Earlier this week, State Superintendent Tony Evers released the second half of his budget request, which relates to school funding. Evers submitted the first half of his request in September, which advocated for increased funding for school safety and technology programs. DPI has prepared a very helpful document that highlights the requested funding changes for the biennium.
DPI’s request asks for an additional $450,000,000 for school funding in the 2015-17 state budget. The amount reflects increases to all general school aids of 2.5 percent and 4.9 percent annually, over the biennium.
School Funding Reform
DPI also makes several school funding reform requests. Including:
· Guaranteeing a minimum amount of state funding for every student ($3,000), providing vital resources to the approximately 60 school districts that currently receive little or no state aid;
· Increasing the low revenue ceiling to $9,400 per pupil in FY16 and $9,700 in FY17 (current law sets it at $9,100 in 2013-14 and thereafter). It is estimated that 40-60 districts would be eligible to use this additional authority;
· Incorporating a poverty-factor using the percentage of students receiving Free and Reduced Priced Lunch into the formula (30 percent), accounting for family’s ability to pay – not just the district’s property value;
· Making technical formula changes that strengthen rural, declining enrollment and negatively aided districts by increasing the secondary cost ceiling and hold harmless (Special Adjustment Aid) level;
· Increasing the per pupil revenue limit adjustment to $200 per pupil in FY16 and $204 per pupil in FY17 (current law reverts to $0 beginning in FY16). These figures represent increases of approximately 2 percent annually in revenues for the average school district. DPI requests that the revenue limit be linked to changes in the Consumer Price Index going forward; and
· Directing the School Levy Tax Credit and the First Dollar Credit into general school aids, increasing transparency and providing direct state support for schools.
Rural Schools Funding
DPI requests an additional $8.2 million to fully fund Sparsity Aid. The Department also proposes eliminating the free and reduced-priced lunch (FRL) criteria for districts to qualify for Sparsity Aid; if this change is approved, Sparsity Aid will be based entirely on enrollment and population density. DPI also requests an increase in the reimbursement rate for pupils transported over 12 miles from $275 to $300 per pupil in both Fiscal Year 16 and Fiscal Year 17 and an increase of roughly $5 million for high cost transportation aid to increase the reimbursement rate for high cost transportation aid from 32.5% (in FY14) to 50% of eligible costs.
Common School Fund Re-estimate
DPI projects that Common School Fund revenues will increase by $6 million during the 2015-17 biennium. As a result, school library aid is estimated to be $34 million in 2015-16 and $36 million in 2016-17.
Special Education Funding
DPI requests an increase of approximately $85.7 million for special education funding. The increased funding will allow DPI to raise the reimbursement rate for schools districts to 28 percent in Fiscal Year 16 and 30 percent in Fiscal Year 17. DPI requests an additional $14.4 million to fully fund high-cost special education during the 2015-17 biennium. DPI also proposes changing current open enrollment policy to improve access to the program for students with disabilities and eliminate undue financial burdens by establishing a $12,000 open enrollment transfer amount for students with disabilities.
The Department requests $5,848,000 for a new grant to provide a $1,000 per student incentive payment to school districts based on post-secondary education and employment outcomes for students with disabilities. DPI also requests $1,500,000 for a new categorical aid program to improve special education job development capabilities of school districts and/or (Cooperative Educational Service Agencies) CESAs. DPI requests $4,000,000 to provide resources for school districts to offer bridge support to pupils to develop essential skills such as reading, writing, and oral communication, at the same time that pupils are developing technical employment skills as part of a career pathway.
DPI requests $700,000 annually for the purpose of establishing WisSTEM, a STEM Education Center with the primary focus of building a pool of educators that are well-versed in STEM concepts. With this funding, WisSTEM would be able to support districts statewide to enhance their science, technology, engineering, and mathematics courses and to offer advanced classes that requires students to synthesize knowledge across these four subjects. In addition to the WisSTEM Center, DPI is requesting $500,000 to provide STEM grants directly to school districts.
Parental Choice Program
Currently, the state is responsible for funding approximately 70% of the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program. In its budget request, DPI recommends increasing the state’s share of funding to 100% in order to ease the property tax burden on Milwaukee taxpayers. The state already funds 100% of the Racine and Wisconsin choice programs. DPI is also requesting an additional $54 million to fund the Milwaukee, Racine and Wisconsin Parental Choice program during this budget cycle. This puts state aid at $249 million at the end of the 2015-17 biennium. DPI is also requesting several statutory changes be made to the program, including adding a requirement that a school must be in existence for at least two years before it can receive parental choice participants and removing current statutory language that allows participating schools to charge students tuition in addition to their choice payments.
Gifted and Talented Program
DPI requests an additional $1.5 million for the gifted and talented program.
Reading Proficiency Grant
DPI requests $500,000 to provide an annual grant to Milwaukee Succeeds to support its efforts to improve reading outcomes for pupils by the end of third grade.
DPI is also requesting increases for several categorical aid programs, such as the school breakfast program and Bilingual-Bicultural Education Supplemental Aid.
ACT Assessment Suite and Smarter Balanced Assessment
The state added funding for schools to administer the ACT assessment suite in the last state budget. DPI is requesting increased funding to account for the rising cost of administering the exams in the testing suite. They also request the elimination of the requirement that the ASPIRE exam be administered in the fall of ninth grade. DPI is also requesting additional funds to fully fund the Smarter Balanced Assessment that is administered in grades three, four and eight.
Teacher Licensing Backlog
The processing time for most teacher licenses is estimated at 12 to 13 weeks. DPI is requesting a permanent 1.0 FTE Education Specialist to conduct background checks, a permanent 1.0 FTE Education Specialist to conduct five year renewal applications, and a permanent 1.0 FTE Education Specialist to conduct follow-up on out-of-state applications in an effort to ease the backlog. Teacher certification program revenue would be used to fund these positions.