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.

Rep. Pocan calls private school voucher system a ‘wasteful, failing experiment’

In a column in the Progressive Magazine, U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wisconsin) thoughtfully and thoroughly lays out the case against the careless and costly expansion of private school vouchers in Wisconsin.

“Having served fourteen years in the Wisconsin state legislature before coming to Congress, I had a front-row seat to witness the growth of the nation’s first and largest taxpayer-funded voucher experiment. Our state was an unfortunate leader in the current march toward corporations and wealthy individuals privatizing our public education system,” he writes.

“Wisconsin now has more than 32,000 students statewide enrolled in its voucher plan, even though approximately three-quarters of the new students receiving that public money were already attending private schools. Now they are just doing so on the taxpayers’ dime. States across the country are draining funds from public schools that educate the vast majority of our children and diverting it to a few students in private schools.

“And while state governments are spending millions of taxpayer dollars on these schools, there is virtually no proof that voucher programs are effectively educating our kids. These schools have far less accountability and lower standards than public schools.”

After further discussing voucher school failures and lack of standards and accountability, Pocan concludes:

“It is unconscionable for taxpayers to continue funding two duplicative education systems, particularly when the one can cherry-pick students and ignore educational standards and dodge showing proof they are working.

“We need to have the federal Department of Education clarify the necessary steps to ensure proper oversight of this program, which appears to be a wasteful, failing experiment. After all, this should be about quality education for our kids.”

Read the entire column at Progressive.com:

The Privatization of Public Education is Failing Our Kids | The Progressive

H aving served fourteen years in the Wisconsin state legislature before coming to Congress, I had a front-row seat to witness the growth of the nation’s first and largest taxpayer-funded voucher experiment. Our state was an unfortunate leader in the current march toward corporations and wealthy individuals privatizing our public education system.

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Education Savings Accounts being considered by Legislature are another ‘back-door scheme’ to rob money from public schools, Martin says

So-called Education Savings Accounts, reportedly under consideration by Republican legislators, are just another “back-door scheme” to take money away from neighborhood public schools, WEAC President Ron Martin said Thursday.

“Education savings accounts literally take money out of our neighborhood public schools and hand it over to subsidize private tuition, with zero accountability,” Martin said. “Wisconsin students don’t need any more back-door schemes to take funding from our public schools. Public school students already receive less funding than those in private schools. Politicians who turn their backs on the public schools that provide all children with opportunity in return for campaign contributions from voucher lobbyists had better be ready to look parents in their communities in the eye in the next election and explain why local public schools are cutting teachers and programs, while tax dollars go unaccounted for through private subsidies.”

Facts:

  • The state provides more money per-pupil to private school students than it provides per-pupil to public school students. (See table below: Per-pupil support in the table is based on state aid – what the legislature provides, not local taxes.)
  • A Legislative Fiscal Bureau memo shows an $800 million price tag for the statewide voucher program through time, funding that will deplete public school aid. In short, the legislature is eroding the foundation of support for public education in Wisconsin.
  • “Education Savings Accounts” are another scheme in a wide array of programs harmful to public schools that were enacted over the last five years. These schemes also include tax breaks for private school participants, a statewide voucher system, special education vouchers, takeover policies that allow unelected czars to control public schools, and an expansion of private charters.

Today, more state aid goes to support private students per-pupil than goes to support public school students per-pupil:

stateaidperpupil

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WEAC: New style of vouchers ‘back-door scheme’ to defund public schools

The state’s largest teachers union came out swinging Thursday after the Wisconsin State Journal reported that Assembly Republicans are looking at bringing new style of school voucher to Wisconsin. Assembly Republicans are considering a program that would allow Wisconsin parents to pay for K-12 school expenses – including private school tuition, textbooks and tutoring — with a taxpayer-funded stream of money known in other states as Education Savings Accounts.

Assembly Republicans float exploring new school choice option

Wisconsin parents could pay for K-12 school expenses – including tuition at private schools – with a taxpayer-funded savings account under a program Assembly Republicans are considering.