School leaders protest GOP education budget, demand more state aid for districts
MADISON, Wis. (CBS 58) -- Dozens of school leaders protested Republican lawmakers' education budget during a during a "day of action," calling on them to invest more state aid in K-12 schools.
Superintendents, teachers, students and school organizations planned a "day of action" with events in Madison and Milwaukee, asking lawmakers to revisit their K-12 budget proposal which relies heavily on federal COVID-19 relief aid and keeps state aid funding flat.
Last week, GOP lawmakers on the budget committee approved $408 million for Wisconsin's school aid fund and allocated $72 million for technical colleges. While Republicans invested that amount, they also placed revenue caps on how much schools can spend. This prevents schools from spending more money than years past because it limits their ability to benefit from property tax revenue.
"Stop playing politics with our children," said Heather DuBois Bourenane, executive director of the Wisconsin Public Education Network. "Pretending to give money to schools, but actually it's just a tax cut -- zero people asked for that."
Republicans' plan ultimately invests in the school aid formula by replacing it with property tax money. Wisconsinites would see a reduction in their property taxes, but it doesn't give schools any additional funding besides $128 million already approved by the budget committee.
The GOP proposal ensures Wisconsin schools will receive $2.3 billion from the federal coronavirus relief package. It allows districts to use that money for a wide range of school costs such as PPE, mental health services, technology upgrades, school lunches and summer school classes.
Superintendents argue the funding proposal is unsustainable and raised concerns it might not be enough to cover ongoing costs.
"These federal dollars were meant to give us a boost," said Carlton Jenkins, superintendent of Madison Public Schools. "They were one-time funds and it's inexcusable to think we can take those dollars and fulfill our promise to keep a uniformed system."
Many school leaders also believe without additional state aid, they might have to make budget cuts elsewhere or rely on school referendums to increase K-12 funding.
"Federal aid that's already earmarked for COVID-related funds is not a substitute for meeting the regular obligation we have to our children," said Bourenane.
Republicans on the budget committee slammed Madison and Milwaukee school leaders, saying they have no room to complain about lack of K-12 funding, citing the millions both districts already received from the American Rescue Plan Act.
“This is a huge influx of cash to school districts and the guaranteed amount of new money has been known for months,” said Sen. Kathy Bernier (R-Chippewa Falls). “With this budget, the state will be funding two-thirds of local education costs and will be meeting the benchmarks needed to bring this federal funding to Wisconsin schools."
Milwaukee Public Schools and Madison Metropolitan will be seeing increases of at least $11,242 and $2,720 per pupil respectively, under the GOP plan.
Schools have until the end of September, 2024 to use the latest round of ARPA funds.