.

The Blue Ribbon Commission will hear testimony from invited speakers including representatives from the Sparta Public School District, Onalaska School District, and CESA 4.

Following the presentations, members of the public are invited to speak and share their thoughts. To ensure all of those in attendance are able to be heard, public testimony will be limited to 5 minutes. Hearing will conclude at 6:00 p.m.

The commission is tasked with examining:

  • The effects of distributing general aid through our equalization aid formula. Attention will also be given to other factors that could improve our efforts to provide equal educational opportunities to all pupils;
  • The relationship between declining enrollment districts and the fixed costs that districts face, and the possible incorporation of a minimum aid per district;
  • Evaluating transportation costs and how districts pay for those costs;
  • Review of high-cost categorical aids and the consideration of other aids that could be created to meet specific needs;
  • Methods to better align funding for various school choice options such as open enrollment, school choice and independent charter schools;
  • Consideration of funding levels for certain extended learning opportunities like summer school, preschool or dual enrollment;
  • Options to provide revenue-limit equity to low-spending districts; and
  • Other technical changes that could improve the transparency of the school finance system.

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.”

Legislative Update – February 2

BLUE RIBBON COMMISSION ON SCHOOL FUNDING HOLDS PUBLIC HEARING IN MILWAUKEE

A school funding commission created by the Legislature met Friday, February 2, in Milwaukee, with invited testimony from Milwaukee Public Schools, the Southeast Wisconsin Schools Alliance and a voucher lobbyist group. The hearing was one of a handful planned around the state to inform the next biennium budget.

Senator Luther Olsen opened the meeting, repeating his stance that making changes to school funding requires money in order to make sure there aren’t schools that win and other schools that lose. Olsen said school districts need to be held harmless in any proposal or there will never be enough support in the Legislature to pass it.

Highlights of the Milwaukee Public Schools testimony included support for mental health needs, transportation needs and literacy issues. The Alliance highlighted issues affecting schools, including declining enrollment and the need for local control of school start dates. The voucher lobby said funding should have a “mobility function.”

Public education advocates prepared to speak out around the hearings said one concern stands out across our communities: inequity. “All children have a right to a quality public education, but parents do not feel that their public schools are receiving adequate resources from the state,” said Ingrid Walker-Henry, co-chair of Schools and Communities United in Milwaukee, pointing out that this concern is tied directly to the strain of private school funding schemes on public school funds. “For over 25 years, Milwaukee has been home to a private voucher school experiment. Parents have grave concerns about the millions of public dollars being siphoned to private, unaccountable school operators who are not performing better than our public schools. We hope that legislators on the committee will hear Milwaukee parents’ calls for adequate and equitable funding and for all publicly funded schools to be held to the same standards of transparency and accountability as our public schools.”

This week in the Legislature:

Common School Funds. A public hearing was held on Senate Bill 713 / AB 857. The bill would eliminate 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.

  • In a nutshell, the requirement that schools spend Common School Fund monies on instructional materials, library books or school library computers/software would be eliminated under this bill, and any items purchased would no longer have to be located in the school library.
  • Since the Board of Commissioners of Public Lands would no longer make loans, the interest from those loans – which now goes into the Common School Fund – would be gone. Over the past 10 years, the loan program invested over $1 billion in Wisconsin, and the interest earnings are a key source of revenue for the Common School Fund.
  • The bill would for the first time allow SWIB to invest state trust fund dollars using their typical investment strategy, instead of only investing in fixed accounts. It’s estimated if this approach were active during the financial crash of 2008, a loss up to $290 million would have occurred and school libraries would have been left in the dark.

Low Revenue Ceiling and Sparsity Aid. The Assembly Education Committee passed AB 835, a bill to help rural schools. Sparsity aid was vetoed by the governor in the 2017-19 state budget, but he has said he supports the provisions now. The bill addresses two areas:

  • 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. Districts with failed operating referendums in the prior three years would not be eligible. Of the 107 school districts that would be eligible under this bill, nine had failed referenda. 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.

Annual School Reports. The Assembly Education Committee held a public hearing on AB569, which requires the Department of Public Instruction to publish its annual school and school district accountability report by November 30, rather than in September. This bill also changes the date by which DPI must determine whether a school is placed in the school takeover program to November 30 instead of October 15. The Senate has already passed the companion bill, SB-494.

Excluding capital improvements from shared cost in some districts. The Assembly Education Committee held a public hearing on AB 803. In this bill, expenditures from either a school district’s general fund or debt service fund that are authorized by a capital referendum are excluded from the school district’s shared cost if the school district is a negative tertiary school district. In other words, under the bill, a negative tertiary school district will not lose equalization aid for capital expenditures that exceed the tertiary guarantee and are funded by referenda. The bill protects 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 approve capital projects. There is currently no companion bill in the Senate.

