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Legislative Update

Budget Committee’s K-12 Proposal Secures Federal Funding, Freezes Revenue Limits

After initially passing a K-12 state budget package that put federal COVID relief dollars at risk, lawmakers on the budget-writing Joint Finance Committee have approved an overall state spending plan for the next two years that preserves Wisconsin’s access to more than $2.3 billion in one-time federal funds for K-12 education. 

By adding $408 million to state general school aids over the next two years ($110 million in 2021-22 and $298 million in 2022-23) on top of K-12 spending previously approved on May 27 (see below), the committee-approved package meets “maintenance of effort” (MOE) requirements imposed by Congress, according to the non-partisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau. Those federal MOE provisions require the state to maintain the same proportion of its overall spending on K-12 education in the next two-year state budget as in previous state budgets.   

While the committee increased state general aids, it did not allow an increase in state-imposed revenue limits. That means the additional state aid will be swapped for local property taxes within the revenue limit with no additional school district spending allowed. Thus, the additional state dollars will not help schools meet their ongoing operational costs but must go to lowering property taxes.  In effect, the state is using state aid to “buy down” local school levies.

The committee also addressed two long-standing school funding issues by: 1) eliminating a provision that skims-off a portion of the state general aid from every school district in the state in order to fund charter schools authorized by the UW-Milwaukee, UW-Parkside and the City of Milwaukee (resulting in public school districts receiving about $167 million more general aid for over the biennium); and 2) eliminating a delay in the payment of $75 million of each year’s state school aids until four weeks into the next fiscal year.  (This $75 million will be folded into the existing four payments school districts receive. This change will not alter the amounts paid out, just the timing of when those amounts are paid.)

The committee had previously provided an increase in resources for special education and mental health grants  and had also previously provided targeted assistance to rural schools on May 27. Those funding increases are incorporated into the budget bill that moves forward.  Here are the details of that previous action:

Special Education Categorical Aid

  •  $86 million in additional special education categorical aid over the biennium ($17.8 million in 2021-22 and $67.6 million in 2022-23) to reimburse eligible special education costs at the current level of 28.2% and 30% in those fiscal years, respectively.

School-Based Mental Health

  • $6 million more in each year of the biennium for school mental health categorical aid (for hiring of additional social workers only).
  • $3.5 million more in each year of the biennium to fund school-based mental health collaboration grants.

Sparsity Aid

  • $3.1 million more in 2021-22 and $3.2 million more in 2022-23 for sparsity aid. Additionally, created and additional tier of aid funded at $100 per pupil for districts with enrollment between 745 and 1,000 and population density of less than 10 pupils per square mile.

High Cost Pupil Transportation Aid

  • $6.4 million more in each year for high-cost pupil transportation. Reduced the threshold for qualifying for this aid from 145%  to 140% of statewide average per pupil transportation costs.

From here, the budget bill goes to the full Legislature where it must be passed in identical form by each house in order to reach the governor’s desk.  It is expect the bill will be taken up first by the state Assembly on June 28 and then by the state Senate on June 30.

State Assembly passes transgender athlete, school resource officer bills

State Assembly passes transgender athlete, school resource officer bills

A number of bills related to K-12 education passed the state Assembly during its floor session day on Wednesday, June 16 including a bill (Assembly Bill 196) aimed at barring male-to-female transgender athletes from competing as girls in interscholastic sports. That bill now heads to the state Senate.

The proposal would face an almost certain veto from Democratic Gov. Tony Evers should it pass the Republican-controlled Legislature. read more…

Emergency Connectivity Fund Program funding window to open soon, training available

As we reported in an earlier post, the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) enacted by Congress in March 2021 provides $7.1 billion for the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to create an Emergency Connectivity Fund Program to help schools and libraries purchase eligible laptop and tablet computers, Wi-Fi hotspots, modems, routers and broadband connectivity for students, school staff, and library patrons who would otherwise lack connected devices and/or broadband connections sufficient to fully engage in remote learning. read more…

Week ahead: Both education committees hold hearings before final JFC action on state budget

This Thursday, June 17, the legislature’s budget-writing committee, the Joint Finance Committee (JFC), will finish it’s work on the state budget. Included will be their plan to use the $4.4 billion in new revenue and how they will revisit K-12 education funding. The JFC’s original action on K-12 education included only a $128 million increase which did not meet inflationary needs for school district ongoing expanses and put federal relief funding at risk.

The WASB is encouraging members to reach out to their state lawmakers this week in advance of that vote. read more…

LFB: $2.3 Billion in federal relief funding at risk

LFB: $2.3 Billion in federal relief funding at risk

The legislature’s budget committee’s state funding plan for K-12 education puts $2.3 billion in federal COVID relief funding for schools at risk according to a memo by the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau.

The memo states that Wisconsin is expected to meet the requirements in the first round of federal relief funding (CARES Act/ESSER I/GEERS I) but also confirms that further investment will be necessary to meet the requirements to capture approx. $2.3 billion in relief funding included in the second and third relief packages (ESSER II & ESSER III, respectively). read more…

Feds release maintenance of equity guidance for ESSER III funds

Feds release maintenance of equity guidance for ESSER III funds

The term “maintenance of effort” has been in the news lately amid concerns that the level of K-12 public school funding approved by the Legislature’s budget writing committee is not sufficient to allow our state to secure approx. $2.3 billion in one-time federal emergency COVID relief funding for K-12 education. 

Another term school leaders are likely to be hearing about is “maintenance of equity.” read more…

LFB: State now expects $4.4 BILLION more in tax revenue than previous estimates

LFB: State now expects $4.4 BILLION more in tax revenue than previous estimates

The nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau (LFB) has just released updated revenue estimates that show, due to “unprecedented” collections in April and May, that it now expects $4.4 billion more revenue coming to the state than previous estimates done in January. From the LFB Memo:

“The increase in general fund tax collections in 2021, particularly in the months of April and May, is unprecedented. Based upon the strength of collections and the vastly improved economic forecasts for the remainder of this year and the next two years, our analysis indicates that for the three-year period, aggregate general fund tax collections will be $4,427.4 million above those of the previous estimates.”

This could be a game-changer and certainly a legitimate reason for the Joint Finance Committee to revisit their K-12 spending plan. Stay tuned.

LFB: State now expects $4.4 BILLION more in tax revenue than previous estimates

WSJ: Republicans shouldn’t risk $1.5B for Wisconsin schools

An editorial from the Wisconsin State Journal

“Wisconsin ranks near the bottom of states — 45th out of 50 — in harnessing money from Uncle Sam, according to The Pew Charitable Trusts.

“So why is the Republican-run Legislature — again — risking if not snubbing federal dollars from Washington that taxpayers here deserve, given all the money Wisconsin citizens pay the IRS?

read more…

LFB: State now expects $4.4 BILLION more in tax revenue than previous estimates

If WI fails to qualify, federal K-12 COVID relief funds will go to schools in other states

Wisconsin schools could lose out on at least $1.5 billion (and possibly as much as $2.4 billion) in one-time COVID relief funds if state lawmakers do not revisit the state K-12 education budget and increase state funding.

What would happen to those federal relief funds if Wisconsin fails to qualify? The funding would revert to the federal government and be reallocated to other states that DO qualify to receive the funds. read more…

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