June 2, 2021: JFC Tries to Spin the Budget; Summer Summit Registration is Live

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There has never been a more urgent or important time to understand and speak up about the state budget than right now. This month’s newsletter offers an overview of the gap-widening education budget put forward by the Joint Finance Committee, the opportunities to take action on it, and information about the 7th Annual Wisconsin Public Education Network Summer Summit.


    On Thursday, May 27, as has been forecasted since official public testimony on the budget concluded, the Joint Committee on Finance passed through committee an education budget that does not resemble the one the Governor put forward earlier this year and does not reflect Wisconsinites’ resounding demands. The committee cut about 90% of the Governor’s proposed investments in public education and put Wisconsin public schools’ eligibility for federal COVID-19 relief funds in serious jeopardy.

    The biennial K-12 spending motion approved by the committee along party-line votes removed a number of urgently needed items from the Governor’s budget, instead committing to:
    • NO increase in general aid to school districts
    • NO increase in the revenue ceiling for low-spending districts
    • NO increase in per-pupil spending from the state
      • Past budgets have at least included minimum funding from the state to keep up with inflation.
      • This year, the committee voted to move forward with nothing.
    • 28% and then 30% state reimbursement of special education costs in public schools with no guarantee that those percentages will be met
      • The JFC budget does not allow this reimbursement to be sum-sufficient (rather than sum-certain) and maintains the commitment from the last budget — a 30% reimbursement that was never met. (For more on these terms, check out our School Finance 101 sessions with Dr. Julie Underwood.)
      • This came even as an overwhelming majority of those who have testified on the education budget have supported the Governor’s plan to increase this reimbursement rate to 50%.
      • Private schools participating in the taxpayer-funded Special Needs Voucher program are reimbursed at over 90% by the state.
    • NO provision to allow districts to omit COVID-19 related enrollment drops in their revenue limit calculations
    • An allocation of $350 million which is essentially earmarked for public education spending but could be used for any other purpose.
      • Advocates have asked that this $350 million be allocated specifically to special education costs — or at least public K-12 education costs — but in reality it would sit in a general fund and could be used for anything.
      • Wisconsinites are paying attention. We tracked budget testimony and have been following statements and actions from around the state — communities across Wisconsin expect better for kids and public schools. More details, spotlights, and action opportunities on the budget below.

    In the days leading up to the Joint Finance Committee’s vote on the education budget, the Republican majority in the state legislature made headlines by hearing testimony on and seeking to advance bills that would aim to ban transgender children from playing girls’ sports. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos has said he hopes to see a vote on these bills in June, which is Pride Month. The Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association (WIAA) and numerous other organizations publicly oppose the bills.


    There is a lot you can do right now to take action on the budget. The process is not over — the full legislature will vote on the biennial budget presented by the Joint Finance Committee, so lawmakers need to know that Wisconsin expects them to reject the JFC budget and pass one that will close the gaps for kids and public schools.
    • Click here to send an email to your own state lawmakers, and share the link widely so others do so too.
    • Follow our Budget Action Guide, Budget HQ, and Digital Actions pages for other ideas and real-time updates.
    • Speak up in your local community. Get school boards, superintendents, and educators in your district to speak out publicly against the gap-widening budget the JFC passed and in favor of a real investment in kids’ priority needs. We are looking for as many local groups, districts, and communities as possible to take action ahead of the legislature’s full vote and will keep our resources updated when we know more about when the vote might be. See the end of the newsletter for some excellent examples of districts’ and organizations’ actions on the budget.


    Registration for our 7th Annual Summer Summit is LIVE! Visit WisconsinNetwork.org/Summit to register. This year’s theme is Closing the Gaps, and a regular $25 ticket to the Summit on August 2 includes participation in our optional six-week Equity in Action Leadership Circle series!
    • Register for the Summit, dinner, and the Equity in Action Leadership Circle here.
    • We’re also calling for Auction, Drawing, and Book Bag Sponsors for Summer Summit! We’re looking for full baskets, individual items, gifts cards, book bag sponsors, and more. Items, photos, and descriptions are DUE no later than July 10. Please see the form link for details: https://forms.gle/bWkh1dgJ7hqRPLkz9. With questions, contact Jenni@WisconsinNetwork.org
    • Finally, we look forward to honoring all nominees and naming a new Changemaker of the Year at this year’s Summer Summit. Please nominate anyone and everyone you know who has made committed, meaningful change for kids and public schools to be Changemaker of the Year! Fill out this form to do so.

    Join our friends at the Team Gold Neighborhood Action Team for an event on June 8 at 7:00: FAIR MAPS: Why Ending Gerrymandering Matters. Register here. The event will feature keynote speaker Matt Rothschild, executive director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, as well as panelists Jon Peacock of Kids Forward, Melissa Ratcliffe – Dane County Public Works and Transportation Committee, and our executive director Heather DuBois Bourenane.



On May 26, one day ahead of the Joint Finance Committee’s executive session on the education budget, we held a Virtual Rally for Wisconsin’s Public Schools to show support for a strong public education budget and rally positive energy for kids and public schools at a crucial time. Watch the video of the half-hour rally here; click here to view the slides from the rally; and see our Budget Action Guide here.

Our “Close the Gaps” t-shirts and “Pro Kid. Pro Public” face masks are available to be picked up at regional locations across the state! To make your optional donation and order some 2021 gear, you can do so at this form.

Northwest Wisconsin

The Eau Claire Area School District’s groundbreaking Hmong PTA was featured in Localyst Media last month. The School District of La Crosse’s superintendent, Aaron J. J. Engel, issued an excellent letter to state legislators about the budget.

Southwest Wisconsin

Our friends at Madtown Mommas and Disability Advocates were in the room with the Joint Finance Committee on May 27 and have been extremely active in their budget advocacy this year. They also released a statement to the legislature along with Madison school board member Nicki Vander Meulen on the budget.

Northeast Wisconsin

The Green Bay Area Public School District also issued an excellent statement on the budget. Read it here.

Southeast Wisconsin

Multiple school districts in Southeast Milwaukee have taken action, passed resolutions, and/or released statements on the budget. Check out Beloit’s resolution in support of the Wisconsin Public Education Network budget priorities; the statement from Wauwatosa; and the statement from South Milwaukee.


Spotlight on all leaders who have used their platform to stand up for a stronger and fairer education budget than the one the Joint Committee on Finance passed on May 27, including State Superintendent-Elect Jill Underly, the School Administrators Alliance , Southeastern Wisconsin Schools Alliance, WI Association of School Boards (WASB) Executive Director John Ashley, WASB (Summary/Roundup), WI Association of School Business Officials (WASBO), WI Rural Schools Alliance, and Wisconsin Association for Equity in Funding (AEF). We urge everyone to share these examples with your local school districts and advocates and encourage them to take similar actions!

See a running archive of organizations’ and districts’ statements and actions on our Budget Action Guide.


If you haven’t already, please consider joining Wisconsin Public Education Network as a contributing partner and making a monthly donation to the Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools to support our advocacy. A small donation of just $5 or $10 per month can go a long way and ensure we have the resources to grow our advocacy and maximize our impact. Donate here.


About the author: Christian Phelps

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