Senate Passes Inadequate Budget Bill Despite Impassioned Push from Public School Champions

Wednesday, June 28, 2023

We knew this moment was coming, but watching the Wisconsin State Senate pass a budget bill that plays reckless games with a historic surplus and misses every opportunity to correct the shameful disparities in Wisconsin’s public school funding today was gutting and infuriating. As it stands, this budget will mark 16 consecutive years of defunding public education relative to inflation, maintain funding discrimination against students with disabilities in our public schools, eliminate high poverty aid for over 100 Wisconsin school districts, and cut hundreds of millions of dollars from Child Care Counts and UW System funds.

After hours of impassioned speeches and debates over amendments, all Senate Democrats and two Republicans (Senators Nass and Hutton) voted “NO” on the passage of the 2023-2025 Biennial Budget, as amended with a hastily passed 24-page amendment from Sen. Marklein after the body rejected 12 amendments from Democrats. SB 70, the budget bill, passed the State Senate by a vote of 20-13:

Senator Chris Larson of Milwaukee raised an amendment on the floor that would have restored crucial public school funding to the budget, laying out the points on our Budget Report Card that served as the baseline for Tuesday’s “What’s Best for Kids” Day of Action at the capitol. That amendment was defeated 22-11, with all Republican Senators voting to reject the amendment and all Democratic Senators voting to adopt it.

The budget bill will now be passed to the State Assembly for consideration tomorrow, and if it is passed, it is expected to land on Governor Evers’ desk by Friday to sign, veto, or sign with line-item vetoes. The Assembly session starts at 1:00pm in the State Capitol (follow along in the gallery or on WisconsinEye).

Public school advocates have been as clear as day about what kids need in local communities across Wisconsin. Kids need an inflationary increase of $1,510/pupil, a 60%+ special education reimbursement, targeted funds where needs are greatest, and a moratorium on siphoning public funds to private schools. We cannot afford any less.

The Assembly and Governor Evers could fix this budget by restoring key funds for kids and refusing to advance a budget that falls short. But they need to hear from you now.

  • Call 800-362-9472 for the Wisconsin legislature hotline
  • Contact Gov. Evers at (608) 266-1212
  • Follow for facts and updates on the state budget process and what it means for kids
  • Follow to see how your lawmakers vote
  • Follow @WisconsinNetwork on facebook for more

Finally, we want to say THANK YOU to all who participated in Madison and statewide, in our Day of Action.

About 100 public school champions joined us in person in the capitol rotunda to rally for What’s Best For Kids, and many more followed from around the state. Every lawmaker in the capitol received a report card with a message asking them to fix the budget for kids. A lineup of passionate speakers outlined how the proposal on the table would affect them and their students.

“Our lawmakers expect our students to meet or exceed expectations on the state report cards that they require us to give, yet they refuse to provide the funding necessary to make that happen,” said Sandy Whisler, President of the Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools. “We are here today to demand they do, while we can—before it is too late.”

“We do our jobs. And we do them well. It’s time for all state lawmakers to do their jobs and do right by Wisconsin’s future and fund our public schools!” said WEAC President Peggy Wirtz-Olsen.

“The School District of Beloit is a special place, and we celebrate our diversity,” said Dr. Willie Garrison II, Superintendent of the School District of Beloit. “This is not about districts who have versus districts who do not have. It is really about making sure that we all do what’s right to ensure that all of our students in every district in the state of Wisconsin receive full support at the legislative level—and not letting any thought or stance get in the way of that.”

“Our estimation based upon our current read of the legislation is … a $6.5 million hit to the School District of Beloit [based on the failed referendum provision and increased expenses to private schools and independent charters],” said Bob Chady, Executive Director of Business at the School District of Beloit. “How much more do we have to do? We need to call upon the legislature to right the wrongs, to address public education throughout the state equitably.” 

“Education is not a privilege. It is a right. And all of our students deserve a budget that honors that,” said Martha Siravo, co-founder of Madtown Mommas and Disability Advocates.

“The people in my school loved me. They cared for me. But they could not be all of the people that my peers and I needed, no matter how hard they tried,” said Class of 2023 graduate Zavier Hauser. “I am here before you today, again, begging you to do more than the bare minimum. The students and staff in schools deserve better. I deserve better.”

Dr. Jim Shaw, Interim Superintendent of the School District of South Milwaukee, said: “We just want one thing in South Milwaukee. These students just want one thing. They want special education to be funded—not at 25%, not at 33%, but at 100%!”

“You could throw a dart at a map of Wisconsin and find a parent, a student, an administrator, a board member, a person who cares in the community, who could share a story as harrowing as any of the ones we have heard today,” said Wisconsin Public Education Network Executive Director Heather DuBois Bourenane. “This is true everywhere. Our districts have been forced to tighten and tighten and tighten their belts and there is nothing left to give, and our kids are not okay.

. . .

“It’s up to us to demand better.”

Below is some shareable news coverage of the Day of Action:

Thank you for standing up for Wisconsin’s children and public schools.

About the author: Christian Phelps

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