Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Assembly GOP school plan reiterates WisGOP budget meltdown

Usually as June hits in odd-numbered years in Wisconsin, the state budget is wrapping up and a general consensus emerges. But this is clearly not a typical year, as not only is there no consensus forming in the State Legislature, the Assembly Republicans went public with their own ideas for how to fund the state's public schools, and that package has some notable differences from the budget submitted by Governor Scott Walker.

You can click here for the full, 37-part proposal that Assembly GOP threw out today, and I’ll focus on a few of the items that grabbed my eye.

1. The big story is obviously the funding shifts and changes. As previously reported, the Assembly GOP proposal adds $30 million in General Aids to Walker’s budget ($20 mil next year, $10 mil more the year after that), but reduces that increase in per-pupil aids by $90.8 million. This means poorer districts with stagnant or declining enrollments will get a boost they lacked in Walker’s budget, and richer, growing districts won’t get as much help.

However, $17.45 million of that $30 million increase in General Aids immediately goes away due to increased enrollment in the state’s voucher program, which the ALEC-owned GOP Assembly would let stand. On the flip side, public schools will get another $8.5 million back because of lower Charter School enrollment, and because charter and voucher schools will get less per-pupil $ (since they get funds based on the per-pupil money for public schools).

Lastly, the Assembly GOP’s plan would cut sparsity aids by $18.2 million vs Walker’s budget. Sparsity aid is an equalization program for especially small, rural districts to help them make ends meet, and Walker wanted to increase this by over $20 million in this budget by giving another $100 a student to small schools that already get the aid, and by giving another $100 to rural districts that had between 745 and 1,000 students. Instead, the Assembly wants to get rid of the $100 increase in sparsity aid to the smaller schools, but keep the expansion for the 745-1,000-student districts. That still means there’s an increase to the program of around $1.9 million, but nowhere near what Walker wanted.

In total, it looks like public K-12’s will get an additional $21 million in General aids, but lose around $109 million in per-pupil and sparsity aids compared to Walker’s proposed budget, so that’s a drop in aid/ savings of approximately $88 million.

2. In itself, this relatively small reduction in state aids isn’t a big problem (outside of the fact that it comes on top of major cuts in K-12 funding during WisGOP’s 6-year Reign of Error), but what seems to have Walker upset is this part of the Assembly GOP proposal.
Increase the low revenue adjustment under revenue limits from the current law $9,100 per pupil to $9,800 per pupil in 2018-19 and each year thereafter. It is estimated that school districts would use $92.2 million of this revenue limit adjustment to increase the school levy in 2018-19.
In addition, the Assembly GOP package reduces Walker’s planned increase in the School Levy credit from $87 million to $52 million for next year, but jacks it up by another $95 million for 2018-19, well above Walker’s plans. This would offset the $92 million increase in revenue limits for 2018-19, but because the School Levy Credit is lower than Walker’s budget in the previous year, we’d still be behind.
Combined with extra levy space due to the increase in the voucher program, and the Assembly GOP’s plans would allow for a total property tax increase of $16.7 million for next year and another $29.4 million compared to Walker’s budget. Combined with the recent news of a $27 million increase in property taxes resulting from lower lottery sales, and you can see where Walker and other Republicans are going to have a hard time claiming that “we cut your property taxes” in November 2018.

And God forbid they actually make Diane Hendricks or other corporate oligarchs pay a cent more in taxes (which could lower property taxes AND fund schools), so now they’re in a pickle that threatens to collapse this whole "house of cards" budget.

3. Now here’s the segment of the plan I call the “silly, spendy and scary” part of the Assembly GOP plan. A trick with the increase in the School Levy credit is that the payment is pushed off into July, so that it doesn’t count in the current Fiscal Year it’s intended for. This means that the AssGOP K-12 plan will “save” $35 million for the 2017-19 budget, but also increase the 2019-21 structural deficit by $120 million... in a budget that already has a structural deficit of more than $1 billion.

There are also some additional programs as part of AssGOP’s K-12 package, including $18.375 million over the next 2 years as part of a “laptop in the classroom” program, and another combined $4.35 million for increased funding for high-cost special ed and school breakfast, along with starting a new incentive program to pay rural teachers more. All of these seem like interesting ideas, but of course, they cost money (and use up the previous K-12 savings in a budget where we don’t have much money to spend). They also won’t be part of the General School aid formula, which means not all schools may benefit.

Lastly, there are ominous new programs that set aside funds for multiple school districts to consolidate administrative functions ($3.5 million), share grade levels ($1.5 million), and consolidate districts ($1.0 million). The AssGOPs are basically encouraging small school districts in Wisconsin to consolidate because the Age of Fitzwalkerstan won’t adequately give enough money to keep small districts afloat and competitive. That seems like an admission that maybe Act 10’s “tools” weren’t the cure-all for Wisconsin schools, like Walker tries to sell it as.

But it appears that many of these ideas won’t even get a chance to be debated. Even before the Assembly GOP talked to the media to describe their proposal, Senate GOP Leader Scott Fitzgerald had already fired off this message via press release.
The State Senate remains committed to fully funding K-12 education as Governor Walker proposed in his administrative budget.

We will continue to look for ways to support low spending districts, but a proposal that raises property taxes and picks winners and losers within our school districts is a move away from the position of both the Governor and the Senate Republican caucus. The Assembly package that was endorsed today is simply not the direction that this budget is headed.”
What "direction that this budget is headed," Fitz? More borrowing and higher deficits in the future? Continued declines in job growth? Fees going up in the next 2 years, and property taxes going sky-high once you guys are thrown out of power and/or decide to stop striking poses for DC Lobbyist Grover Norquist?

I wasn’t the only one who found Fitzgerald’s stance absurd. Even Assembly Speaker/ALEC Cabin Boy Robbin’ Vos was asking the Scotties to come to the table and try to work this out.

Yeah, this 2017-19 Wisconsin budget is becoming an even bigger mess by the day. And the only thing the GOP-run Assembly and Senate have in common is in refusing to actually handle the problems responsibly, since they won’t tax the rich or corporate to pay for these needed investments. Instead, the prefer to rely on budget tricks and passing the burdens down to the local level- a strategy that has failed miserably when it comes to attracting talent and improving the state’s economy over the last 6 years, and will keep us behind in the next 2.

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