Wisconsin Budget Committee Approves $639 million Boost for K-12 Schools

Lawmakers on the Wisconsin Legislature’s budget-writing committee voted Monday to approve the largest funding boost to Wisconsin’s K-12 schools since before Gov. Scott Walker took office.

Walker’s budget proposal included $649 million in new education spending, including an increase in per-pupil aid of $200 in the 2017-18 school year and $204 in the following year. The measure Republican lawmakers approved on a party-line vote brings that boost down to $639 million, by spending less than what Walker proposed on rural schools and high-performing Milwaukee schools.

Under the plan approved on Monday, school districts that spend less than most others could gradually raise their revenue limits from $9,100 per pupil up to $9,800 per pupil over the course of several years.

The committee also voted to raise the income limits for the statewide private voucher program — which operates outside of the programs in Milwaukee and Racine — from 185 percent of the federal poverty level to 220 percent. Under the new requirements, a family of four making $53,826 per year could receive a voucher. The Milwaukee and Racine programs will continue to operate at their current limit of 300 percent of the federal poverty level.

Also included in the lawmakers’ K-12 package are two efforts designed to alleviate shortages of teachers and administrators throughout the state.

One measure would allow people to take online classes to earn teacher certification in high-need subjects like technology, math, engineering and science. Another would offer loans for people seeking additional education and training to become principals or other education administrators.

Lawmakers also approved a measure proposed in Walker’s budget to eliminate expiration dates for teachers’ licenses following a three-year provisional period.

Also under the plan, districts could only hold referendums during already-scheduled election days or on the second Tuesday of November in odd-numbered years, with allowances made for special circumstances, such as increased costs resulting from a natural disaster.

“Thanks to the members of the Joint Finance Committee for supporting the education portion of my budget,” Walker said in a statement. “Once signed, this budget will include more actual dollars for K-12 education than ever before in our history.”