Grants to schools for public safety training. The Assembly Committee on Workforce Development held a hearing on AB 872, which creates 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 Assembly committee is set to vote on the measure Tuesday and the companion bill, SB 746, is set for a Senate committee vote on Thursday.

Pupil Exam InformationAB-300 / SB 222 was passed out of the Assembly and Senate education committees. The bill requires school boards beginning next school year to annually provide information about mandatory pupil examinations to parents and guardians.

Tech grants for apprenticeship training programs. AB 808 was passed by an Assembly committee. The Senate Workforce Development Committee held a public hearing on companion bill SB 682, which creates a grant program under which the Technical College System Board may award grants of up to $1,000 to technical college students who have undertaken an apprenticeship training program in conjunction with their course of instruction at the technical college. These grants may be awarded only to assist students in paying materials expenses associated with the apprenticeship training program, including costs of purchasing tools, clothing, equipment, and supplies. The TCS Board must establish an application process and criteria for awarding these grants, which criteria must consider the financial need and anticipated or actual expenses of the applicant. The TCS Board may award grants totaling up to $50,000 per academic year.

Gifted and talented vouchers. A fiscal estimate was received for the latest voucher scam, AB830 / SB725. The bill claims to help low-income parents get services for their gifted and talented children, but instead it expands the amount of tax dollars spent on private schools – at the expense of the 90 percent of children who attend public schools. Senator Alberta Darling is proposing the measure, which 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.

Robotics league participation grants. Representative Kooyenga was added as a co-author of AB564/SB483, which expands eligibility for robotics grants to include sixth- through eighth-grade teams.

Senate Education Committee meets Tuesday

The following bills will receive public hearings:

Dual Enrollment. 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.

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 4K. SB 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.

County jailers and the WRS. The Assembly is set to vote on 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. 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

Senate Judiciary And Public Safety meets Tuesday

Firearm Possession at School. The 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.

Legislative Update – December 11

Preempting local government from determining local rules. A GOP bill, SB634 would preempt local governments from enacting or enforcing ordinances related to various employment matters. Under current constitutional and statutory home rule provisions, a city or village may determine its own local affairs subject only to the Wisconsin Constitution and to any enactment of the Legislature that is of statewide concern and that affects every city or village with uniformity. This bill states that all of the following matters are matters of statewide concern requiring uniform enforcement at the state, county, and municipal levels:

  • Requiring any person to accept certain collective bargaining provisions or waive its rights under the National Labor Relations Act or state labor law.
  • Local regulation of employee hours and overtime, employment benefits, wage claims and collections, an employer’s right to solicit salary information of prospective employees, employment discrimination, and professions regulated by the state.

The bill was referred to Committee on Labor and Regulatory Reform. There is no companion bill at this time.

Revenue limit adjustment for workforce development improvements. This bill, AB 729 / SB 613, would create a school district revenue limit adjustment for workforce development improvements to support vocational or technical education. Any school board that receives a petition and adopts a resolution to initiate workforce development improvements may increase its revenue limit by the amount the school district spends on the improvements in a school year, including amounts spent for debt service on a bond, note, or state trust fund loan used to finance the improvements. The term of the bond, note, or trust fund loan may not exceed 20 years. The petition must be filed jointly by the president of a local chamber of commerce or a chamber of commerce that serves the geographic area encompassing any portion of the school district and the executive director of a regional workforce development board. The Assembly version was sent to the Committee on Local Government, while the Senate version is in the Education Committee.

AUDIT ON ETF RELEASED. The Legislative Audit Bureau has released on report on the Department of Employee Trust Funds.  Briefing Sheet and Full Report. According to the report:

  • The WRS fiduciary net position increased from $88.5 billion on December 31, 2015, to $92.6 billion on December 31, 2016. A 4.6% increase.
  • The net position of the State Income Continuation Insurance (ICI) program declined from a negative $25.6 million on December 31, 2015, to negative $28.4 million on December 31, 2016.
  • ETF increased 2017 premiums for the State ICI program.
  • ETF is seeking statutory changes for the State ICI program.

Prohibiting aiding and abetting sexual abuse of students by school personnelAct 130 implements in state statutes provisions already included in the federal Every Student Succeeds Act to prohibit aiding and abetting sexual abuse of children/students by school personnel. State law now states that it is immoral conduct for a DPI licensee (e.g., a teacher, administrator or HR director, etc.), or a school board, private school governance or privately run charter operator to assist a school employee, contractor or agent to obtain a new job in a school or school district if the licensee knows or has reason to believe that the person committed a sex offense against a student or a minor.  A violation could subject the licensee to potential loss or his or her DPI license.

