Legislative Update – October 5

A bill that is being circulated, Senate Bill 419/Assembly Bill  503, threatens teachers’ rights to access the statutory grievance procedure that includes review by an impartial hearing officer. WEAC has issued an action alert to the bill’s authors raising our concerns. Note that teachers in the Milwaukee Public School System would not be impacted by this bill, because they are not covered by the nonrenewal statute.

Read more about the proposed change that would essentially preclude access to the grievance procedure for teacher nonrenewals and any form of discipline where there is not a financial consequence – such as a letter of reprimand. The bills have been referred to committee, and no public hearings are set. Read the fiscal estimate.

‘Teacher Protection Act’ being drafted
A Capitol news source today reported that Rep. Jeremy Thiesfeldt is drafting what he is calling the “Teacher Protection Act.” The bill aims to give teachers information about violent crimes committed by students. WEAC is currently analyzing the proposal. Read the Legislative Reference Bureau overview.

Full summary of education provisions in state budget available
The full summary of education provisions in the 2017-19 state budget is now available.

Agreed-Upon Workers Compensation Bill
The Worker’s Compensation Advisory Council has finalized the Agreed-Upon Bill for the 2017-18 Legislative Session. This Agreed-Upon Bill will be introduced into the Wisconsin Legislature in a short period of time. WEAC and the Wisconsin AFL-CIO (which represents labor on the council) support this bill and will urge Legislators to fully support it. Wisconsin has one of the best worker’s compensation systems in the country, and this Agreed-Upon Bill will continue to strengthen it for injured workers, including educators harmed on the job.

Regarding benefits for injured workers, this bill calls for an increase for the weekly rates that is up to 150 percent larger than past increases. Specifically, the Agreed-Upon Bill includes Permanent Partial Disability (PPD) benefit increases for $20 per week for the maximum weekly benefit amount in 2018 and $25 per week for the maximum weekly benefit amount in 2019. The bill also adjusts maximum weekly benefits for Permanent Total Disability (PTD). Under the proposal, PTD injuries occurring prior to 1/1/2005 would have a maximum weekly rate of $711. The Agreed-Upon Bill also includes a multiplier of 15 percent of the number of weeks injured workers are eligible for if the employer does not return the injured worker to work at a wage more than 85 percent of their pre-injury wage.

Competitive Bidding for School Districts
A bill prescribing the way school districts conduct competitive bidding is moving ahead in the Senate. Senate Bill 236 would require a school board to advertise any project for construction, repair, remodeling or improvement of a public school building or public school facilities or for the furnishing of supplies or materials with an estimated cost greater than $75,000, and let the contract to the lowest responsible bidder. The bill would prohibit a school board from giving preference for where the bidder is located or using criteria other than the lowest responsible bidder.

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.

Governor signs state budget, vetoes provision designed to help low-spending districts

The governor Thursday signed the state budget into law, after using his veto power on several provisions.

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, and you can be sure WEAC will advocate intensely as administrative rules and procedures are developed to ensure Wisconsin students have qualified teachers and that the education professions are maintained and respected for their critical role in our democracy.

Governor Walker vetoed a provision that would have increased the amount of money school districts that spend less per student than the state average can raise in property taxes.

Kim Kaukl, who oversees the Wisconsin Rural Schools Alliance, was quoted in the Wisconsin State Journal as saying the vetoed provision “would have allowed these districts an opportunity to move closer to an even playing field with neighboring districts. This veto continues to punish the districts that were frugal prior to revenue caps being instituted.”

For an overview of the state budget and public schools, visit www.weac.org/budget.

Read more:

Scott Walker issues vetoes to new state budget, targeting low-spending schools, historic tax credit

Gov. Scott Walker said Wednesday that he’s revising nearly 100 areas of the state’s new budget, axing a plan championed by Assembly Republicans to increase revenue for school districts that spend less than others and dramatically curtailing a popular state tax credit that helps restore historic buildings.

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 – August 24 – Schools start new year not knowing how much state funding they will get

School districts are wondering about state funding for schools as their doors prepare to open for students, as the budget discussions linger in Madison. Normally, the state budget is completed by the end of June, but this year the budget debate is expected to last well into September. Wisconsin Public Radio interviewed several local school officials who are struggling to figure out how much state funding they will get this year, and how much money they will have for basic costs such as classroom resources, staff and building needs.

