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Evers, Republicans at odds over $500M school funding boost

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MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- The Latest on Wisconsin budget negotiations (all times local):

Updated: 1:53 p.m. May 23, 2019

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Republicans who control the Wisconsin Legislature have agreed to increase K-12 school funding by $500 million over the next two years, including $100 million more for special education, a deal Gov. Tony Evers decried Thursday as inadequate.

Republican leaders of the budget-writing Joint Finance Committee said Evers would be wise to accept the proposal, even though it's $900 million less than he wanted, because the GOP offer is not going to substantially improve. Rep. John Nygren, the committee co-chair, said Evers and school officials knew his original $1.4 billion proposal wasn't realistic and they are happy with what Republicans put forward.

"They wanted a predictable growth in resources for schools, something they can count on, something that doesn't have to be reduced in the future because there's a downturn in the economy," Nygren said of school leaders. "I believe this accomplishes that."

The budget committee, controlled 12-5 by Republicans, planned to approve the spending level Thursday.

Democrats, public school advocates and Evers, who used to be the state superintendent of public schools, all said the proposed funding wasn't enough.

"Unfortunately, the plan announced today by Republicans doesn't get us where we need to be," Evers tweeted. "I remain hopeful that I can continue to work with Republicans to give our schools and our kids the resources they need to be successful. There's still a long way to go in the budget process, but we're not going to negotiate against ourselves or our kids."

Under the Republican deal, special education funding would increase by $100 million, or one-sixth of what Evers wanted. That would increase the state's reimbursement rate to 26% in the first year and 30% in the second, said committee vice chair Sen. Luther Olsen. It would be the first increase in more than a decade and addresses complaints from schools about a lack of funding that requires them to tap general aid money to pay for more expensive special needs students.

Public school advocates said they would keep up the pressure on Republicans to spend more.

"We're not above begging," said Heather DuBois Bourenane, executive director of the Wisconsin Public Education Network, before the committee meeting. "We have been on our knees begging for our kids the past 10 years. We're sick of begging for crumbs. We're here to demand more of that this time around."

The Republican proposal is a "mixed bag," said Dan Rossmiller, lobbyist for the Wisconsin Association of School Boards.

"The typical school district will find a lot of good things in this budget, but that's not to say that every district will be in great shape," he said.
State Sen. Jon Erpenbach, one of four Democrats on the budget committee, said the Republican funding increase was a "giant step backwards."

"They're still failing our Wisconsin schools, our Wisconsin families and our kids who are in special education around the state," Erpenbach said.

Republicans have the votes to approve the plan with no Democratic support.

The Republican plan would increase per-pupil funding by $200 the first year and $204 the second, paid for with a mixture of categorical aids and revenue limits. Olsen said the goal was to keep property tax increases at no more than 1% each year. Under the Evers budget, property taxes were projected to go up about 2% each year.

The GOP plan also increases funding for mental health services and revenue limits for low-spending districts.
Olsen defended the $500 million total.

"I think it's just right because if you look at the money we have to spend in the budget, this is the lion's share," he said. "I would love to (spend $1.4 billion), but I know we're not going to be cause we can't. This is the best we could do."

Evers wanted a 10% total increase and a reworking of the state aid formula for schools, another idea Republicans rejected.
The budget committee is working to reshape Evers' budget, including education funding, before sending the revised plan to the full Legislature for approval. Evers has powerful line-item veto authority to rework the plan and has held out the possibility of vetoing the entire budget.

Education funding is the single largest item of state spending in the budget, currently taking up about a third of all money allocated. Reaching agreement on how much to spend there will help lawmakers navigate the rest of the budget and how much money is available to spend on areas such as transportation and health care.

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Updated: 9:58 a.m. May 23, 2019

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Republicans who control the Wisconsin Legislature have agreed on a $500 million increase in K-12 school funding over the next two years, including $100 million more for special education, a member of the budget-writing committee said ahead of a key vote Thursday.


Senate and Assembly Republicans reached the deal that the Joint Finance Committee will vote on later Thursday, said Sen. Luther Olsen, a Republican who is on the panel and chairman of the Senate Education Committee.

Democratic Gov. Tony Evers, the former state superintendent of public schools, proposed a $1.4 billion increase over two years, with $606 million for special education. Assembly Republicans announced Wednesday they would spend $500 million total, with just $50 million for special education.

But Olsen said under the deal, special education funding would increase by $100 million. That would increase the state's reimbursement rate to 26% in the first year and 30% in the second, Olsen said. It would be the first increase in more than a decade and addresses complaints from schools about a lack of funding that requires them to tap general aid money to pay for more expensive special needs students.

