Wisconsin Students Deserve Fairness

May 9, 2019

Heather DuBois Bourenane, Executive Director of the Wisconsin Public Education Network, issued the following statement today:


Today, the Wisconsin legislature’s Joint Finance Committee is poised to remove a long list of both fiscal and non-fiscal items from the governor’s budget proposal. The committee will begin the process of cobbling together its own budget, using the 2017-19 budget as a base rather than the proposal on the table.

We applaud the committee’s stated dedication to meeting public education needs, but object to the dismissal of an education budget that was widely praised at its hearings and by education experts, parents and educators statewide. The plan on the table is not a “bells and whistles” budget. It is a common-sense plan that reflects the needs and values of the children of Wisconsin, including many essential provisions recommended by the bipartisan Blue Ribbon Commission on School Funding that would put our state on a path to meeting the needs of all students.

Specifically, the plan to lift the 10-year freeze on special education funding and restore the state’s commitment to reimbursing 60 percent of actual, mandated special education costs would be a great first step in addressing what the Legislative Fiscal Bureau has identified as a $2 billion biennial funding gap for special education services. As both the Joint Finance Committee and the Blue Ribbon Commission heard across the state, districts are filling this gap by taking money from their general funds to cover mandated costs of services they are required both by law and by conscience to provide.

There is no small irony in the fact that the public is being told that a 60 percent reimbursement rate is “not going to happen,” while the Joint Finance Committee also votes today to retain a provision added to the state budget in its 2017-19 omnibus package allowing a 90 percent reimbursement rate for any additional services a private school deems necessary for students receiving a special needs voucher. This glaring inequity signals a common theme in Wisconsin school funding in recent years: a commitment to increasing public funding to private schools at the expense of the 860,000 children attending Wisconsin’s critically underfunded public schools.

We echo the call heard around the state at public hearing after public hearing: our public schools are in a state-created fiscal crisis that can only be resolved by a state-created solution. The solution is simple, clear and fair—and it has been on the table since February.  

To truly ensure the success of all students, we need a budget that lifts spending revenue limits and restores per-pupil funding to a level that meets the actual needs of our children, particularly students with disabilities, English language learners and students in poverty. The budget on the table provides desperately needed, bipartisan-supported resources to address critical areas like mental health services and Wisconsin’s teaching crisis. And, the rejection of a proposal that school districts around the state have been advocating for years—the rehiring of retired educators to solve the state’s hiring crisis—is a no-brainer solution to a problem that has a serious negative impact on our children.

We call on members of the Joint Finance Committee and all members of the state legislature to do their job. We must make sure every school is equipped to provide the resources every student needs to succeed. We can no longer shift the burden of these costs onto local taxpayers through referenda and local property taxes.

Wisconsin’s 860,000 public school children are counting on us. Let’s pass the budget that is best for kids.


 View this release online here.

About the author: Wisconsin Public Education Network

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