“Some districts may start with substitutes in classrooms that weren’t filled yet or they may choose just to drop a section of a class,” says Kim Kaukl, Executive Director of the Wisconsin Rural Schools Alliance, which represents about 150 rural districts.

 Read the entire WPR article and listen to the podcast:

Districts Left Wondering About Funding As New School Year Approaches

Rural schools aren’t planning on any extra money from the state as they’re heading into the new school year. Districts are improvising while lawmakers continue to hammer out the next two-year state budget. With three proposals on how to pay for education, it’s unclear how much aid districts will receive from the state.

More Legislative Updates:

The Assembly Committee on Education held a public hearing Thursday on a three bills:

  • AB 471, relating to how state aid payments are made to school districts and operators of independent charter schools and private voucher schools, and those participating in the Special Needs Voucher Program.
  • AB-423, granting an initial teaching license based on completion of a Montessori teacher education program.
  • AB-382, expands requirements for screening of school district employees for tuberculosis as a condition of employment to Milwaukee Public Schools and allows boards to conduct questionnaires.

DPI warns of ‘problematic situations’ for schools if state budget is not passed soon

State Superintendent Tony Evers has sent a memo to members of the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee warning of “problematic situations” for schools throughout the state if a state budget is not passed soon. “With the state budget not being settled, there’s a lot of uncertainty across all superintendents and people managing the finances of school districts across the state of Wisconsin,” Brad Saron, superintendent of the Sun Prairie School District, said in a follow-up Wisconsin State Journal article. “And what that means is, really, everything is on hold.”

According to the State Journal article:

Evers said school officials are worried funding increases they have been told for months are coming could be diminished as lawmakers work on an incentive package for Foxconn.

“I think there is a fair amount of concern (from school district officials) that we’re not sure we’re going to get this money,” Evers said. “So until a budget is finalized, I think there will be ongoing concerns.”

The state budget is normally scheduled to be completed by end of June every two years, but debate on transportation issues, education issues, and the proposed massive tax incentives to bring a Foxconn manufacturing plant to southeastern Wisconsin have delayed deliberations this year.

In his memo to legislators, Evers said:

As you know, the Department is required by state law to certify state general school aids for public school districts annually by October 15th, which involves processing a significant amount of data. In addition, school districts rely on the October 15th certified aid amounts and other data provided by the Department to set property tax levies by November 1st. The first quarterly payments to private choice schools and independent charter schools must be calculated and distributed in September. Finally, a delayed budget could impact the distribution of categorical aid that is paid earlier in the school year.

This memo outlines the problematic situations that will ensue if the budget is not signed into law in the near future. The 2017-19 biennial budget must be signed into law by the dates indicated below, in order to complete the specified calculations and payments:

  1. August 31st – to enable the Department to distribute Sparsity Aid payments to school districts on the same timeline as prior years (paid in September), otherwise payments will be delayed.
  2. September 5th – to enable the Department to incorporate the indexing of the per pupil payments for the 2017-18 school year in the statutorily-required September payments to independent charter schools and private schools participating in any of the state’s parental choice programs. Otherwise, changes in funding will be allocated across the other payments.
  3. October 3rd – to enable the Department to run the October 15th General Aid Certification, incorporating the aid deductions to all school districts related to the Independent Charter School Program, the Wisconsin Parental Choice Program, Racine Parental Choice Program, Special Needs Scholarship Program and the aid deduction to Milwaukee Public Schools for the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program. Districts have the authority to essentially levy back for these deductions. Missing this deadline may result in insufficient state aid deductions, which will increase cost to the state general fund.
  4. October 27th – to enable school districts to set levies, incorporating the revenue limit exemption for resident incoming choice pupils and pupils receiving a Special Needs Scholarship, based on an accurate per pupil payment amount for the 2017-18 school year. Failure to meet this deadline may result in districts under-levying the costs for choice and charter programs.

Read more in the Wisconsin State Journal:

Schools gear up for new year without state funding set

Schools across Wisconsin are starting a new year without knowing exactly what’s coming from the state as lawmakers continue to put off passing a new two-year state budget. For many school officials, the delay isn’t worrying them much at this point. But for some, spending on staff, new course materials and training is on hold.

Legislative Update – August 9

A kindergartener today will be about 37 years old by the time the state would possibly break even on tax breaks and government incentives for Foxconn, the foreign corporation proposing to set up shop in southeastern Wisconsin. Critics are asking whether some of those incentives could instead be used to strengthen community infrastructure across the state, including public schools. The latest on the Foxconn deal and state budget deliberations is below. To see education-related bills circulating, visit www.weac.org/budget.

