Monday, May 18, 2015

GOPs try to magically avoid cutting K-12 tomorrow

Likely the big item in tomorrow's Joint Finance Committee meeting will involve state aids for K-12 schools. I'll leave out the possibility of suburban GOPs messing up Milwaukee Public Schools in this post (if you want to read the latest with that, take a look at what Andy at Wisconsin Soapbox said last night. There's definitely something afoot), and concentrate on a few of the school finance issues here.

As you may be aware, the Walker budget plans to cut $127 million in per-pupil aids in 2015-16, and then restores that and $15 million more for 2016-17. But the $127 million cut has angered many constituents and school districts, and the Legislative GOP (sensing that they'll be tossed out on their asses in 2016 if they let this stand) has been scrambling to try to find some way to put some of this money back.
While Republicans initially talked about simply restoring Walker's $127 million cut, which would still keep school funding flat, they are now advocating for putting more money in for the 2016-2017 school year.

"I'm pushing hard for that because a zero increase will be hell to pay when you go home," said Sen. Luther Olsen, a Republican on the budget committee from Ripon.

Rep. John Nygren, co-chair of the budget committee, said his goal is to increase funding by an additional $75 per student in the second year of the budget after holding it flat the first year. He called that a "reasonable" increase.
Of course, that would require a lot of money that a budget without extra revenues does not have. From looking at the Legislative Fiscal Bureau's paper on per-pupil aids and the various options that could be taken, it would take an extra $126.8 million just to keep funding flat in year 1 and up by $18 for year 2 (Option A2). If they want to quadruple that per-pupil increase in year 2 (like Nygren says), they'd need to add another $45 million to the budget bill on top of that $126.8 million in year 1. And that's money the budget doesn't have, for either year.

So maybe this is where some work gets done on the School Levy Tax Credit. I went over the issues with that last week, but the GOP Co-Chairs delayed action on those property tax credits so they could work simultaneously with the K-12 School Aids. I suppose trading the $211 million in School Levy Credits in 2016-17 could pay for a $75 increase per-pupil in year 2 (bye-bye $5 property tax cut), but I still don't see where the extra money is coming from for year 1. So let's see how they try to pull off this alleged increase in school aids, as it the money doesn't seem to be there, so it'll have to be done by seriously hurting some other part of a budget that has hurt a lot of areas already, and/or driving up the structural and GAAP deficits even higher.

And late on Friday, another monkey wrench was thrown in to school funding, as Robbin' Vos is still working to give a kickback to Scott Jensen and the other voucher lobbyists that helped elect Republicans to the Legislature last November. Vos's scam plan involves taking money out of the public schools, and throwing that money into the voucher schools- an estimated funneling of $48 million in taxpayer funds. Walker's budget would remove the 1,000-student cap on vouchers, and Vos not only would keep that, but would add a kicker to it that changes what happens to districts outside of Milwaukee and Racine that have students who take vouchers with them to attend a school. The LFB's paper on the "Choice Program" explains more.
28. The [Joint Finance] Committee could also consider an approach similar to the funding mechanism for the open enrollment program under current law. For incoming pupils in the Racine or statewide programs, the pupil's school district of residence would count the pupil in its membership for revenue limits and general aids, and therefore would receive revenue limit authority and general aid as though the pupil were enrolled in that district. The district's equalization aid or other state aid would be decreased by an amount equal to the per pupil amount paid by the state to choice schools attributable to pupils residing in the district. A district would not be able to increase its property tax levy to compensate for the aid loss, but would receive revenue limit authority based on the number of incoming choice pupils from that district. [Alternative D4]

29. If school districts count choice pupils in their membership for revenue limit purposes, property taxes could be affected in those districts if those pupils would have otherwise attended a private school. A three-year rolling average of a school district's public enrollment is used to calculate the district's revenue limit. Therefore, after three years, the school district of residence for a choice pupil who began participating in the program in 2015-16 or later would have full revenue limit authority for that pupil. The effect on property tax levies across the state would vary depending on the school districts of residence of incoming choice pupils and whether those pupils would have otherwise attended a public school. In 2014-15, the statewide average revenue limit per pupil equals $10,200.
The double-whammy about this is that the money taken away from the school because a kid attends a voucher is over $500-$1,000 HIGHER than the loss from open enrollment to a public school. And the $48 million lost by public schools in state aid from vouchers would likely offset a sizable portion of any increase in aid that Nygren and the rest of the GOPs on Joint Finance can come up with.

Even with the $48 million funneled to vouchers (a disgusting enough proposition), we still could get Rep. Nygren's desired increase in per-pupil aid if we merely kept tax rates for certain corporations at the same level they are today. But just like with the voucher lobby, the GOPs take care of their donors first and foremost, so the WMC crowd will get their unproductive tax cut, while the state's public schools starve and lessen the chances of providing the state with the human capital that is the real driver of a strong economy. As I've said before- with priorities like those, do you wonder why we continue to lag behind the rest of the country?

Keep your eyes peeled tomorrow as the JFC tries their shell games. There promises to be many of these in the next few weeks.


  1. "If they want to quadruple that per-pupil increase in year 2 (like Nygren says), they'd need to add another $45 million to the budget bill on top of that $126.8 million in year 1. And that's money the budget doesn't have, for either year."

    Could always take the Medicaid expansion money and replace the 58% federally funded Medicaid for childless adults under WalkerCare™ with 100% federally funded Medicaid. We should only stop mentioning that when the WisGOP start acting like adults and quit keeping our tax dollars out of state while public education is dismantled for want of those exact same dollars and people die for want of the medical services that would be included in the very-lopsided-in-our-favor deal.

    I'm sure you remember the December LFB memo on the cost of the 2013-15 refusal being $206 million - but that assumed a monthly average enrollment of 129,000 childless adults and a June 2015 enrollment of them of 135,000. So far in FY15 the average has been nearly 141,000 already and the June 2015 estimate looks set to be low by at least 20,000; the LFB recently re-estimated enrollment to average 146,764 in FY15. The Wisconsin Budget Project has more.

    1. Why yes, Geoff. That would seem to add up, wouldn't it? :P

  2. Right now, the GOP Co-Chairs in the JFC are claiming they will add $200 million in funding back by keeping Year 1 school aids flat, and adding $100 per-pupil in Year 2.

    No word on where that extra money is coming from, since there isn't enough cushion in either year to do this move alone. So are they going to use the tens of millions in health care savings from making state employees pay higher deductibles and co-pays? Added lapses? Dropping the School Levy Credit?

    And of course, $48 million of that reported increase get funneled right to voucher schools, and apparently there is the heinous privatizing of part of MPS in this as well (and we'll see if that's funded at all). Details are still scarce, but don't be fooled by the happy-talk headline. More shoes still to drop.

  3. Here's how they pull off the increased funding for K-12 in the coming years. They're going to kick all of the funding into 2016-17, but have a huge payment in July 2016 to get 2015-16 funding back to even. Total added cost- $196.2 million, plus another $5 mil for high-cost Special Ed. Aid.

    To keep the budget in balance, they get rid of second part of the "double payment" of $105.6 million on the School Levy Credit, and permanently delay the payment into July. So there's only a total increase in spending in 2016-17 of around $100 million, but it leads to a major increase in both the structural and GAAP deficits.

    So a whole lot of accounting gimmicks and bigger structural problems loom for the future, but the problem of the K-12 cuts are "solved" in the short term.