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

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

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

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

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

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

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With a new record for approving referendums, Wisconsin residents sent a strong message in 2018 that they support their public schools

Wisconsin residents made it very clear in 2018 that they stand behind their public schools and will do whatever it takes to support them. After years of state funding reductions by the Republican Legislature and the about-to-be-former Republican governor, voters went to the polls in droves to make up for the lack of state funding by approving a record number of local school referendums (in addition to electing educator Tony Evers governor). According to a new report by the Wisconsin Policy Forum, voters this year signed off on a record $2 billion-plus in debt and revenue increases for local schools. The approval rate was 90 percent, the highest on record. Read more on the WEAC News From Around the Web Topic Board. You can sign up for WEAC news alerts at weac.org/subscribe.

Voters will decide 82 school referendum questions on November 6

Voters throughout the state will decide 82 school referendum questions in 61 school districts on November 6. The referendums seek a total of $1.4 billion in school improvements, including 11 to build new schools, 24 for safety and security improvements, 40 for site and building improvements, 28 for maintaining facilities and 12 for maintaining current educational program levels, according to a Wisconsin Policy Forum report.

The large number of referendums continues a trend that has seen voters approve more than 1,600 referendums totaling $12 billion since 1990, a trend that has been accelerating in recent years. Voters already have approved about $648.1 million in referendums in 48 school districts this year, and approval rates have been rising since 2003, hitting 79% in 2016. Recent polls have supported the trend of citizens wanting to maintain quality public schools, with voters saying they favor tax increases over cuts to school funding.

State Superintendent Tony Evers, who is running for governor, has said voters are demonstrating their strong support for public education despite incumbent Governor Scott Walker’s record of cutting state funding for schools. In effect, he says, the referendums amount to a “Scott Walker tax” that citizens are imposing on themselves to keep their schools healthy.

The largest school district referendums on the November 6 ballot are:

  • Middleton-Cross Plains Area: $138.9 million
  • Wauwatosa: $124.9 million
  • Stevens Point: $75.9 million
  • West De Pere (2 questions): $74.7 million
  • Oak Creek–Franklin: $60.9 million
  • Waukesha: $60.0 million
  • Cedarburg: $59.8 million
  • Monona Grove: $57.0 million
  • Oregon: $44.9 million
  • Burlington: $43.7 million
  • Edgerton: $40.6 million
  • Pewaukee: $39.7 million
  • Viroqua: $36.8 million
  • Evansville: $34.0 million
  • Greendale: $33.8 million
  • Wisconsin Dells: $33.7 million
  • Poynette: $28.4 million
  • Beloit Turner: $26.5 million
  • Sevastopol: $25.1 million
  • Waterford Graded: $24.9 million
  • Holmen: $23.5 million

Find out details about all the school referendums at https://apps4.dpi.wi.gov/referendum/customreporting.aspx:

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Wisconsin school referendums seek more than $1.4 billion in borrowing on November ballots

Wisconsin taxpayers will be asked to commit more than $1 billion in additional funding for their public schools in the November election. And if they pass at the rates seen in recent years, 2018 could be the highest year on record for dollars raised by school district referendums, according to a new report by the Wisconsin Policy Forum.

Wisconsin voters to decide 66 school district referendums on April 3

In addition to electing a new State Supreme Court justice and deciding the fate of the State Treasurer’s Office, Wisconsin residents will vote on 66 referendums in 50 school districts throughout the state in the April 3 election, including a $65 million referendum in the Chippewa Falls School District.

The Chippewa Falls funding would go toward replacing Stillson Elementary School, as well as construction and equipping of a classroom addition, capital improvements and repairs, technology upgrades, remodeling and site improvements at the middle school, and construction and equipping of a science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics (STEAM) lab addition, capital improvements and repairs and technology upgrades at the high school.

