By SCOTT BAUER Associated Press
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Republicans who control the Wisconsin Legislature have agreed on a $500 million increase in K-12 school funding over the next two years, including $100 million more for special education, a member of the budget-writing committee said ahead of a key vote Thursday.
Senate and Assembly Republicans reached the deal that the Joint Finance Committee will vote on later Thursday, Sen. Luther Olsen, a Republican who is on the panel and chairman of the Senate Education Committee, said.
Democratic Gov. Tony Evers, the former state superintendent of public schools, proposed a $1.4 billion increase over two years, with $606 million for special education. Assembly Republicans announced Wednesday they would spend $500 million total, with just $50 million for special education.
But Olsen said under the deal, special education funding would increase by $100 million. That is the first increase in more than a decade and addresses complaints from schools about a lack of funding that requires them to tap general aid money to pay for more expensive special needs students.
The Republican plan would increase per-pupil funding by $200 the first year and $204 the second, with a mixture of money from the state and increases in revenue limits. Olsen said the goal was to keep property tax increases at no more than 1% each year. Under the Evers budget, property taxes were projected to go up about 2% each year.
It also increases funding for mental health services and revenue limits for low-spending districts.
Olsen defended the $500 million total, even though it falls $900 million short of what Evers wanted.
“I think it’s just right because if you look at the money we have to spend in the budget, this is the lion’s share,” he said. “I would love to (spend $1.4 billion), but I know we’re not going to be cause we can’t. This is the best we could do.”
Democrats and public school advocates disagree and are pushing for Republicans to go farther. But Republicans have the votes to pass this plan without any Democratic support.
Evers, in an interview with Wisconsin Public Radio on Wednesday, urged patience on education funding. He met with Republican legislative leaders Wednesday and said he was confident they could work together on school funding.
The budget committee is working to reshape Evers’ budget, including education funding, before sending the revised plan to the full Legislature for approval. Evers has powerful line-item veto authority to rework the plan and has held out the possibility of vetoing the entire budget.
Follow Scott Bauer on Twitter: https://twitter.com/sbauerAP