Olsen said school board members, business managers and superintendents who deal most intimately with budgets will be happy with the Republican funding level.

"They knew from the get-go what (Evers) was saying wasn't realistic," Olsen said.

The Republican plan would increase per-pupil funding by $200 the first year and $204 the second, paid for with a mixture of categorical aids and revenue limits. Olsen said the goal was to keep property tax increases at no more than 1% each year. Under the Evers budget, property taxes were projected to go up about 2% each year.

The GOP plan also increases funding for mental health services and revenue limits for low-spending districts.

Olsen defended the $500 million total, even though it falls $900 million short of what Evers wanted. Evers was calling for a 10% total increase and a reworking of the state aid formula for schools, another idea Republicans were rejecting.

"I think it's just right because if you look at the money we have to spend in the budget, this is the lion's share," he said. "I would love to (spend $1.4 billion), but I know we're not going to be cause we can't. This is the best we could do."

The Republican proposal is a "mixed bag," said Dan Rossmiller, lobbyist for the Wisconsin Association of School Boards.

"The typical school district will find a lot of good things in this budget, but that's not to say that every district will be in great shape," he said. "What I had hoped is the governor's budget would generate a serious debate and unfortunately the Legislature didn't want to have serious debate about the direction we're going and they more or less wanted to continue with the status quo."

Democratic Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling reacted on Twitter, saying "Gutting investments for students and classrooms while continuing tax breaks for the wealthy and special interests is the worst they can do."

That elicited a response from Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, who emphasized that the GOP plan was "ADDING hundreds of millions of dollars to the current education budget of $11.4 billion, a budget that (Evers) called "pro-kid" and a "significant" investment."

Evers made those comments in reaction to the 2017 budget when he was state schools superintendent.

Republicans have the votes to approve the plan with no Democratic support.

Evers' spokeswoman had no immediate comment on Thursday. But the governor, in an interview with Wisconsin Public Radio on Wednesday, urged patience on education funding. He met with Republican legislative leaders Wednesday and said he was confident they could work together on school funding.

The budget committee is working to reshape Evers' budget, including education funding, before sending the revised plan to the full Legislature for approval. Evers has powerful line-item veto authority to rework the plan and has held out the possibility of vetoing the entire budget.

Education funding is the single largest item of state spending in the budget, currently taking up about a third of all money allocated. Reaching agreement on how much to spend there will help lawmakers navigate the rest of the budget and how much money is available to spend on areas like transportation and health care.

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2:20 p.m.

Democrats say they are going to fight to increase funding for K-12 schools after Republicans say they will propose an increase that's less than half of what Gov. Tony Evers called for.

Republicans on Wednesday said they will support a $500 million increase over the next two years. The Democrat Evers proposed a $1.4 billion increase.

Democratic state Sen. Jon Erpenbach says Evers did the right thing for K-12 education "and the Republicans have decided to cut it." Erpenbach says he hopes it is not the Republicans' bottom line.

The Legislature's budget-writing Joint Finance Committee was scheduled to vote on education funding at its meeting Thursday. It is working on a budget to send to the full Assembly and Senate for consideration, likely in June.

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1:31 p.m.

Assembly Republicans are proposing $500 million in additional funding for K-12 schools, less than half of the $1.4 billion Gov. Tony Evers proposed.

Assembly leaders announced the plan Wednesday. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos says he believes Senate Republicans are on board with the general approach and the budget-writing Joint Finance Committee will vote on the plan Thursday.

The funding increase would be less than $639 million that was put in the last budget under Republican Gov. Scott Walker.

The GOP plan would include a $50 million increase for special education funding, less than the $606 million Evers proposed.

Republicans want to increase per-pupil funding by $200 the first year and $204 the second year, similar to what was in the last budget.

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11:57 a.m.

Democratic Gov. Tony Evers says he sees a "lot of opportunity to make progress" with Republicans on education, transportation and criminal justice reform.

Evers issued a statement Wednesday after a roughly 30-minute meeting with Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos.

Evers calls the meeting productive and says he looks forward to "continued conversation around ways we can find common ground."

So far, Evers and Republicans have found little to agree about. Republicans have killed many of Evers' signature budget proposals, including a Medicaid expansion that was central to Evers' two-year spending plan.

But Evers is striking a conciliatory tone in his statement, saying "Wisconsinites elected us to work together so I hope we can get things done for the people of our state."

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