Gov. Evers’ budget plan increases school funding by $1.4 billion, changes complex funding formula

Funding increased to special ed, mental health
Gov. Evers’ budget plan increases school funding by $1.4 billion, changes complex funding formula
Wisconsin Public Television

Democratic Gov. Tony Evers spent the day after his budget address traveling around Wisconsin touting his priorities, including education. He responded Friday to concerns Republican legislative leaders have about his plans to increase taxes to pay for several of his priorities.

“At the end of the day, what we do know is that the people of the state asked for some really important things, and frankly, some of them cost money. Schools is certainly one of them,” Evers told reporters at an elementary school near Racine.

.@GovEvers speaks to the @wisaflcio Building Trades Conference. #news3now pic.twitter.com/n5P97QyNNo

— Rose Schmidt (@RoseSchmidtTV) March 1, 2019

His first budget proposal, which he introduced to a joint session of the state Legislature Thursday night, would not only increase funding for K-12 education but also change the way in which the money is distributed.

Evers seeks to increase funding for K-12 schools by $1.4 billion, the same figure he used in the budget he crafted in his former position of state superintendent. It would be a 10 percent increase and more than twice what former Republican Gov. Scott Walker proposed in the last state budget.

Administrators from a number of school districts in southern Wisconsin told News 3 Now it is too early to determine the direct impacts the plan will have on students and staff.

However, education groups like the Wisconsin Association of School Boards, are applauding Evers’ efforts, while also acknowledging the difficulty of getting them through the Republican-controlled state Legislature.

Dan Rossmiller, the group’s government relations director, said school districts would be provided with more money in programs where they could desperately use it.

“The areas of special education, of English language learners, of mental health, are areas where I think there’s widespread agreement that more resources are needed, and this budget would provide more resources in those areas,” Rossmiller said.

One of the largest increases would be more than $600 million over two years to special education programs. A number of districts are having to transfer money from regular education programs to cover the shortfall in special ed, Rossmiller explained.

Evers plans to fund school districts to two-thirds of their total costs, which is about a 1.3 percent increase from the funding they are currently provided in the 2018-2019 school year. Walker also proposed two-thirds funding during his re-election campaign, but Republican leaders have said they are unsure how to pay for it.

The complex state funding formula would also be rewritten under Evers’ plan, meaning the way the money is distributed to schools would be changed. Evers is proposing allowing per-pupil adjustments in the revenue limits of about $200 each year, a controversial move which Rossmiller said could make a substantial difference for districts.

“That will allow districts to raise some money locally without having to go to referendum. Ever since the revenue limits were frozen in 2014-15, the only way for a school district to raise more money from its local residents is to go to referendum,” Rossmiller said.

In addition to special ed, Evers’ plan would provide money for mental health services, school breakfast programs, after-school programs, gifted and talented programming and driver’s education courses. The state’s five largest cities would get summer school grants to increase learning time and reduce the “summer melt.”

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