Other large school referendums on the April 3 ballot include:

  • D.C. Everest: $59.875 million to pay the cost of a district-wide school building and improvement program.
  • River Falls: $48 million (two referendums) to add elementary classroom space, create collaborative learning space and upgrade aging facilities.
  • Plymouth: $31.9 million for security improvements, construction of academic and athletic additions, remodeling and site improvements at Plymouth High School; security improvements, construction of gymnasium, cafeteria and academic additions, remodeling, roof replacement and HVAC upgrades at Parkview Elementary and Fairview Elementary Schools; and district-wide security and communications system upgrades.
  • Peshtigo: $30.9 million (two referendums) for constructing and equipping a new middle/ high school, including a two-station gymnasium, and constructing and equipping an additional gym station.

Other top referendums include: Howard-Suamico, $29.250 million; Sparta, $28.5 million; Beloit-Turner, $26.8 million; and Brown Deer, $25.9 million.

Find out more about all the local school district referendums on the April 3 ballot.

On the statewide elections:

The WEAC Board of Directors has voted to recommend Milwaukee County Judge Rebecca Dallet for State Supreme Court. Earlier the WEAC Political Action Committee recommended Dallet, and WEAC member feedback was unanimous in support of that recommendation.

The committee noted that Dallet:

  • Has 10 years judicial experience.
  • Supports stronger judicial recusal rules.
  • Believes unions play an important role in today’s workplace.
  • Believes a right to a public education is a core value.
  • Believes courts should stand up for people who can’t stand up for themselves.
  • Is concerned with the use of outside special interest money to buy seats on the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

Supporters of public education are encouraging Wisconsin residents to VOTE NO on eliminating the State Treasurer’s Office in the April 3 election. Among other duties, the State Treasurer helps oversee School Trust Funds, which, among other things, provide significant funding for school libraries and technology. Elimination of the State Treasurer would concentrate more power in the governor’s office.

EARLY VOTING

Voters can possibly request and vote an absentee ballot in-person in their municipal clerk’s office through April 1, 2018.  Office hours vary by municipality. Some municipal offices may not offer additional in-person absentee hours. Please contact your municipal clerk for absentee voting hours. 

Find out more at myvote.wi.gov.

For more election information, go to weac.org/election.

7 out of 10 school referendums pass

Voters on Tuesday approved seven out of 10 school referendums throughout Wisconsin. Referendums were approved in Barneveld (2), Cochrane-Fountain City, Florence, Princeton, Three Lakes and Union Grove. Referendums lost in Freedom (2) and Milton.

The Milton and Freedom referendums were the largest in the state this year, each at about $70 million. The Milton money would have been used to build a new high school and swimming pool, convert the existing high school to a middle school and the middle school to an intermediate school. Last year, voters rejected an $87 million plan. The Freedom district had sought funds mainly for a new high school and renovations of the current high school, middle school and elementary school.

Officials in the Three Lakes district had said that if the $15.5 million referendum failed the school district may have been forced to shut down. It passed 750-294, allowing the district to exceed revenue limits by just over $3 million per year for five years.

Barneveld’s two approved referendums amounted to $16.3 million. Work will include demolition of the oldest portion of the existing school building; construction of an addition for a new elementary school, music rooms and art rooms; construction of a new secure entrance, cafeteria, commons and kitchen; upgrades to restrooms, HVAC and plumbing and electrical systems.

Other amounts approved include: $7 million in Cochrane-Fountain City, $3.7 million in Florence, $2.4 million in Princeton, and $7.9 million in Union Grove.

 

Legislative Update – September 20 – Committee backs bill to repeal gun-free school zones

Bill to repeal gun-free school zones passes Senate committee vote
The Senate Committee on Judiciary and Public Safety has approved SB 169, a bill to repeal Wisconsin’s “gun-free school zones” statute. The bill was met with heated debate at a public hearing in May and many news outlets have editorialized against it. The bill would allow people to carry concealed guns without getting training or state permits and in some cases bring them onto school grounds.

Updated resources explain what’s in the Wisconsin Budget
The Wisconsin Budget Project has summaries that explain in plain language what the budget would mean for schoolchildren, parents of young children and college students.

Take action now!
The proposed  $76 billion state budget is on the governor’s desk. The governor has said he will veto some measures, so this is your chance to send a letter asking him to veto bad budget provisions like restrictions on local control of school boards in referendums and the break-apart of the Racine Unified School District. Email the Governor

WEAC continues to monitor legislative activity and the impact on educators and working families. Look for our updates and encourage your colleagues to sign up for them as well. Direct your questions to communications@weac.org.

