It was a big week for education. The Joint Finance Committee, on which I serve, made a historic investment in K-12 education by increasing funding for K-12 schools by $639 million, and we allocated $78 million for building projects at UW-Platteville.
The JFC maintained the governor’s proposed per-pupil funding increase, which provides schools $200 and $204 more per pupil in the next two years. This is a huge increase for our school districts that will have an immediate impact this fall. Schools throughout the 17th Senate District will be receiving $200 MORE per child for the current school year. Next year, they will receive another $204 MORE per student.
Governor Walker’s original budget proposal introduced in February included an increase in sparsity aid of $100 per pupil in the second year of the biennium. This was one piece of the overall education budget proposal.
The JFC’s job is to take the governor’s proposal and revise it with the input of the legislature. Part of this revision deleted the increase for sparsity aid but maintained sparsity aid at prior levels. I tried to convince my colleagues to keep the increase. However, there were other priorities in the package and I was not able to convince my colleagues to reverse their decision.
At the end of the day all schools received significant increases, including those in rural districts. The JFC did its job and made changes to the governor’s budget proposal. The result was that the increase was not as big as it would have been for some rural schools, but is still the largest K-12 increase in our state’s history.
The maintenance of sparsity aid funding is not a cut. In fact, combining the current levels of sparsity aid with the massive increase in per pupil aid, our school districts are receiving more funding.
In addition to K-12 education, we also took action on the Department of Agriculture, Trade & Consumer Protection, the Department of Natural Resources and the State Building Commission.
The University of Wisconsin-Platteville received $78 million for two building projects related to engineering and science. Sesquicentennial Hall received $55 million, and the Boebel Hall addition and renovation received $24 million. Rep. Travis Tranel, R-Cuba City, Rep. Todd Novak, R-Dodgeville, and I worked with leadership at UW-Platteville to make the case for these projects, and I am proud that we were able to convince our colleagues to invest. Read more about this effort.
Following is a summary of our recent actions:
Department of Agriculture, Trade & Consumer Protection
Fee holiday for farmers – JFC voted to stop collecting certain fees for farmers until their Agricultural Chemical Clean-Up Program and Agrichemical Management account balances are paid down. The state has enough money in certain agricultural clean up accounts to cover their intended purposes.
County fair aids – JFC increased grants for county fairs by $50,000.
Farm to School program – JFC restored funding for the farm to school program. This program connects schools and local farms to provide locally sourced fruit, vegetables and dairy.
County conservation staffing – JFC restored funding for these positions.
Department of Natural Resources
Approved agency re-organization – JFC adopted the agency’s request to reorganize with the intent to align with the agency’s mission. There are no position reductions in this reorganization.
Forestry mill tax – JFC eliminated the forestry mill tax, which ends the state property tax.
Municipal flood control grant program – Allows grants to be made to municipalities who are working with the Army Corps of Engineers within the Federal Flood Control Act. JFC funded that state matching-grant to accomplish flood control goals up to $14.6 million through the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship program.
The JFC invested $639 million more for K-12 education than in the last biennium!
Per-pupil funding increase – JFC maintained the governor’s proposal to invest $200 and $204 more per pupil in the next two years.
Sparsity aid—I supported the governor’s proposed increase for sparsity aid; however, FC voted to maintain current levels for sparsity aid and high-cost transportation aids, which are very important to many rural schools.
Rural school teacher talent program – JFC allocated $500,000 annually for a program that is administered through CESA organizations and coordinates with universities and colleges to provide practicums, student-teacher placement and internships in rural school districts.
Mental health collaboration grants –Invested $2.5 million beginning in 2018-19 to award grants to school districts and independent charter schools for the purpose of collaborating with community mental health providers to provide mental health services to pupils.
School referendums – JFC voted to change the statutes so that school referendums can only be held on scheduled election days, rather than allowing a school district to set a special election date outside of the regular calendar. Special elections are very costly for municipalities and counties. They also draw less attention from voters, which is contrary to the entire concept of a referendum.
Looking ahead, we have taxes, transportation and a couple of smaller items to finish in the next week before the budget moves to the Assembly and Senate for consideration. All budget-related documents and briefings are available on the Legislative Fiscal Bureau website as the budget process continues: http://legis.wisconsin.gov/lfb.
For more information and to connect with me, visit my website legis.wisconsin.gov/senate/17/marklein and subscribe to my weekly E-Update by sending an email to Sen.Marklein@legis.wisconsin.gov. Do not hesitate to call 800-978-8008 if you have input, ideas or need assistance with any state-related matters.