What the preK-12 budget “compromise” means…and what you can do about it

You have likely heard the news that Gov. Evers signed into law on Tuesday, June 20 both the shared revenue bill and SB330/AB305, a bill that gives a bump to spending authority for low revenue districts while dramatically expanding state funding to private schools and independent charters. Combined with a gap-widening budget proposal that provides woefully inadequate and inequitable resources to public schools, the move is part of a larger deal that fails to meet any of the priority needs of students in Wisconsin’s public schools, marking 16 YEARS of preK-12 budgets that fail to keep pace with inflation. 

Our phones have been buzzing with messages of outrage, frustration and betrayal.

On Tuesday, our board of directors issued a public plea to the governor to reject this deal. The excerpts below sum up their concerns and what the passage of these bills means to Wisconsin kids.

From the Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools board of directors:

The action taken by the Joint Committee on Finance falls well short of the state’s constitutional responsibilities in the area of K-12 education and must be dramatically improved by the state legislature. If not, the budget must be vetoed by the governor and recrafted in order to pass Constitutional muster.

Our chief concerns with this budget deal: 

  • Public school students have been defunded relative to inflation for fourteen years and the per pupil adjustments proposed by the Joint Committee on Finance will extend that defunding streak to 16 years.
  • During that period of time, funding for students with disabilities was frozen for a decade and the promised, but not guaranteed, 33% reimbursement rate for special education will continue to keep Wisconsin near the very bottom of all states in that category.
  • Local property tax payers will be forced to cover the costs of a massive expansion of the unaccountable voucher program.
  • Private schools will be provided more direct aid from the state than most public schools are even allowed to spend (see fiscal memo here).
  • Shared revenue deal usurps the authority of the MPS board by requiring reinstatement of police officers on school property.

We call on the state legislature to fix this budget bill by restoring special education reimbursement to a minimum of 60%, providing an inflationary increase in spendable aid to all students in public schools, and removing irresponsible provisions to expand spending on private education. We urge Governor Evers to veto any bill that arrives at his desk that fails to meet these critical needs of Wisconsin students.

Unfortunately, 15 minutes after our board of directors issued their statement on these fast-tracked proposals, we learned Gov. Evers had already signed into law the largest stand-alone voucher aid expansion in state history and a shared revenue bill that undermines Milwaukee Public Schools, so we issued this response. We hope you will share it widely, as it details some of the most harmful and gap-widening provisions of the “compromise”:

  • This deal will provide private voucher schools more guaranteed state aid than the average public school is even allowed to spend per student,
  • while public schools will see a less-than-inflationary increase to state aid and a less than 2% increase to special education, cementing funding discrimination for kids with disabilities.
  • Raising the low revenue limit ceiling by $1000 is a nice gesture, but it doesn’t even bring those districts up to the state average in spending authority.
  • Public school students and local property taxpayers will pay the price, while private schools that can legally discriminate and pick and choose their students get a blank check from the state.
  • With voucher enrollment caps set to come off entirely in 2 years, this is the most reckless and irresponsible thing Wisconsin could do with its massive surplus, especially when we consider that the nearly 80% of students participating in the statewide voucher program never attended a public school.

The three top concerns of the public at all four of the budget hearings (preK-12 public schools, higher ed, and childcare) were all put on the chopping block to reach this “compromise” and nearly $2 BILLION of Gov. Evers’ original budget proposal for public schools was exchanged for this massive, unconscionable, unconstitutional voucher expansion. The state is already not meeting its obligation to its children, and this budget demonstrates a refusal to use the biggest surplus we’ve ever seen to make a meaningful start toward doing so. It’s time to hold Wisconsin accountable for doing better.

The good news: it’s not too late to fix this.


And let them know: we are watching every single vote that betrays Wisconsin students. 

Find your lawmakers here or call 800-362-9472 for the Wisconsin legislature hotline. Contact Gov. Evers at (608) 266-1212 or online here.

Every single lawmaker has a vote on this bill, and needs to hear from us.

We know Gov. Evers cares about Wisconsin students and it’s not too late for him to back out of a deal that has gone too far in selling out the public schools we are morally and constitutionally responsible to support. His office is listening, and he needs to hear from you.

We continue to advocate for the following to meet the needs our kids have now: 

  • no less than $1,510/per pupil in new spendable funds to their districts to catch up with inflation
  • 60% reimbursement of special education costs to begin closing the gap between the state’s special ed. support for public and private schools;
  • prioritizing funds where needs are greatest; 
  • and putting a moratorium on the use of public dollars on unaccountable private and privately-operated schools.

It’s not too late to deliver a budget that meets these needs.  Our kids are counting on us to do it.

Stay tuned for additional action steps and details on how you can get involved.

About the author: Wisconsin Public Education Network

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