Legislative Update – December 6

Commission on School Funding: The leaders of the Wisconsin State Legislature on Wednesday announced creation of a Blue Ribbon Commission on School Funding that does not include any classroom educators.

“As educators, we are a steady voice for a solution to Wisconsin’s broken school funding system,” said WEAC President Ron Martin. “It’s alarming that no classroom educators are included on the Commission because teachers and support staff know firsthand how the inadequate and inequitable funding impacts learning every day.

“It’s time for Wisconsin leaders to move from promises to action when it comes to living up to their responsibilities to our students, and that starts with including educators’ voices in the mix.”

While the concept of the Commission was floated earlier in the Legislative session, membership was just named. Leaders of the commission are Rep. Joel Kitchens (R-Sturgeon Bay) and Sen. Luther Olsen (R-Ripon). The commission will examine how tax dollars are distributed to schools and make recommendations to better meet the needs of students across Wisconsin. Read the GOP leadership’s news release

Senator Stroebel appointed to Joint Finance Committee. Senator Duey Stroebel is the newest member of the Joint Finance Committee. Stroebel, of Saukville, replaces Sheila Harsdorf, who is the new secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection. He also was one of three Republicans who issued a series of veto demands to Governor Scott Walker before agreeing to support final passage of the budget. Stroebel is also a key author of AB324/SB190 (currently in committee), which increases the minimum age requirement under WRS and changes the way earnings are calculated. Stroebel will serve the remainder of the 2017-18 term.

Child Labor Permits. Senate and Assembly committees are recommending passage of a bill (SB-420 / AB-504) to allow a minor to be employed without a child labor permit by a family business.

Literacy Grants. An Assembly committee is recommending passage of AB 541 (companion bill SB 449). This bill requires the Department of Health Services to distribute grants to the Children’s Health Alliance of Wisconsin to support the early literacy program known as Reach Out and Read Wisconsin. The bill would provide $200,000 in 2018 and $300,000 in 2019.

County jailers and the WRS. A fiscal estimate was received for AB 676 (companion bill SB 577), which 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.

Teachers sound off on potentially losing classroom supply tax deduction

The tax plan approved by the House would eliminate the “educator expense deduction” which allows teachers and administrators to deduct up to $250 for out-of-pocket expenses used in their classrooms and schools: items such as books, school supplies, decorations and computer software. Professional development expenses are also included in the deduction, which was made permanent by Congress in 2015. By contrast, the Senate is considering doubling the education tax deduction to $500, but it’s anyone’s guess how this will come out.

Educators are very concerned about the possibility of losing this tax deduction, especially while the GOP tax plan provides very large deductions for wealthy individuals and corporations. Below is some of the reaction we have seen in recent days. First is a letter from La Crosse teacher Jill Gorell, followed by comments submitted on our Facebook page:

Jill Gorell, 8th Grade Teacher, La Crosse Education Association member:

Being a teacher means spending a lot of personal funds on students and the classroom. I cringe when I see the “end of the year” receipts indicating how much I have spent on my students. It’s overwhelming. Adding to the equation, I’m a single mother, as well as a teacher, who is trying to take care of my own children and their expenses. It’s not easy.

I spend money every day on my 8th grade students. I am constantly providing food for my at-risk and students of poverty who complain on a daily basis how hungry they are. With that, I have a container full of granola bars and other healthy snacks for them to “secretly” grab when their stomachs are growling. In addition to having a bin of snacks, I oftentimes pay off debt on overdue lunch accounts so students can eat lunch. On occasion, I have purchased clothing (such as socks, underwear, and bras) for students who have been at shelters the night before school and are embarrassed because the clothes they are wearing aren’t appropriate or just don’t fit. I provide feminine products to my female students and I’ve been known to give money to students who cannot afford to pay for a school field trip.

Who buys Kleenex, pencils, paper, book bags, notebooks, pens, pencil sharpeners, markers, bus tokens, folders, calculators, and poster boards for the classroom and students? I do. I do this because my students come to school without materials.

These expenses are paid for by me – a hard working single mom who’s a caring and compassionate educator. I cannot imagine “not” helping my students. I do this because it’s the right thing to do.

Eliminating the teacher expense “tax deduction” is beyond hurtful, disappointing, and quite simply a slap in every educator’s face. Educators personally spend hundreds, even thousands, of dollars every year on their students. To eliminate the $250 deduction is yet another attack on the generosity of teachers.

