Legislative Update – February 2


A school funding commission created by the Legislature met Friday, February 2, in Milwaukee, with invited testimony from Milwaukee Public Schools, the Southeast Wisconsin Schools Alliance and a voucher lobbyist group. The hearing was one of a handful planned around the state to inform the next biennium budget.

Senator Luther Olsen opened the meeting, repeating his stance that making changes to school funding requires money in order to make sure there aren’t schools that win and other schools that lose. Olsen said school districts need to be held harmless in any proposal or there will never be enough support in the Legislature to pass it.

Highlights of the Milwaukee Public Schools testimony included support for mental health needs, transportation needs and literacy issues. The Alliance highlighted issues affecting schools, including declining enrollment and the need for local control of school start dates. The voucher lobby said funding should have a “mobility function.”

Public education advocates prepared to speak out around the hearings said one concern stands out across our communities: inequity. “All children have a right to a quality public education, but parents do not feel that their public schools are receiving adequate resources from the state,” said Ingrid Walker-Henry, co-chair of Schools and Communities United in Milwaukee, pointing out that this concern is tied directly to the strain of private school funding schemes on public school funds. “For over 25 years, Milwaukee has been home to a private voucher school experiment. Parents have grave concerns about the millions of public dollars being siphoned to private, unaccountable school operators who are not performing better than our public schools. We hope that legislators on the committee will hear Milwaukee parents’ calls for adequate and equitable funding and for all publicly funded schools to be held to the same standards of transparency and accountability as our public schools.”

This week in the Legislature:

Common School Funds. A public hearing was held on Senate Bill 713 / AB 857. The bill would eliminate the authority of the Board of Commissioners of Public Lands to make state trust fund loans, broaden the authority of the BCPL to delegate its authority to invest state trust fund moneys, and remove certain restrictions on the use of common school fund income moneys. As educators working in schools with shoestring budgets, we know the Common School Funds are often the only monies available to keep our school libraries running.

  • In a nutshell, the requirement that schools spend Common School Fund monies on instructional materials, library books or school library computers/software would be eliminated under this bill, and any items purchased would no longer have to be located in the school library.
  • Since the Board of Commissioners of Public Lands would no longer make loans, the interest from those loans – which now goes into the Common School Fund – would be gone. Over the past 10 years, the loan program invested over $1 billion in Wisconsin, and the interest earnings are a key source of revenue for the Common School Fund.
  • The bill would for the first time allow SWIB to invest state trust fund dollars using their typical investment strategy, instead of only investing in fixed accounts. It’s estimated if this approach were active during the financial crash of 2008, a loss up to $290 million would have occurred and school libraries would have been left in the dark.

Low Revenue Ceiling and Sparsity Aid. The Assembly Education Committee passed AB 835, a bill to help rural schools. Sparsity aid was vetoed by the governor in the 2017-19 state budget, but he has said he supports the provisions now. The bill addresses two areas:

  • Low Revenue Ceiling: Would increase the low revenue ceiling from $9,100 to $9,400 in 2019. The bill also would increase the low revenue ceiling by $100 each school year, beginning in 2020, until the ceiling reaches $9,800 in 2023. Districts with failed operating referendums in the prior three years would not be eligible. Of the 107 school districts that would be eligible under this bill, nine had failed referenda. The DPI estimates the statewide cost of this bill to be a maximum of $21.8 million in 2019, depending on whether nine additional school districts going to referendum this spring are successful.
  • Sparsity Aid: This would, beginning in 2019, increase the sparsity aid per pupil amount from $300 to $400. Under the bill, the appropriation for sparsity aid would be increased by $6.5 million in 2019.

Annual School Reports. The Assembly Education Committee held a public hearing on AB569, which requires the Department of Public Instruction to publish its annual school and school district accountability report by November 30, rather than in September. This bill also changes the date by which DPI must determine whether a school is placed in the school takeover program to November 30 instead of October 15. The Senate has already passed the companion bill, SB-494.

