On Thursday, the Joint Finance Committee (JFC) finalized the state budget, which now heads for a full vote of the legislature. Legislative Republicans voted to invest in our students, their families and Wisconsin taxpayers. Here are four takeaways you should know:
- JFC Republicans updated the budget and addressed the issue of the federal mandate for maintenance of effort.
The various iterations of federal COVID-19 packages required states to meet a maintenance of effort requirement. Specifically, the federal packages limited state budgets and required that states invest a minimum of overall state spending into public schools.
JFC Republicans voted to increase spending in general school aids to ensure that Wisconsin K-12 and higher education schools receive the $2.2 billion from the federal COVID bills. By investing additional state dollars into general aid, Wisconsin should be in compliance with maintenance of effort requirements.
- The investment into the general aid fund will also lower property taxes – a win-win for Wisconsin students, families and taxpayers.
The budget invests $408 million in general school aids. The Wisconsin school finance formula is a combination of state and local aid. By increasing the percentage of state aid to districts, it will decrease the amount of money that local property taxpayers must allocate for public schools. This means that districts with high local support, such as school districts in Door County, will receive more state funding and could see property tax levels lower than ever before. The proposal also limits the levy limits so the net effect of this additional funding must be allocated towards lowering property tax burdens.
Additionally, JFC Republicans previously voted to increase state aid to students through categorical aids, including increasing special education, transportation aid, and sparsity aid. A slight increase in per pupil amounts for private schools in the choice programs, public charter schools and open enrollment students will occur – $37 per pupil in 2021-22 and $64 per pupil in 2022-23.
As a reminder – $2.2 billion in federal aid is flooding into Wisconsin public schools.
- The budget proposal changes funding for independent public charter schools.
Wisconsin’s school aid formula is complex and often funds sectors of school programs in different ways, adding to the confusion and complexity. Historically, independent public charter schools, public schools authorized by a government entity that isn’t a school district (such as the city of Milwaukee), received their funding after school districts received a reduction in aid.
The budget changes funding for legacy public charter schools and moves the funding model to match the other sector funding by funding these schools with state aid. Specifically, the budget removes the state aid reduction from districts for these legacy charter schools. While this doesn’t change the amount of funding for charters, it is an important step in streamlining our funding system and providing a clear path for funding to be consistent and accessible for all students.
- This budget is expected to pass the legislature and get to Governor Evers’ desk.
Governor Tony Evers should sign this budget. His own budget proposal called for massive increases in school aid without thought to the impact on the state’s budget and Wisconsin taxpayers. After a difficult year of pandemic shutdowns and limitations, the JFC proposal is investing in our students, our schools and our taxpayers – ensuring that the Badger State continues to thrive.
Libby Sobic is the director of education policy for the conservative public interest law firm Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty.