“It’s Not Too Late to Meet Kids’ Needs.”

June 12, 2023


A premature budget agreement tying a number of education proposals to a shared revenue package, announced last week by Gov. Evers and Republican legislative leaders, has led to a flurry of bills being heard this week that have been divorced from the regular budget.

As you all know well, the public education community has been remarkably unified this spring in support of a state budget package that meet kids’ needs. Public school advocates showed up in force at the Joint Finance Committee budget hearings in April to demand no less than a 60% reimbursement of districts’ special education costs; at least $1510 per student in new spendable funds for public schools to keep up with inflation; priority investments that match kids’ priority needs; and a moratorium on the expansion of unaccountable spending on private voucher and independent charter programs (WisconsinNetwork.org/budget).

None of the bills being fast-tracked through the capitol this week match those priorities. But it’s not too late to fix that. We have the money, and we must call on the Governor and all lawmakers to demonstrate the will.  

Here’s what’s being heard on Tuesday, June 13:

  • SB 330: Senate Education Committee Executive Session. (No public comment. Committee will vote after holding a public hearing on Monday June 12.)
    • This bill proposes an increase to the low revenue limit ceiling from $10,000 to $11,000 (a Blue Ribbon proposal public school advocates have requested for a long time) but does not provide a corresponding increase in state aid; however, the bill does mandate a permanent increase in the use of public money on private schools to the tune of $3,000 per pupil for high schools participating in voucher programs (a significant increase to this program). This proposal looks like it could be the largest increase to voucher spending ever put forward as a standalone measure in Wisconsin.
    • No public comment at an executive session; committee members will vote on the bill.
  • 10:00am, Room 417N: AB 305: Assembly Education Committee Public Hearing.
    • This is the companion bill to SB 330 above.
    • Due to the enormous increase in private voucher and independent charter spending, we have not heard from any Network partners who support this bill. Advocates have suggested a more judicious proposal would be to raise the revenue limit and provide the additional funding to fill the gap for low spending public school districts through the budget bill and call on lawmakers to freeze reckless spending on vouchers. 
    • However, at today’s Senate committee hearing, no one testified against the bill, while we have heard that individuals aligned with the privatization lobby have been calling and speaking in favor of it. Tomorrow is your opportunity to share your stance on this bill.
  • 1:00pm, Room 412E: Joint Finance Committee Executive Session on the budget, including for the Department of Public Instruction. (No public comment)
    • The Joint Committee on Finance will discuss and release its omnibus motion on the education budget tomorrow afternoon. While public comment will not be invited, members of the public are encouraged to bear witness to this process. This motion will determine what the education budget will look like in the bill ultimately sent to the floor for a full vote.
  • 1:30pm, Room 300NE: AB 321: Assembly State Affairs Committee Public Hearing
    • This bill relating to reading curriculum would tie grade advancement to a high-stakes standardized literacy test for third grade students in schools receiving public money.
    • NOTE: This bill has been removed from the Assembly Education Committee, where it was launched by committee chair Rep. Kitchens. 
    • Public comments will be heard at this hearing.

Follow WisconsinNetwork.org/tracker for more on all education bills, and follow WisconsinNetwork.org/budget for more on the state budget process.

So what can you do about all of this right now?

Join public education advocates at the capitol on Tuesday. We know there will be champions and ambassadors for Wisconsin kids at all of the hearings and sessions listed above, and if you can make it, we hope you’ll be one of them. 

Contact your lawmakers and Governor Evers’ office. The needs of our kids have not changed, and the state continues to sit on an enormous $7 billion surplus that can and should be put to good use meeting those needs — regardless of any political negotiations.

Find your state legislators here, and contact the governor here.

1. Tell them why you’re emailing them. Identify who you are and why you have a stake in the future of our kids and public schools.

2. Tell them what you care about! Special education reimbursement? Spendable funds? Local control? High-stakes testing? Take some ideas from the issues above. Make your message personal.

3. What’s your call to action? Identify the bill(s) or proposal(s) you’re speaking to and make your request clear: a NO vote on anything that does not meet kids’ needs, a YES vote on a budget that does, etc.

And if you’re looking for somewhere to start, be sure to sign our budget petition if you haven’t already, joining the large and growing movement of Wisconsinites calling on all lawmakers to pass a budget that puts the needs of Wisconsin students first. Visit WisconsinNetwork.org/budget to learn more!

Wisconsin kids’ needs are clear, and they shouldn’t be subject to negotiation. Either we choose to meet those needs, or we choose to do more damage to our children after decades of under-resourcing their public schools and two years of funding frozen at pre-pandemic levels. We know it will take at least $1510 per student just to keep up with inflation in the next biennium, and we know we need to use our surplus to end funding discrimination for kids with disabilities by restoring our reimbursement rate to at least 60%. Anything less just compromises our kids. We can and must do better.

Please join us in standing up for Wisconsin students and their public schools now.

About the author: Christian Phelps

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