Walker’s Budget Targets Local Schools Funding

School leaders statewide were already bracing for steep cuts in education aid, but Gov. Scott Walker?s budget announcement on Tuesday could send shock waves through school districts as several proposals slash funding far deeper than some expected.

Walker, who announced his budget plan on Tuesday afternoon, aims to turn around the state’s two-year budget deficit through spending cuts and other cost savings.

At the top of that list is a 5.5 percent decrease in allowed revenue limits per-pupil beginning in fiscal year 2011, which amounts to an average of $550 per student.

Many local school leaders, including those in Madison, said that they hadn’t expected the decrease, rather only a zero-percent increase.

“It is the death knell to public education,” said Marjorie Passman, a Madison School Board member.

Passman said she finds the cuts devastating.

“Oh, it’s worse than hurting; it’s devastating, absolutely devastating,” Passman said. “I don’t know how they can write this in here. We’re taking away all funding for improving pupil academic achievement. How can you even say that without laughing?”

Based on the governor’s plan, Madison schools face $21 million in cuts for 2011, district officials said. That loss includes an $825 per-pupil reduction in local tax revenue. District leaders had anticipated an increase of $200.

The governor’s proposed budget includes a revenue decrease that comes on top of a statewide $834 million reduction in general equalization aid over the biennium, rolling out as a $390.5 million cut in year one and $358.9 in year two.

After the governor’s budget address Tuesday afternoon, the Madison Metropolitan School District’s Student Senate held a meeting. The students said they can’t see where else administrators can cut.

“For (Walker) to cut $21 million from my school district really offends me,” said Jacob Carrel, a junior at Madison West High School.

“The teachers say, ‘We can’t photocopy this for you because we have to get all of our paper from downtown because we are out of our budget of paper,'” said Meredith Paker, a junior at Madison Memorial High School.

Passman said lawmakers must look to big business and big spenders for another solution.

“Bring in some money from them, then come back to me. Tax the rich a little bit more, then come back to me,” Passman said.

But Walker has said repeatedly he will not raise taxes. Walker said he believes the budget repair bill will help school districts find savings they couldn’t before.

The governor’s proposal puts Advanced Placement programs on the chopping block, which is part of $29.9 million dollars in categorical aid reductions in each year of the budget. Alternative education programs, alcohol and drug abuse prevention programs and English for Southeast Asian children courses are also listed as a potential focus for cuts.

Walker suggests giving school districts additional flexibility to manage their own budgets by lifting mandates requiring 180 school days each year. The potential for shorter weeks and longer days could give administrators the ability to reduce transportation costs significantly.

The governor’s staff said Tuesday the budget preserves full funding for special education programs.

The spending plan also creates a reading initiative requiring all third-graders in Wisconsin’s public schools “achieve basic literacy” by the end of that year.

Parents might appreciate Walker’s suggestion of extending the deadline to apply for open-enrollment from February to April, and a proposed repeal of the enrollment limit for virtual charter schools.

Charter schools also score a boon in the budget with the proposed change in a mandate currently requiring charter school teachers be licensed by the state Department of Public Instruction. New rules would require only they have a bachelor’s degree.

Additionally, the budget will also allow all four-year University of Wisconsin campuses to sponsor independent charter schools, which can be located anywhere in the state.

In spite of the cuts, Walker said in his address passage of the budget repair bill is critical in preserving a solid public education system in Wisconsin.

“Even as we reduce school aids — overall we give schools across the state the tools to make up for those reductions with even greater savings through the budget repair bill,” Walker said.

It is still early, but educators WISC-TV has spoken with are simply not convinced.

District administrators in Madison said they’ll start trying to sort it all out Wednesday, but they said it hurts even more because in Madison the cuts are cumulative.

Madison Metropolitan School Superintendent Dan Nerad said the district has been reducing programs for the last 15 years.

“To address that budget deficit, we can’t create an education deficit. We have significant challenges we’re facing and we have to face those challenges in a way that ensures better outcomes for kids,” Nerad said.

Nerad said he’s “very worried” about what comes next.