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.

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