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GOP leader: State Senate eyeing $200-per-pupil increase in each of next two years

Mark Sommerhauser | Wisconsin State JournalMay 22, 2019

With lawmakers nearing a planned budget vote on school funding, Senate Republicans are discussing increasing state aid to school districts by $200 per pupil in each of the next two years, their leader said Tuesday.

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, told the Wisconsin State Journal on Tuesday districts would get $200 per pupil in 2019-20, then an additional $200 more per pupil in 2020-21.

That approach would mirror the centerpiece of the school-funding increase in the most recent state budget that former Gov. Scott Walker signed in 2017, which translated to about a half-billion increase in state aid to districts.

It contrasts with Democratic Gov. Tony Evers’ proposal for the next budget. Evers wants to pump $611 million into general school aids through a revised state funding formula that would guarantee a basic level of funding for each student, but provide additional funding for low-income students.

The per-pupil funding stream gives districts a flat amount per student, not accounting for a district’s property-tax base.

Assembly Republicans plan to announce their position on school funding Wednesday, a spokeswoman for Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said.

GOP legislative leaders are set to meet Wednesday with Evers, and the Legislature’s budget-writing Joint Finance Committee is set to take up school funding in its Thursday session. The 16-member committee typically builds the budget and sends it to the full Assembly and Senate for final passage.

Fitzgerald spokesman Alec Zimmerman said the official Senate Republican position won’t be finalized before Senate Republicans discuss it in closed caucus. They’re set to meet Wednesday to discuss school funding and other topics, he said. Assembly Republicans held their own closed-door budget meeting Tuesday afternoon.

Fitzgerald’s office did not respond to inquiries about whether Senate Republicans are discussing other major school-funding increases, such as for special education.

Also Tuesday, Fitzgerald continued his critique of what he described as a lack of communication by Evers’ office with legislative leaders, saying Evers has done a poorer job on that front than previous Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle, who served from 2003 to 2011.

Under Doyle, Fitzgerald said legislative leaders worked closely with then-Department of Administration Secretary Marc Marotta.

Fitzgerald said Marotta attended Joint Finance Committee budget sessions and was deeply engaged in legislative budget proceedings. But he said so far in this budget, no one has played a comparable role in the Evers administration.

“That dialogue was happening (under Doyle) and it just doesn’t feel like it’s happening at all right now,” Fitzgerald said.

Vos, R-Rochester, has said he expects to meet with the governor directly to hold budget talks.

Evers’ office did not respond to requests for comment Tuesday.

Evers’ school-funding plan, which calls for a total $1.4 billion state-aid infusion to K-12 districts, also gives $606 million over two years to districts to help them bridge the gap between services they’re required to give students with special needs and the money they get to do it.

GOP lawmakers previously signaled they would not support a school-funding increase as large as Evers proposed, or as large of a special education increase as he proposed.

Sen. Tom Tiffany, R-Hazelhurst, a Joint Finance member, told the State Journal last week he views the funding increase given to schools in the most recent budget as a template for a similar increase in this budget.

Another finance committee member, Sen. Devin LeMahieu, R-Oostburg, questioned whether GOP lawmakers would be able to match the increase given two years ago.

The 2017-19 budget, covering the two-year cycle ending June 30, gave school districts a $639 million funding boost. Its centerpiece was a $505 million increase in per-pupil aid to districts of $200 per pupil in 2017-18, then an additional $204 per pupil beyond that in 2018-19.

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