Thursday, June 22, 2017

Dem K-12 plan goes big. Wisconsinites should listen

One of the issues still to be figured out in this budget is the largest expense of state tax dollars- K-12 education funding. And even though their party has been locked out of these closed-door GOP meetings on the budget, the Democratic members of the Joint Finance Committee decided to have a say in the debate about what to do for the next 2 years anyway, and released their own K-12 funding plan.

In looking at that Dem plan, a few things stand out as sizable differences from prior K-12 plans submitted by Governor Walker, as well as the Assembly GOP.

1.The most obvious difference is that JFC Dems are choosing General Aids to be the source of their additional K-12 funding increases, on top of Walker’s and WisGOP’s plans to have the increases concentrated in per-pupil aids. This means that poorer districts with lower tax bases and stagnant populations are likely to receive the largest benefit from the Dems’ plan.

2.The plan also gets rid of two property tax credits- the School Levy credit and the First Dollar credit) and instead folds that $1.09 billion into General Aids. The idea is that this would give districts the flexibility to use that money for classroom expenses or other items instead of requiring it to be given away as property tax relief, like today.

3.It keeps the amount of aid per voucher student at 2017’s levels, instead of increasing it like Republicans plan to do, and it gets rid of the money-funnelling mechanism where a public school district loses funding for every resident student that uses a voucher. It also sets limits on the amount of voucher students a school could take, as well as the amount of voucher students attending from a single district.

4.The end of voucher money-funneling and increased General Aids still means that property taxes for schools would be reduced $25 million below Walker’s proposed. This is even taking into account that the Dem bill allows districts to go over their revenue limits to do energy efficiency projects, and to enhance school safety.

5.It fully funds sparsity aids for small, rural school districts, instead of prorating it like in Walker’s K-12 budget, and includes funding to help forgive student loans and ongoing education costs for teachers that would take jobs in small, rural districts.

6.There are also significant increases to Special Education aids (which haven’t been increased in 8 years), money to increase reimbursement to districts that offer breakfast, and $8.7 million a year for schools to offer assistance for issues related to Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse.

An obvious roadblock to this ambitious plan is the price tag- nearly $728 million above Walker’s proposed increases to K-12 education (although it’s pretty close to the $654 million that the M&A tax credit giveaway is scheduled to cost in the next budget, now that I think of it). And do I think any of these proposals will be seriously considered as the GOP-controlled Legislature tries to break their logjam that’s already going to make this budget go past the July 1 start of the 2018 Fiscal Year? No, of course not.

But it’s a marker that Dems are throwing down, and it also counteracts the common GOP meme that “Dems have no ideas to offer.” And the Dems’ ideas match up with the proposals of State Superintendent Tony Evers’ “Fair Funding for the Future”, which seems to be a good place to be in given that Evers won 70 of Wisconsin’s 72 counties months ago as he cruised to a 3rd term in office.

So with this K-12 proposal that finally restores our public schools to their pre-Act 10 levels, it sure seems like Dems are more in line with the desires of Wisconsinites than the ALEC-owned puppets of Betsy DeVos and convicted criminal Scott Jensen that make up today’s WisGOP. And Dems would be wise to go out of their way to push that message out to the rural areas of the state that need their public schools to be supported more than ever.


  1. Nice to see something real and bold from they have to sell the message at the personal level, like: "Republicans plans save you $1/wk and you get nothing in the future, Democrats plan may cost you $1/wk, but your school gets X, your road gets fixed, etc." Gotta put it in terms people understand...everyone understands less money leaving them but usually if they know why and where it is going, they'd be OK with it staying the same or going up. I do like the contrast to the M&A...they should push that hard as in: "Either these 25 people can get this $600M or everyone can benefit from it"

  2. Well stated Rich, and a couple of other people mentioned this added school funding could be easily afforded by getting rid if some/all of the following gimmicks in the 2017-19 budget.

    $180 million being paid to get rid of Forestry tax

    $200 million for $1-a-week income tax cut

    $20 mil for pointless deposit into Rainy Day Fund

    $30 million to get rid of tax break for private school tuition

    $22 million to dump sales tax holiday that doesn't help the economy

    WEDC handouts, etc. The money is therwto fund these things if we want it to be there. But WISGOP doesn't want it to be there.