Excluding capital improvements from shared cost in some districts. The Assembly Education Committee held a public hearing on AB 803. In this bill, expenditures from either a school district’s general fund or debt service fund that are authorized by a capital referendum are excluded from the school district’s shared cost if the school district is a negative tertiary school district. In other words, under the bill, a negative tertiary school district will not lose equalization aid for capital expenditures that exceed the tertiary guarantee and are funded by referenda. The bill protects some school districts in areas with high property wealth and per-pupil spending from seeing general aid deductions in the school funding formula in cases where voters approve capital projects. There is currently no companion bill in the Senate.

Grants to schools for public safety training. The Assembly Committee on Workforce Development held a hearing on AB 872, which creates an incentive grant program for school districts that provide
training for certain public safety occupations and provides completion awards for students who complete those programs. The Assembly committee is set to vote on the measure Tuesday and the companion bill, SB 746, is set for a Senate committee vote on Thursday.

Pupil Exam InformationAB-300 / SB 222 was passed out of the Assembly and Senate education committees. The bill requires school boards beginning next school year to annually provide information about mandatory pupil examinations to parents and guardians.

Tech grants for apprenticeship training programs. AB 808 was passed by an Assembly committee. The Senate Workforce Development Committee held a public hearing on companion bill SB 682, which creates a grant program under which the Technical College System Board may award grants of up to $1,000 to technical college students who have undertaken an apprenticeship training program in conjunction with their course of instruction at the technical college. These grants may be awarded only to assist students in paying materials expenses associated with the apprenticeship training program, including costs of purchasing tools, clothing, equipment, and supplies. The TCS Board must establish an application process and criteria for awarding these grants, which criteria must consider the financial need and anticipated or actual expenses of the applicant. The TCS Board may award grants totaling up to $50,000 per academic year.

Gifted and talented vouchers. A fiscal estimate was received for the latest voucher scam, AB830 / SB725. The bill claims to help low-income parents get services for their gifted and talented children, but instead it expands the amount of tax dollars spent on private schools – at the expense of the 90 percent of children who attend public schools. Senator Alberta Darling is proposing the measure, which would pay private school tuition and expenses for 2,000 families who meet requirements set forth. The program would provide $1,000 for each “gifted and talented” student who is already eligible for free or reduced-price school lunches, which means the household’s annual income is at or below $45,510 annually for a family of four.

Robotics league participation grants. Representative Kooyenga was added as a co-author of AB564/SB483, which expands eligibility for robotics grants to include sixth- through eighth-grade teams.

Senate Education Committee meets Tuesday

The following bills will receive public hearings:

Dual Enrollment. SB 711 requires the University of Wisconsin System to award grants to school districts, independent charter schools and voucher schools to support dual enrollment programs taught in high schools. Under the bill, grants are awarded to assist high school teachers in meeting the minimal qualifications necessary to teach dual enrollment courses. The grants would end after June 30, 2022.

College Credit in High SchoolSB 677 / AB-805 would exclude certain college credit in high school programs from the Early College Credit Program. The bill was approved by the Assembly Colleges and Universities Committee this week.

Expanding 4K. SB 663 would allow the Department of Children and Families, as a pilot project, to award grants to organizations, including school boards, with existing four-year-old kindergarten programs for the purpose of expanding those programs.

Repealing rules around large-area supplemental aid. SB 685 / AB 477 would repeal the administrative rules promulgated by the Department of Public Instruction to administer a supplemental aid program for a school district having 500 or fewer pupils and that is at least 200 square miles and incorporates the repealed provisions into current law. The bill also changes, from enrollment to membership, the terminology used to refer to the number of pupils counted to determine the school district’s eligibility to receive the supplemental aid.

County jailers and the WRS. The Assembly is set to vote on AB 676 / SB 577, which would classify county jailers as protective occupation participants under the Wisconsin Retirement System and under the Municipal Employment Relations Act. While the bill would likely not have a cost impact on the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission, there is insufficient knowledge as to whether this bill would increase or decrease county costs. Fiscal estimate

Senate Judiciary And Public Safety meets Tuesday

Firearm Possession at School. The committee will vote on AB-496, regarding suspending and expelling a pupil for possession of a firearm at school. Its companion bill, SB-402, has passed out of committee.