Saturday, September 23, 2017

Governor Walker Signs Budget into Law

Governor Walker officially signed the 2017-19 state budget into law Thursday afternoon at an elementary school in Neenah, Wisconsin.

The two-year spending plans includes a $639 million increase to K-12 education, one of the largest in state history, which Governor Walker touted heavily in his speech.

It also creates a new grant program for schools to purchase one-to-one devices for 9th grade students; increases public library system aid; and provides more funding for broadband and TEACH grants.

Governor Walker did veto several provisions that WEMTA has also been following, including increased funding for low-spending school districts. Joint Finance Committee Co-Chair John Nygren publicly criticized the Governor’s decision to veto that provision, which would  have gradually increased the revenue limit for historically low-spending school districts, saying “as a result, over 200 school districts across the state will lose over $90 million in funding over the next 6 years.” Nygren characterized it as a funding inequity which he said “has existed for over 20 years and under this budget will continue to do so.” Governor Walker said he vetoed the provision because “the result is a substantial increase in property tax capacity that school districts may exercise without voter input.”

The Governor also vetoed two new grant programs created by the Joint Finance Committee that would have provided increased funding for schools that into Whole Grade Sharing or Shared Services arrangements. Walker says, he hopes the funding that had been appropriated for these items (about $2.75 million) can be used instead "to support more effective programs that support rural schools." 

Here are the provisions of interest that Governor Walker vetoed either in whole or in part. 

Low Revenue Adjustment-VETOED in FULL

This section increases the low revenue adjustment for school districts from $9,100 under current
law to $9,300 in fiscal year 2017-18; $9,400 in fiscal year 2018-19; $9,500 in fiscal year
2019-20; $9,600 in fiscal year 2020-21; $9,700 in fiscal year 2021-22; and $9,800 in fiscal year
2022-23 and each year thereafter.

I am vetoing this section entirely because the result is a substantial increase in property tax
capacity that school districts may exercise without voter input. In several school districts that
would be eligible to raise taxes under these sections, referenda to exceed revenue limits already
failed within the past two years. An increase in revenue authority from the state in these districts
would circumvent purposeful, local actions.

It should also be noted that in some cases, the same districts that would have become eligible to
increase their revenues with this adjustment have increased their base revenues at a rate higher
than the state average. This brings into question the need for this adjustment and highlights the
need for local taxpayer input before a revenue limit adjustment is made.

As a result of this veto, the low revenue adjustment level for school districts will remain at
$9,100. School districts across the state will benefit from other significant education investments
in this budget, including meaningful increases in per pupil aid. These per pupil increases are
equal among all school districts. In addition, school districts could pursue an increase in their
revenue limit through a referendum as is the case under current law. In fact, numerous districts
have already done so by asking taxpayers through a referendum. Increases to the low revenue
adjustment can be discussed in future state budgets.

School District Referenda Scheduling--VETOED IN PART

I am partially vetoing these provisions to eliminate the ability of school districts to conduct the
special elections to consider referenda as described above, but maintain the effective date of
January 1, 2018, for the limitations on referendum scheduling. School referenda should be
known and considered by the greatest number of voters possible, and limiting referenda to
regularly scheduled election days will further this principle.

Whole Grade Sharing Aid--VETOED IN FULL

These sections create a grant program in fiscal year 2018-19 for school districts to enter into a
whole grade sharing agreement. Grants of $150 per pupil enrolled in a shared grade would be
provided to school districts in the first four years of the agreement. In the fifth year, grants are
prorated to 50 percent. In addition, the Department of Public Instruction is required to provide a
report to the Joint Committee on Finance by February 1, 2019, regarding the number of grant
applicants, the number of approved whole grade sharing agreements, the names of participating
districts and the grades shared in each district, and how much of the appropriation is awarded or

I am vetoing these sections in their entirety to eliminate the grant program for whole grade
sharing and related reporting requirements. Whole grade sharing is intended to create savings,
which should be a built-in incentive; however, school districts have not taken advantage of whole
grade sharing since it became permissible under 2015 Wisconsin Act 55. Therefore, I believe
these funds can be repurposed to support more effective programs that support rural schools.

Shared Services Aid--VETOED in FULL

These sections create a grant program funded at $2,000,000 in fiscal year 2018-19 for school
districts that share administrative functions with local governments or other school districts.
Grants would be provided in the following amounts during the first three years of an agreement to
share services: $40,000 for sharing a district administrator; $22,500 for sharing a human
resources director, information technology coordinator or business manager; and $17,500 for
other administrative positions, excluding principals and assistant principals. In the fourth year,
grants are prorated to 50 percent, unless the parties to the agreement also are whole grade sharing.
I am vetoing these sections in their entirety to eliminate the grant program for shared services.
Sharing services will create savings for school districts; therefore, providing state grants would
nullify savings to taxpayers that would result from local actions. In addition, I believe these
funds can be repurposed to support more effective programs that support rural schools.

