Budget Panel Approves $500M more for Wisconsin schools

Wisconsin’s K-12 schools would receive $500 million over the next two years, including nearly $100 million more for special education, under a Republican funding plan approved Thursday by the Legislature’s budget committee.

The deal puts the Republican-controlled Legislature at odds with Democratic Gov. Tony Evers who decried it as inadequate compared to his $1.4 billion proposal but stopped short of promising a veto. The funding plan now becomes part of the state budget the Joint Finance Committee is writing and will send to the full Legislature likely in June.

Republican leaders said Evers would be wise to accept the proposal, even though it’s $900 million less than he wanted, because the GOP offer is not going to substantially improve. Rep. John Nygren, the committee co-chair, said Evers and school officials knew his original $1.4 billion proposal wasn’t realistic and they are happy with what Republicans put forward.

Under the Republican deal, special education funding would increase by $97 million, or less than one-sixth of what Evers wanted. That would increase the state’s reimbursement rate to 26% in the first year and 30% in the second, said committee vice chair Sen. Luther Olsen. It would be the first increase in more than a decade and addresses complaints from schools about a lack of funding that requires them to tap general aid money to pay for more expensive special needs students.

The Republican plan would increase per-pupil funding by $200 the first year and $204 the second, paid for with a mixture of categorical aids and revenue limits. Olsen said the goal was to keep property tax increases at no more than 1% each year. Under the Evers budget, property taxes were projected to go up about 2% each year.

The GOP plan also increases funding for mental health services and revenue limits for low-spending districts.