Below are some of the Facebook comments we received when we asked educators how elimination of this tax deduction would affect them and their students (read more here):

Entire comment: It will become the books for my classroom library I won’t buy, the pens and pencils, folders and notebooks I give to my students who can’t buy them. The treats I buy to reward them for reaching their goals. The small tokens of my appreciation that I give them to show that I care that they are reading their goals.

More of this comment: This is another mostly symbolic gesture by those in power to show us how little they value our profession and working people in general. Most of us spend 3-4 times the $250 they allow us to deduct from our income.

Entire comment: I buy the newest popular books for my class. The books I have are older and in order to engage students and help them fall in love with reading. Books aren’t cheap. I have purchased bookshelves, the type from Walmart. I buy art supplies and basic supplies. The deduction makes me feel that at least someone acknowledges it is a necessity. The amount should go up not be eliminated. This tax plan is for the middle class?????????? Really????

Republican tax plan is ‘giveaway to wealthiest paid for by students and working families’

The U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday approved a multi-trillion dollar tax plan that funds tax breaks for the wealthiest and corporations on the backs of students and working families. The bill, championed by Republican leaders, eliminates a popular tax deduction that allows educators to deduct up to $250 of the money they spend on their classrooms and students. The bill also expands a tax loophole for the wealthiest to pay for private school expenses while cutting tax deductions for the middle class. The elimination of most of the state and local tax deductions would blow a hole in state and local revenue to support public education and risk funding for nearly 250,000 education jobs, including 4,680 in Wisconsin.

“Wisconsin’s students lose big with today’s vote,” said WEAC President Ron Martin, an eighth grade teacher. “It’s wholely irresponsible, including a provision eliminating tax deductions for teachers who buy classroom supplies, while allowing corporations to keep their deductions. This is highly hypocritical especially since some Republicans voted to make this deduction permanent in 2015. Now they want to eliminate it.”

The tax plan would cut up to $4.6 million from Wisconsin schools over 10 years.

“Hypocrisy is at the heart of the tax plan approved today by the U.S. House of Representatives,” said NEA President Lily Eskelsen García. “It reveals the ill-conceived and misguided priorities of Republican leaders in Washington. Repeatedly, their plan takes from working families to pay for massive tax giveaways to corporations and the wealthy.”

The House tax bill eliminates the state and local deduction for people but keeps it for corporations. It eliminates the educator tax deduction for school supplies but allows corporations to continue to claim deductions for supplies they purchase. It eliminates the student loan deduction but opens a new loophole for wealthy families to sock away money to pay for private school tuition.

“It is outrageous to expand education tax loopholes for wealthy families to stash away money for private school,” Martin said. “Make no mistake: this poorly veiled and risky voucher program will only benefit those who can already afford private school tuition at the expense of our students and neighborhood public schools – where 9 out of 10 children attend. This is not normal. As with their health care debacle this year, Republican leaders are rushing to pass a massive, partisan bill that impacts every American household, critical public services like education, and our economy without giving it the scrutiny and deliberation it deserves. The American people demand Congress reject this reckless plan.”

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Legislative Update – November 13, 2017

Sparsity Aid. A sparsity aid package designed to help rural schools won’t clear the house in this session, the Assembly Majority Leader told a statehouse insider news publication. The $9.7 million package would have provided rural districts with 745 students or less with $400 per pupil through sparsity aid rather than the current $300. There also would have been a second tier in the program for districts with between 746 and 1,000 pupils of $100 per student. Read the Legislative Reference Bureau Memo. In saying that the proposal wouldn’t move, Representative Robin Vos said the budget has made “historic” investments in schools, and school funding won’t be revisited. Public school advocates counter the “historic” notion – noting that the per-pupil increase in the budget, made outside of the funding formula, doesn’t restore the nearly billion dollars cut from public schools since 2011.

In the Assembly last week:

  • Montessori Teaching License. AB-423 (companion bill SB-299),which would grant an initial teaching license based on completion of a Montessori teacher education program, passed the Assembly.
  • Human Trafficking + Drivers Ed. AB-540 (companion bill SB-444), which would require education instruction on human trafficking in drivers education courses, was placed on the Assembly calendar.
  • Pupil Exam Information. AB-300, which would increase/expedite the information about mandatory pupil examinations available to families, passed the Assembly.
  • Pupil Exam Opt-Out. AB-304, which would allow a pupil’s parent or guardian to opt out of certain statewide examinations, except the civics exam required to graduate, passed the Assembly.

The full Assembly and Senate are now recessed until January, but here are a number of legislative meetings planned this week, including:

Wednesday:

Thursday:

Don’t forget to take action on the proposal to eliminate Wisconsin FMLA!