Summer School Grants--VETOED in PART 

This provision creates a grant program in fiscal year 2018-19 for the Milwaukee Public Schools
district and any other school district that receives a "fails to meet expectations" rating on its district report card.

These competitive grants are to be awarded to school districts to increase
attendance, improve low-performing schools, improve academic achievement and expose pupils
to innovative learning activities, all through development, redesign or implementation of a
summer school program.

I am partially vetoing this provision to create a grant to the Milwaukee Public Schools for
summer school programs. The program proposed in my Executive Budget was targeted to the
district to augment the Milwaukee Public Schools district's summer school expansion efforts. I
object to the expansion of eligibility because it will dilute the funding, and therefore
effectiveness, of the funds in the district. I also believe that language specifying outcomes is
unnecessary absent a competitive process, and would diminish the ability of a district to employ
the funds in the most effective way. As a result of this veto, the district will receive a grant of
$1,400,000 in fiscal year 2018-19 for summer school programs, and no other districts will be
eligible to apply for these funds.

Virtual Charter School Funding Study--VETOED in FULL 

This provision requires the Department of Public Instruction to submit a report by January 1,
2019, to the Joint Committee on Finance and appropriate standing legislative committees
comparing open enrollment payments and the actual costs of educating virtual charter school

I am vetoing this provision to eliminate the report. I object to the increased administrative burden
on the department.

You can watch the official bill signing ceremony here:

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Representative Hintz Elected Assembly Minority Leader

Assembly Democrats selected Representative Gordon Hintz (D-Oshkosh) to serve as their new Minority Leader this afternoon.

Hintz will replace Representative Peter Barca (D-Kenosha) who announced earlier this month that he would be stepping down from his leadership role on September 30.

Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke (R-Kaukauna) released a statement shortly after the vote congratulating Hintz. "His willingness to lead is commendable and I stand ready to work alongside him to advance those values shared between our caucuses," said Steineke.

Hintz currently serves on the Legislature's Joint Finance Committee and will get to choose who replaces him on the Committee as part of his new role.

Monday, September 18, 2017

State Senate Passes State Budget; Governor Walker to Sign this Week

The State Senate voted 19-14 to pass the State Budget late Friday night. All Democrats voted against the proposal as did Senator David Craig (R-Big Bend).  “While this budget contains positive provisions like finally repealing the rest of our prevailing wage law, a reform I have long supported, it fails in its primary function – to appropriately limit the size, and thus the role, of government in our lives,” said Senator Craig in a statement about his decision to vote no.

Some last-minute negotiations between Governor Walker, who was in South Korea for a trade mission, and four Senate hold-outs resulted in several veto announcements being made on Friday afternoon in order to secure enough Republican votes to pass the budget.  Vetoes already agreed to by the Governor include: the tolling implementation study, prevailing wage law repeal start date, school referendum requirements and state capitol basement renovations.

Governor Walker signed the Fox Conn bill into law Monday afternoon and is expected to sign the budget bill into law within the next few days. 

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

State Assembly Passes Budget

The State Assembly voted 57-39 to pass the 2017-19 state budget late Wednesday evening. Every Democratic member of the Assembly voted against passage as did five Republicans--Representatives Allen, Brandtjen, Jarchow, Gannon, Sanfelippo. 

Democrats criticized the budget as being "rigged" in favor of the rich and ignoring the needs of working families. They also lambasted Republicans for failing to come up with a long-term transportation funding plan after months
of debate and for expanding the school choice program. 

Republicans brushed off criticism from Democrats and referred to many of their floor speeches and amendments as attempts to audition for the Assembly Minority Leader position being vacated by Representative Peter
Barca (D-Kenosha). They also highlighted the budget's significant investment in K-12 education funding, UW tuition freeze, reduced transportation bonding and lower property taxes. 

Prior to passing the budget, Assembly Republicans offered a six-page technical amendment < was adopted on a voice vote. 

The budget must now be approved by the State Senate, which is scheduled to vote on the proposal on Friday morning. However, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) says he does not currently have the 17 votes needed to pass the bill in his house. It appears that the Senate hold-outs are concerned about the lack of reforms at the Department of Transportation and want to see the income eligibility limit for the statewide school choice program increased to 300% of the Federal Poverty Level and additional school
referendum reforms. Several lawmakers have also asked that the repeal of the prevailing wage law be moved up to January.

If the Senate adopts any amendments to the budget, it will need to go back
to the Assembly for approval. During his closing remarks, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) said that the Assembly had no plans to vote on the budget again and that their vote Wednesday night was final. Governor Walker has previously said he hopes to sign the budget into law by September 21.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Budget Comparison Document Released; Assembly Voting on Budget Wednesday

The non-partisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau just released their comparative summary of the Governor’s budget recommendations to the Joint Finance Committee’s (JFC) actions:

The State Assembly is set to vote on the budget as passed by JFC on Wednesday of this week. It is unclear when the Senate will meet to vote on the budget because it is rumored that Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald does not have enough votes in the Senate Republican Caucus to pass the budget at this time. 

