Lawmakers Seek to Eliminate or Limit Tool that Lets School Districts Save Money

Tuesday, August 15, 2017 at 3:44 PM by

A provision included in the proposed state budget would restrict school districts from exceeding their state-imposed budget caps in order to fund money-saving energy efficiency improvements.

Currently, the state sets a limit on how much money each school district can spend through the combination of state aid and property taxes, although voters in a district can override the spending limit by approving a referendum. The hurdle is lower when the district wants to temporarily lift the district’s budget cap to allow for spending on energy efficiency projects that save the school district money: only the approval of the school board is needed. The school board must specify the payback period after which the district is expected to recoup its investment in the upgraded facilities.

Exceeding the budget caps set by the state to fund energy efficiency projects has two advantages for school districts: It enables them to raise the resources needed to make improvements to school buildings, and it saves school districts money in the long run. Read more

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Out of Sync: Wisconsin Lawmakers Still in Search of Agreement on Major Components of State Budget

Friday, June 23, 2017 at 10:09 AM by

After several weeks of deliberating, Wisconsin lawmakers have settled large chunks of the state budget but are still working out disagreements in the areas of K-12 education, transportation finance, and taxes.

In the meantime, Assembly Republicans have released their own version of a K-12 education budget. A new summary by the Wisconsin Budget Project compares the Assembly version to Governor Walker’s proposed education budget, highlighting the areas in which the two versions are different. The Assembly version allocates about $90 million less in state funding overall to K-12 schools and would result in slightly higher taxes for property owners compared to the Governor’s budget. Education advocates generally favor the Governor’s budget over the Assembly’s version.

In an effort to come to agreement, Assembly and Senate leaders have been meeting behind closed doors to discuss the education budget, and news reports indicate they are close to reaching an agreement.

On Thursday, Democrats released their own plan, which would allocate significantly more funding to schools. Read more

Lawmakers Seek to Rescind Voters’ Decisions to Raise Resources for Local Schools on an On-going Basis

Thursday, June 22, 2017 at 1:24 PM by

Wisconsin lawmakers have proposed stripping nearly $200 million in voter-approved resources from school districts across the state as part of a package of legislation aimed at making it more difficult for voters to raise taxes on themselves to pay for schools.

The state sets a budget cap for each individual school district, limiting the amount of money a district may spend to educate students from the combination of general state aid and local property taxes. Voters in a district can override the budget cap – either permanently or for a set period of time – by approving a referendum.

Lawmakers have proposed eliminating the ability of voters to permanently raise budget caps, as well as invalidating past referendums in which voters permanently raised budget caps (Assembly Bill 268/Senate Bill 195). Voters would still be able to lift budget caps on a temporary basis, but only for up to five years at a time. Read more

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Wisconsin Lawmakers Indicate a Willingness to Take Money from Education and Health Care to Fund Highways

Thursday, April 27, 2017 at 11:18 AM by

Governor Walker and other state lawmakers have said they are open to redirecting money from a pot intended to support education, health care, and safe communities, and using the money for roads instead. That approach could lead to future budget cuts that damage academic opportunities for Wisconsin schoolchildren, lengthen the amount of time to graduation for University of Wisconsin students, and make it harder for communities to afford important services like trash collection and street cleaning.

State road projects are funded with resources from Wisconsin’s Transportation Fund. About a decade ago, state lawmakers froze the gas tax on each gallon of gas sold – the main source of revenue for the Transportation Fund – and inflation has eaten away at the tax’s value since then, shrinking the amount of resources available to build and maintain Wisconsin’s transportation network. The result is that there is not currently nearly enough money coming into the Transportation Fund to pay for all the highway projects lawmakers want. Read more

Public Money for Private Schools Gets a Boost in Governor Walker’s Budget

Tuesday, April 25, 2017 at 9:25 AM by

Governor Walker has proposed significantly increasing resources for Wisconsin’s public schools, a move that has gotten a great deal of attention – and has attracted some controversy for the size of the increase. But his budget also includes a major increase in the amount of public money that goes to pay for private school tuition, a fact that has been mostly overlooked.