 

State budget sent to governor is a mixed bag; WEAC advocates for several vetoes

With the governor likely to act soon on a state budget that includes a funding increase at long last for public schools, WEAC members are pleased elected officials have responded to the public’s call to increase funding for public schools. And while educators are welcoming the positive aspects of the budget document, they are also advocating for several vetoes on provisions that do not serve students well. Those include:

Energy Efficiency
The proposal halts the ability for districts to exceed revenue limits for energy efficiency measures for one year. Last year, 120 districts utilized the exemption to enact long-term cost-saving measures. The governor, who originally sought to eliminate the exemption, says he’ll veto the program entirely when he takes up the budget.

Referendum Restrictions
Restrictions to local school referendums in the budget would tie the hands of local school boards when it comes to raising funds to keep schools afloat for students. Under the plan, referendums would only be allowed on the regularly scheduled election days – spring primary and general each year and the partisan primary and general in even-numbered years, or the second Tuesday in November of odd-numbered years. The governor says he plans to veto the ability to go to referendum in November of non-election years.

Voucher Income Expansion
Income limits would be expanded for state-funded private school tuition vouchers in the statewide program. The current limit is $44,955 for a family of four in 2017-18. That would go to $53,460. Expanding the income limits would add an additional 550 students in 2018-19. Local school districts have to pay for those vouchers, and in the budget plan would be allowed to raise local property taxes. Statewide, that could signal an additional $30 million in property taxes.

Special Needs Vouchers
Elimination of Prior Year Open Enrollment Requirement. Pupils would no longer have been denied under the open enrollment program in order to receive a special needs voucher. That change alone is estimated to increase the number of pupils in the program by 50 next year, and increase voucher payments by $621,400. The school districts the pupils live in would pay for the voucher tuition, but would be allowed to raise local property taxes to cover the private school price tag.

Eliminate Prior Year Public School Enrollment Requirement. Beginning next year, current private school students would receive tax-funded tuition under the special needs voucher program. Law now says they had to be enrolled in a public school the prior year. It is estimated that the change could increase the number of pupils participating in the program by 200 pupils next year and increase voucher payments by $2.5 million. Again, school districts would be allowed to raise local property taxes to cover the private school price tag.

Voucher PaymentsIn the first year a pupil receives a special needs voucher, the private school would receive $12,000 from the public school district. The following year, the private school would receive the greater amount of these two scenarios:

  • Either the actual costs incurred by the private school the year before based on what they file with the DPI to document what it cost to implement the child’s most recent IEP or services plan (as modified by agreement between the private school and the child’s parent) plus related services agreed to by the private school and the child’s parent that are not included in the IEP or services plan; or
  • A flat rate of $12,000.

This is a no-win for taxpayers, with private schools in the voucher program required to provide little to no accountability for meeting student needs or being fiscally responsible. State aid would be siphoned from local public school aid and shifted to private schools up to 150 percent of the per-pupil payment (again allowing school boards to raise local property taxes to make it up). Special needs voucher costs above the 150 percent would result in the state shifting tax dollars to cover the private school tuition bill, up to 90 percent above the remaining amount.

Privately Run Charter Schools
Allows any UW Chancellor and any technical college district board to authorize independent charter schools anywhere in the state.

Racine Unified Break-Apart Plan
Similar to the failed takeover maneuver aimed at Milwaukee Public Schools, Republican lawmakers included a break-apart plan that targets the Racine Unified School District. The proposal would allow a break-apart czar to be appointed by politicians and, if students score low on standardized tests, would give the district one year to improve test scores before allowing villages to create their own school districts.

Alternative teacher preparation programs
Initial teaching licenses would be awarded to anyone with a bachelor’s degree and who has completed an alternative certification program (aka online licensing factories that refuse to meet minimum standards set by the legislature). Under the measure, the certification program must be operated by a provider that is a non-profit organization under the internal revenue code, that operates in at least five states and has been in operation for at least 10 years, and that requires the candidate to pass a subject area exam and the Professional Teaching Knowledge exam. This opens the door to outfits such as the American Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence, which operates in Florida, Arkansas and Tennessee, to name a few. The Board’s website promotes its program as a way to earn teacher certification in less than one year, without taking on debt or returning to school. Student teaching is not required as a basis of certification.

