Tuesday, October 10, 2017

WisGOP dysfunction on rural schools continuing after budget

The state budget may now finally be law after a delay of nearly 3 months, but it looks like the issues behind the disputes between Republicans at the Capitol are going to linger for quite a while. Just take a look at what happened today when it came to the issue of giving extra money to rural schools.

First off, Governor Walker and two rural legislators released a statement saying that they wanted increases in the Sparsity Aid program back to the levels Walker proposed in his original state budget 8 months ago.
Senator Howard Marklein (R – Spring Green) and Representative Jeff Mursau (R – Crivitz) introduced legislation that increases Sparsity Aid for the 2018-19 school year. The Sparsity Aid Program aims to offset the challenges faced by low-population school districts through providing $300 in per-pupil funding for districts with 745 students or less and a population density of less than 10 students per square mile.

The new bill provides an increase from $300 per pupil to $400 per pupil for districts that currently qualify for Sparsity Aid, and creates a second tier of Sparsity Aid by providing $100 per pupil for districts with 746-1000 pupils.

"This bill provides rural schools with support that they desperately need," said Senator Marklein. "I am proud to champion this bill and look forward to working with my colleagues to move it through the legislative process."

"This increase in Sparsity Aid will positively impact rural school districts across Wisconsin," said Representative Mursau. "Our rural districts face significant challenges and I'm thankful we have an opportunity to provide these districts additional state support."
This initiative would cost a little over $10 million next year, but with a $210 million cushion built into the budget, there would theoretically be enough money to handle it.

What’s interesting is that Marklein voted for the omnibus K-12 education package in Joint Finance that removed Walker’s proposed sparsity aid increase, and both he and Mursau ultimately voted for the 2017-19 approved budget that didn’t include that increase. But now they’re turning around and wanting that full increase back in for next year? Sounds like Walker, the very vulnerable Sen. Marklein and Northwoods Rep. Mursau are feeling the heat from back home, and that their one-time increase in per-pupil aids aren’t solving the problem of underfunding public schools for the previous 6 years.

However, that proposal might have a tough time getting through in the rest of this session. It’s worth noting that Walker vetoed an Assembly GOP plan that was included in the Legislature’s budget that would have raised the revenue limits for many rural and suburban district (you can see the list at this link). Walker’s veto claimed that he didn’t want to allow “a substantial increase in property tax capacity” without local citizens having a chance to vote on it through a referendum (referenda that are now limited to a handful of dates, also due to a Walker veto in the budget).

And as a result of that veto, Joint Finance Co-Chair John Nygren didn’t seem too willing to go along with what Walker, Marklein and Mursau wanted.
“The proposed 2017-19 budget included a provision that increased sparsity aid to help support small, declining enrollment schools. After thoughtful review and analysis, the Joint Committee on Finance voted to remove the Governor's proposal to increase sparsity aid. At the time, we believed that this alone was not the appropriate way to fund smaller declining enrollment schools and that a long-term approach is more appropriate.

“Instead, we adopted provisions that rewarded districts for sharing administrative functions and entering into collaborative agreements. We also provided relief for low-spending, frugal districts, many of which are rural schools. These reforms would have provided more resources for the classroom, increased educational opportunities for students, and would have provided an environment for rural schools to flourish…

Nope, doesn't seem like things are all that different from when this was going on a few months ago between the 2 GOP leaders in the Legislature.

You can get a look at the districts whose hands remained tied by Walker's veto by clicking here.

You know who seems to be not part of these discussions on school funding? Legislative Democrats, who have called for better funding of rural schools for several years and released a plan in June which added funding and equity through the General Aid formula. It also allowed for the increases in revenue limit that was in the Assembly GOP’s plan, but without the need for the property tax increases that led Walker to veto the AssGOP item in the budget.

If we had a GOP that actually wanted to get something done to help rural Wisconsinites keep their schools funded, you’d think they’d work with Dems on what is an obvious compromise between lower property taxes and higher aids to rural districts that makes all sides happy. But then that would require GOPs to be anything other than self-centered people that want to use their gerrymandered majorities to control all aspects of Wisconsin governance, and take all of the credit for whatever passes.

So instead, we will likely see nothing get passed that helps rural schools either this year or next year, and nothing will be passed that helps rural schools until we actually have some adults/Democrats put into power that care about results over political posturing.

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