Assembly may vote on Foxconn deal next week

The Assembly may vote on the Foxconn bill as early as August 17, leaders have announced.

Fiscal bureau says state won’t break even – possibly – until 2047

Democrats are demanding Republicans slow down deliberations on the Foxconn bill after a new Legislative Fiscal Bureau analysis found the state’s break-even point, at best, would be fiscal year 2042-43. That’s if the Taiwanese electronics manufacturer creates 13,000 jobs at a planned $10 billion facility. But it would be “well past” 2044-45 before the state reaped more tax revenue than the $3 billion it’s slated to dole out to the company if only 3,000 jobs were created.  

Questions arise on oversight of potential Foxconn deal

Red flags are being raised over the $3 billion government spending proposal for the Taiwanese corporation, as it would be overseen by a state agency with mixed results on tracking such awards and clawing back money from companies that default. The Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) would be tasked with awarding up to $1.5 billion in state income tax credits for job creation and another $1.35 billion for capital investment. That means WEDC will have to accurately track Foxconn’s job creation efforts, on which the agency has a spotty record. A state audit in May found WEDC was not certain about the numbers of jobs created or retained as a result of its awards. Along with troubles tracking job creation numbers, the agency has been inconsistent with efforts to “claw back” money awarded to companies that later eliminated jobs or outsourced them to other countries.

Details of the deal

The Foxconn bill would create two refundable tax credits, paid from a sum sufficient GPR appropriation. In addition, Foxconn would be able to claim 7.5% manufacturing and agriculture credit (MAC) on income from Wisconsin operations, and “it appears likely that most of the proposed tax benefits would be refunded to Foxconn and not used to offset its state tax liability,” analysis shows. The estimated payments of the credits would begin with $2.35 million in 2018-19, and would not end until 2034. (This assumes Foxconn’s zone employment will increase from 1,040 positions in the latter part of 2017 to 13,000 by 2021 and stay at that level with an annual average salary of $53,875).

The bill also includes incentives to keep a southeastern Wisconsin firm called Fiserv in the state. These taxpayer-funded incentives would total $2 million annually from 2019-20- through 2023-24 for a total of $10 million, plus Fiserv would receive an additional $500,000 annually in capital investment credits.

Education Bills Introduced in Senate:

  • SB-382 School Employee Tuberculosis Screening (Olsen, Luther) Screening school district employees for tuberculosis. Referred to Senate Education Committee
  • SB-383 School Aid Payments (Olsen, Luther) The payment of state aid to school districts and payments to operators of independent charter schools and private schools participating in a choice program or the Special Needs Scholarship Program. Referred to Senate Education Committee

Legislative Update – August 4

Special Session on Foxconn

The Foxconn special session bill (AU7 AB1) has been introduced, and Assembly Republicans held a hearing Thursday on legislation that could provide massive incentives for a planned Wisconsin plant. The Washington Post reports that the tax deal/incentives could cost the state $230,700 per worker. The Assembly Jobs and Economy Committee is expected to vote on the bill Thursday, August 10, and full Assembly may take up the bill by mid-August. Assembly leaders said the bill may not go to the Joint Finance Committee despite its fiscal price tag. After heavy criticism over the lifting of permitting and wetland restrictions in the bill, and the quick timeline, the governor weighed in saying there were “environmental protections” and that a few weeks for the Legislature to debate the legislation and the hefty price tag is “a pretty good amount of time.” Read more about the Foxconn deal.

Fiserv

Part of the special session bill also offers incentives to a company called Fiserv headquartered in Brookfield, which is looking to leave Wisconsin. The bill essentially allows the firm to continue to receive tax incentives even if it doesn’t grow jobs. In fact, it appears they could cut the workforce and still receive government incentives.

DPI Hearings

The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction will conduct two public hearings on Aug. 21 related to the Assembly Education Committee’s Review of administrative rules and creation of rules related to whole grade sharing.

Foxconn Update From WisPolitics:

Neylon to delay committee vote on Foxconn bill to consider amendments

Rep. Adam Neylon tells WisPolitics.com he plans to push off an exec on the Foxconn legislation to consider amendments, including language that would seek to have the company give preference to Wisconsin vendors and workers. Neylon’s Jobs and the Economy Committee had originally planned to vote on the bill .

SaveSave