Legislative Update – September 18 – Senate passes budget, sends to governor

The State Senate passed a $76 billion state budget over the weekend, clearing the way for the governor to act – likely this week. The governor has said he will veto some measures, so this is your chance to send a letter asking him to veto bad budget provisions like restrictions on local control of school boards in referendums and the break-apart of the Racine Unified School District.

Email the Governor

The budget is a mixed bag for public schools. It represents a 6 percent increase in state funding for K-12 schools – the first public school increase in six years. That includes a per-pupil increase outside of the school funding formula of $200 and $204 each year of the budget. Increases in categorical aids are also included, in areas such as mental health supports and rural school support.

The budget also continues the state’s practice of siphoning funds from public schools to subsidize private school tuition. Private school vouchers will be increased $217 per pupil each year of the budget, and the income limit is expanded to allow high-earning households to receive tax-funded tuition vouchers. Special needs vouchers are also expanded, and funding is increased substantially.

Teacher licensure is upended in the budget, and performance-based funding for higher education is also implemented.

According to senators who held up a vote based on their objections, the governor has already agreed to use his veto pen to:

  • Remove an option for school districts to hold a special election in November of odd-numbered years. The measure is part of referendum restrictions contained in the budget requiring districts to conduct referendums only on regularly scheduled primary and general election days.
  • Eliminate the energy efficiency exemption to the school district revenue limit. Districts currently are allowed to undertake cost-saving efficiency measures outside of the revenue limit, but this puts an end to that option starting in the first year of the budget.
  • Repeal prevailing wage on state projects immediately, instead of the in September 2018.

The Senate voted 19-14 to pass the budget, with all Republicans except Sen. David Craig, from the Town of Vernon, in favor and all Democrats against. Craig objected to overall spending increases.

To see key components of the budget bill, go to www.weac.org/budget.

Key amendments for schools voted down
Senate Democrats introduced budget amendments allowing Wisconsinites to refinance student loans through a new state authority, accepting the Medicaid expansion, boosting funding for broadband expansion grants and putting more money toward K-12. All were voted down. Senator Janet Bewley of Ashland said Republicans approved a $3 billion incentive package for Foxconn while underfunding rural schools. “We shouldn’t pay Foxconn first and our kids later. This is not fair. I am not proud of this budget.”

Coming up in the Legislature
Late Friday, the Senate Committee on Judiciary and Public Safety scheduled a vote for Tuesday on a bill (SB 169) to repeal Wisconsin’s state “gun-free school zones” statute. The bill was met with heated debate at a public hearing in May and many news outlets have editorialized against it.

The Assembly Education Committee has scheduled a vote on several education-related bills for Thursday, including AB 423 to expand teacher licenses for Montessori programs; AB 477 to incorporate into law a supplemental aid program for a school district having 500 or fewer pupils and that is at least 200 square miles; and AB 488 to require 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. Under current law, DPI must allow a person to view a knowledge and concepts examination if the person submits a written request within 90 days after the examination is administered.

WEAC continues to monitor legislative activity and the impact on educators and working families. Look for our updates and encourage your colleagues to sign up for them as well. Direct your questions to communications@weac.org.

 

Legislative Update – September 14 – Assembly passes budget

Assembly passes budget, onto Senate now

The State Assembly passed the budget Wednesday, which now goes to the Senate on Friday. Take this opportunity to contact your senators about the education issues that are important to you on WEAC’s Take Action Page.

To see key components of the budget bill, go to www.weac.org/budget.

The budget passed 57-39. Opposing the measure were all Democrats and Republicans Scott Allen (Waukesha), Janel Brandtjen (Menomonee Falls), Bob Gannon (West Bend), Adam Jarchow (Balsam Lake) and Joe Sanfelippo (New Berlin). Insiders say the Senate doesn’t yet have the votes to pass the budget, with major sticking points around transportation, increased spending and several K-12 issues that are still being sought including increasing voucher income eligibility to 300 percent of the federal poverty level instead of the current bump to 220 percent; including even more referendum restrictions to allow school boards to rescind previously passed referendums and excluding the amount levied through referendum from shared costs in the equalization aid formula; and making the repeal of the energy efficiency exemption effective in the first year of the budget.