Through the state’s private school choice program, Wisconsin uses publicly-funded vouchers to pay tuition at private schools across the state. To participate in the program, students must have family incomes of up to 300% of the poverty level if they live in Milwaukee or Racine (about $73,000 for a family of four) or of up to 185% of the poverty level if they live in the rest of the state ($45,000 for a family of four). About 36,000 students are expected to receive publicly-funded vouchers to pay for private school tuition next year. Read more

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Wisconsin Schools Benefit Greatly from Federal Medicaid Funds

Monday, April 24, 2017 at 4:02 PM by

House Plans to Cut Medicaid Would Jeopardize Critical Health Services for Students

Wisconsin schools have a lot at stake in the debate about federal support for Medicaid. Even though Wisconsin ranks 19th nationally in the size of its school-age population, our state ranks 7th highest in federal funding for Medicaid services provided by schools.

According to a new report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Wisconsin schools received more than $187 million for Medicaid services in 2015, including more than $107 million in federal Medicaid funds. That amount is higher than in all but six other states, despite the fact that Wisconsin ranks near the bottom in total Medicaid spending per child. These figures indicate that Wisconsin schools have done a good job of utilizing federal assistance to support school-based health services.

Medicaid provides health care for more than 1.1 million Wisconsinites, including about 500,000 children, but many people are unaware of its significance for schools. Read more

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Plan to Restrict Voters’ Ability to Approve School Referendums Could Hurt Rural Districts

Tuesday, April 11, 2017 at 12:02 PM by

Some state lawmakers are seeking to restrict the ability of Wisconsin residents to raise new resources for schools, by banning certain types of school referendums and limiting others. The proposed measures have the potential to harm rural school districts, many of which are struggling to manage the financial effects of declining enrollments.

For a brief description of the proposed restrictions on school referendums, see this summary from the Wisconsin Association of School Boards.

One of the measures proposed would prohibit Wisconsin voters from permanently increasing property taxes to raise their school district’s state-imposed budget cap. Instead, voters would only be able to approve raising new revenues for a maximum of five years at a time. The state would invalidate referendums approved in the past that permanently raised property taxes and set them to expire after five years.

Eliminating the ability of voters to raise their property taxes on a permanent basis would hit rural school districts hardest. Read more

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Voters Approve School Referendums across Wisconsin

Friday, April 7, 2017 at 12:34 PM by

On Tuesday, voters in many Wisconsin school districts approved new resources for children in public schools.

Voters approved 40 out of 65 school referendums on the ballot, raising their property taxes to replace school buildings, improve academic offerings, and provide needed services to students.

Wisconsin residents voted to approve $465 million in borrowing for new construction and building updates, $228 million to expand school district operating budgets for a set amount of time, and $7 million to expand school district budgets on a permanent basis.

In a way, it’s not surprising that Wisconsin voters are willing to approve additional money to help educate children in their district. An overwhelming majority of Wisconsin residents think schools are doing a good job, according to a recent poll by Marquette University.

This map shows the location of successful and unsuccessful referendums. You can hover over a shape to get information on the district that held the referendum, the outcome, the type of referendum, and the dollar amount. Read more

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Wisconsin Residents Think Public Schools are Doing a Good Job and Want Lawmakers to Boost Funding

Thursday, March 23, 2017 at 2:32 PM by

An overwhelming majority of Wisconsin residents think schools are doing a good job and favor increasing state support to K-12 schools in the next budget, a new poll by Marquette University shows.

Eighty percent of poll respondents said they want the state to dedicate additional resources to schools in the next budget, with just 17% opposing such a measure. That represents a strikingly large majority of Wisconsin residents who want to see legislators make K-12 schools a priority as the budget moves forward.

Support for schools Read more

Biggest Part of Proposed Boost for Schools Wouldn’t be Targeted to Districts that Need it the Most

Wednesday, February 8, 2017 at 11:38 AM by

Governor Walker has proposed significantly increasing state support for public schools, but the bulk of the increase would be distributed to school districts in a way that does not take into account the challenges faced by districts with high numbers of students coming from families with low incomes.

We don’t yet have the full details on what the Governor is proposing for the state’s education budget, but he released a brief summary earlier this week. His budget proposal includes additional funding at aimed addressing the challenges of rural schools, increasing student achievement in summer school programs in Milwaukee, and helping school districts connect students with disabilities to employment.  (Read more about his education proposals in this AP article: Walker Proposes Big $649 Million Boost for K-12 Schools.)

By far the biggest component of the education proposal is an increase in the amount of financial support that the state provides to school districts. Read more