Thursday, August 2, 2018

Evers K-12 plan shows where Walker's stunts fall short

I know our media doesn't like to go over policy when discussing election campaigns, but I think we should take some time to talk about K-12 education. Not only because it is by far the largest expense of state tax dollars, but also because State School Superintendent and Democratic candidate for governor Tony Evers released his plan for public education for the next biennial budget this week, which will be integrated into the Department of Public Instruction's upcoming budget request.

One part of that plan includes a proposed $600 million that Evers wants to add in special education aid over the next 2 years. This is a portion of the DPI budget that has not been increased since Walker took office 7 1/2 years ago, which means the state barely covers 1/4 of designated special education costs today.

I'll go over the special ed topic at some other time, and instead I want to go over the other aspects of Evers' proposal, which Wispolitics went into detail on.
Evers as part of his “Fair Funding” plan [Tuesday] will propose indexing revenue limits to inflation. The limit caps how much schools can spend through a combination of state aid and property taxes.
Indexing the limit to inflation would almost always put it above the current revenue limit of a 0% increase per pupil. Those tight caps have pushed many districts into referenda just to keep operating as they currently are.

Obviously, this plan will be spun as “wanting higher property taxes” by WisGOPs. But Wisconsin school districts that had referenda asking to go over those caps had more than 3/4 of them approved over the last 2 years. In addition, the Marquette Law Poll from June showed that a majority of Wisconsinites are OK with their property taxes being raised for schools.

Evers would also plan to bring back a level of state aids that we had grown used to in Wisconsin until the last 10 years.
His plan also will call for guaranteeing that the state fund two-thirds of each student’s education. The budget Gov. Scott Walker introduced in February called for funding 64.6 percent of public school costs after the state’s commitment dropped below 62 percent in 2012.
This would allocate more state money to the schools and lock it in for the future. But the obvious problem is the $1 billion structural deficit the state will be facing for the next budget due to the pre-election spending spree Walker and other Republicans went on to blow the small surplus of funds that we had.

How will we continue to come up with enough money to fulfill that “2/3 funding promise”? That’ll be a question sure to be asked, and the reason it'll be difficult to answer is due to the Republicans’ “Starve the Beast” agenda on public services.

Wispolitics notes a couple of other parts about the Superintendent’s proposed 2019-21 budget for DPI.
Evers also will call for:

*changes to the way pre-K students’ attendance is counted for the purpose of distributing state aid. Currently, state law requires that students enrolled in full-day programs be counted as one-half pupil, rather than one pupil. Under Evers’ plan, students in those full-time programs would be counted as one in calculating state aid.

*a state component to match the federal 21st Century Community Learning Center grant program. Under the current framework, the federal Department of Education provides grants to DPI for administering summer and after-school programs that often serve students from low-income families. President Trump last year moved to eliminate the program under his budget proposal. Under the state program, DPI would be able to fund CLCs the agency would otherwise have to deny if there’s a shortage of federal dollars, per a spokesman.
Both of those are interesting ideas, particularly the incentive for Wisconsin schools to have full-day pre-K, since having it would give districts more money under the state’s general aid and per-pupil aids.

The CLC proposal is a direct effect of Trump/DeVos education policies that devalue public education, and you can see how those regressive moves would kick the responsibility down to the states. It also illustrates tax cuts at the federal level being used as an excuse to get rid of certain programs (even if they work), and how tax cuts in by state legislators in Wisconsin will make it tougher for the state to deal with these programs that are handed off to them by Trump and DeVos.

Note that “education governor” Scott Walker isn’t promising anything past the one-time increases K-12 schools will see for this upcoming school year (and even that bump in funding isn’t enough to prevent some districts from cutting staff and services). Which tells you that our schools will be back on the chopping block if the voters of this state are stupid enough to return Walker and other voucher proponents into office.

It’s a cagey move by Evers to use his state budget submittal as a way to draw that contrast, and it’s a good marker for Tony to throw down to separate himself for both the primary and general elections. The polls and the referendum results show that Wisconsin voters want to see that commitment to K-12 public schools restored as well.

7 years after Act 10, it should be obvious that Scott Walker and his millions in dirty DeVos dollars don’t have anything to offer the majority of Wisconsinites that want to see their schools be adequately funded. Evers or any other Dem that might emerge from the August 14 primary would be wise to talk up their plans to restore the commitment to K-12 public education that Wisconsin used, and keep Gov Dropout off-balance.

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