The Legislative Fiscal Bureau has made the Comparative Summary of Budget Recommendations – Governor and Joint Finance Committee available (Agency Listings) – if you’d like to see how far the budget has come from the governor’s original proposal back in February to now.

Senate passes $3 billion Foxconn bill
The Senate on Tuesday approved the $3 billion Foxconn bill, 20-13, with GOP Sen. Robert Cowles opposing it and Dem Bob Wirch voting for the proposal. The bill included an amendment that maintains the appeals court’s role in any lawsuits filed over decisions related to the economic development zone where the Foxconn project is located. However, the appeals process is sped up.

Coming up in the Legislature
The Senate Education Committee will hold public hearings Thursday on bills relating to professional development in character education (SB 329), tuberculosis screening for school employees (SB 382) and changing the payment schedules for public, voucher and independently run charter schools (SB 383).

Career & Tech Ed Grants
The Assembly Committee on Workforce Development met Tuesday on  AB 192 (companion bill SB 127), relating to career and technical education incentive grants. This bill removes the per pupil limitation on career and technical education incentive grants that the Department of Workforce Development awards to school districts. Under current law, DWD must award a grant to a school district in the amount of $1,000 per pupil who, in the prior school year, obtained a high school diploma and successfully completed an industry-recognized certification program approved by DWD. Under the bill, DWD must award $1,000 for each certification program completed by a pupil.  

WEAC continues to monitor legislative activity and the impact on educators and working families. Look for our updates and encourage your colleagues to sign up for them as well. Direct your questions to communications@weac.org.

Legislative Update – July 25

A provision in the Senate Republicans’ budget plan announced last week has public school advocates sounding the alarm on how it would harm districts in areas of the state with low property values.

As we reported in the July 18 WEAC Legislative Update, referendum restrictions included in the Senate GOP plan would exclude from ‘shared cost’ any amount levied by a district in a prior year for either operating or debt service costs that were authorized by a referendum if doing so would not increase the district’s equalization aid entitlement. That means that districts with low property wealth wouldn’t see any state equalized aid increases if they pass a referendum for additional spending.

The Department of Public Instruction has created this map showing in green the districts that would potentially be adversely impacted by this provision.

Guns and Schools

The Assembly Education Committee is holding a public hearing on AB427, requiring a firearm education curriculum be established for high schools to offer as an elective course.

The Budget and Foxconn

According to U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan, reported by the Wall Street JournalFoxconn will be making an announcement on Thursday that the corporation will choose Wisconsin for a production center. The potential of the international company coming to Wisconsin has fueled budget speculation over the past few weeks, including the deadlock on transportation funding. Read related Milwaukee Journal Sentinel story.

Insiders are watching to see what kind of deal the state makes with the corporation, as they say there have been instances in other cases of corporate tax breaks and investments only for the firm to fall short on its end of the deal. And, while the jobs and infrastructure that may come could benefit one part of the state, northern rural communities may wonder if the tax breaks are helping them at all, if in fact the firm does open a center in the state. That all remains to be seen.

Voucher Expansion

When it comes to education, nothing’s a done deal in the long-overdue budget debate. While the Assembly has its own ideas, and the Senate Republicans introduced their own plan last week. The Joint Finance Committee does not plan any meetings this week. The bottom line is this: GOP lawmakers want to expand voucher eligibility, but disagree on how much.

Comparison of Three Different Education Budgets

As part of those negotiations, the Assembly and the Senate have each put forth their own version of an education budget. The Wisconsin Budget Project has released a summary highlighting the major areas of difference in the two budget proposals, and comparing them to the Governor’s proposal. The summary also includes notes on the reaction of education advocates to various provisions in the different versions of the budget. Read summary here: Competing Proposals for Wisconsin’s Schools: A Comparison of Three Different Education Budgets.