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Joint Finance Committee Passes State Budget

The Joint Finance Committee voted 12-4 along party lines to approve the 2017-19 state budget on Wednesday evening. It must now be passed by both the Assembly and Senate before it can be signed into law to the Governor. It is already more than nine weeks past the June 30 statutory deadline to have a new budget signed into law.

Items of interest to WEMTA include:

K-12 Per Pupil Aid Increase: Increases per pupil payments from $250 per pupil in 2016-17 to $450 per pupil in 2017-18 and $654 per pupil in 2018-19. However, not all of these new funding would carry forward into the next state budget. Per pupil aid would drop down to $630 per pupil in 2019-20. The Joint Finance Committee deleted the Governor’s recommendation that schools show that they are in compliance with Act 10 provisions related to health care costs in order to receive the new funding. Instead, the Committee voted to require districts to report annually to the state on health insurance costs for their employees.

Personal Electronic Computing Device Grants: The Committee adopted Speaker Vos’s proposal to create a new one-to-one device grant program. The motion provides $9.2 million in funding beginning in 2018-19 to fund grants for personal electronic computing devices. Eligible entities include: school boards, charter schools, the governing body of a private school or a tribal school. Grants would equal $125 per ninth grade student. Applicants would need to demonstrate that they will provide equal matching funds. Grants could be used for the following: purchasing personal electronic computing devices; purchasing software for the devices; purchasing curriculum that includes content that may be accessed on a personal electronic computing device; or train professional staff on how to effectively incorporate personal electronic devices into a classroom and into high school curriculum. The grant program would end in the 2022-23 school year.

Library Service Contracts: Provides an additional $10,300 over the budget biennium to fully fund the Library Service Contracts.

TEACH Grants: Provides an additional $6 million to the TEACH program. It continues the information technology block grant program until July 1, 2019, and expands the permitted uses of grants under the program to include providing mobile hotspots on buses and purchasing mobile hotspots for individuals to borrow from schools. In addition, the eligibility for these grants is expanded to include school districts that have up to 16 pupils per square mile. The non-partisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau estimates that 278 school districts would meet this eligibility criteria.

Public Library Funding: Increases aid to public library systems by $1.5 million. The Joint Finance Committee also voted to delete the current law requirement that DPI include in its biennial budget submission a request for public library system aid equal to 13% of the prior year operating expenditures from local and county sources.

Information Technology Education: The Joint Finance Committee voted to provide $875,000 in funding in each year of the budget to contract with a single provider of information technology education for public schools students in grades 6-12, technical colleges students and library patrons. This was previously provided by Microsoft. The program would be required to provide instruction on information technology skills and competencies in areas requested by employers and allow participating students and educators to secure broad-based industry recognized information technology certifications. Programs would be required to operate in 225 sites, including 16 public libraries. The selected provider would need to demonstrate that they have successfully offered an information technology instructional program in schools in Wisconsin and developed an instructional program that includes all of the following: research-based and skill-development-based information technology curriculum; online access to the curriculum; instructional software for classroom and student use; coding curriculum and material that are aligned to the computer science advanced placement exam; certifications of skills and competencies in a broad base of information technology-related skill areas; professional development and co-teaching for faculty including but not limited to computer science; deployment and program support; methods for students to earn college credit; a demonstrated track record with schools in Wisconsin.

Broadband Expansion Grant Program: Makes changes to the Broadband Expansion Grant program. It removes the current $1.5 million yearly limit on broadband grants and provides additional funding for the grants. Specifically, the budget transfers $6 million from the Universal Service Fund to the broadband grant program; transfers $5 million in e-Rate funding (which helps schools and libraries obtain Internet access) to the broadband grant program; transfers all unspent Universal Service Fund dollars to the broadband grant program at the end of every fiscal year. A motion authored by Senator Howard Marklein (R-Spring Green) also requires the Public Service Commission to consider a potential broadband expansion grant’s impact on the ability of students to access educational opportunities from home. It also creates a new criteria that would give priority to unserved areas of the state.

Statewide Private School Choice Program: Increases the income eligibility limit for the statewide school choice program from 185% of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL) to 220% FPL. It is estimated that this change will result in 550 additional students participating in the program.

Eliminates Requirement to Renew Teacher Licenses: The Committee voted to modify the Governor’s proposal to grant lifetime teacher licenses. Instead, the Committee voted to require a provisional three-year license for new educators, administrators and pupil services professionals. A lifetime license would be granted after the completion of six semesters of successful experiences as certified by the school board. DPI would still be required to conduct background checks on behalf of MPS, independent charter schools and other school districts.