Talking Points on the Joint Finance Committee Budget

Suggested Ways Your Board and Your District Can Talk to Your Legislators, Your Parents and Your Communities About the Joint Finance Committee (JFC) Budget

What the JFC Budget Proposal means for districts generally…

From a funding standpoint:

  • Funding support for public schools is slowly eroding.
  • For the first time since revenue limits were imposed in 1993-94, there will be no adjustment in per pupil revenue limits in either year of the 2015-17 biennium.
  • While the JFC proposal restored the proposed $127 million cut, there will be no increase in either general aids or per pupil aids in 2015-16.
  • Merely restoring per pupil categorical aid to existing levels—a “no increase budget” in the first year, when expenses are going up, is “a cut by another name.”
  • Much of the small increase in general aids in the second year (2016-17) will be offset by losses in aid due to expansion of statewide vouchers, special needs vouchers and independent charters.
  • Special education categorical aid, the state aid that supports the education of students with disabilities, remains frozen in the proposed 2015-17 budget; it hasn’t been increased since 2008-09.
  • While most other states have been increasing spending on public education at an average of 4 percent per year, public school funding in Wisconsin is essentially flat.
  • Wisconsin will soon be spending less per pupil than the national average.
  • We need a sustainable funding system with predictable increases in per pupil resources that match the rate of inflation.
  • The public supports additional spending for schools. Recent public polls indicating that when asked which is more important: reducing property taxes or increasing spending on public schools, Wisconsin voters favored increasing school spending by a 54 percent to 40 percent margin.
  • Our district has used the authority and flexibilities provided by Act 10 responsibly to regain control over much of the expense side of our budget.   However, not all school district expenses can be controlled by Act 10. We ask that allowable resources for our students and all 860,000 public school students in our state allow us to keep pace with inflation to help us manage the costs we cannot control through the Act 10 tools.

From the standpoint of the impact of voucher expansion on public school funding:

  • The JFC proposal eliminates the cap on participation/enrollment in the statewide voucher program (currently at 1,000).
  • There is no way the state can add thousands of new students to the private voucher program, adding additional costs, without negatively impacting public school funding, especially given that the overwhelming majority (nearly 86 percent) of those new voucher recipients already attend private schools.
  • At a time when our state is having serious difficulty providing sustainable and predictable funding for the system of public schools the state is constitutionally mandated to support, the JFC budget proposal puts the state fully on the unwise path toward funding another system of publicly funded but privately operated voucher and independent charter schools.
  • The JFC proposal changes the funding mechanism for “new” participants/new enrollees in the statewide and Racine voucher programs:
    • Payments to private schools for new voucher participants will be paid for by a direct reduction in the general aid payment of the district in which those students reside.
    • While the resident district will be able to include these new voucher participants in their membership counts for general aid, the marginal increase in general aid for these district will not be enough to offset the aid reductions (at least $7,210 for grades K-8 and at least $7,856 for grades 9-12) attributable to the new voucher participants.
    • While resident districts will be able to include new voucher participants in their membership counts for the purpose of calculating the district’s revenue limit, essentially raising the district’s property tax levy to pay for vouchers, the district will not be able to levy property taxes to recover the aid reduction.
  • The JFC proposal sets the per pupil transfer payment for students who enroll in a private voucher students (at least $7,210 for grades K-8 and at least $7,856 for grades 9-12) at an amount that is at least 18 percent higher than the per pupil transfer payment (for students who use public school open enrollment to enroll in a public school district other than their district of residence. Voucher pupils are thus more valuable to a private school than open enrollment pupils are to a public school.
  • The JFC proposal also creates a special needs voucher program, under which a pupil with special needs, whose open enrollment application has been denied by their resident district, could attend a private school with a $12,000 voucher funded by a reduction in the general state aid of the district in which they reside. (The funding mechanism for special needs vouchers would be like that for new voucher participants described above.) The proposal does not safeguard the rights of parents and students with disabilities and was adopted over the objections of disability rights groups.

From a policy standpoint:

  • The JFC proposal includes numerous and significant policy items that were added to the budget in the middle of the night without a public hearing or an opportunity for public input. The voucher expansion, creation of special needs vouchers and the sweeping expansion in the number of independent (“2r”) charter schools that may be authorized are just a few. Other such proposals inserted without a public hearing or opportunity for public input include provisions that will:
    • lead to a de facto “takeover” of the Milwaukee Public Schools by a Commissioner appointed by the Milwaukee County Executive and force the firing of teachers and the transfer of public school facilities and resources to private companies (These same provisions could lead to a potential takeover of the Madison, Green Bay and Racine schools);
    • require the Racine school board (and possibly the Kenosha School Board) to draw new election districts for school board members that overrides local election results and the preferences of electors in that local district;
    • require school boards to allow home-schooled students, virtual charter school students and private school students to participate in public schools’ athletic and extracurricular programs (as well as forbid districts from being a member of an athletic association unless the association permits such pupils to participate in the district’s athletic activities);
    • modify the date by which a school board must give a teacher or administrator written notice of renewal or nonrenewal of the teacher’s or administrator’s contract; and
    • dramatically change the licensure of middle and high school teachers in ways that lower standards and denigrate teacher preparation programs.
    • The JFC proposal also includes measures that received a public hearing but that were overwhelmingly opposed by those who testified. One such example is the provision directing school boards to require high school students to take and pass a 100-question civics/citizenship test in order to graduate.

What the JFC Budget Proposal means for school boards…

  • Local control is eroding, and so is transparency.
  • The budget broadly expands the number of students that may use public taxpayer-subsidized payments to attend private schools that are not governed by locally elected boards, and are not required to hold public meetings or follow most public records laws.
  • Local school boards in up to 177 districts are losing their sole authority to approve charter schools within their districts because of changes that expand independent charter schools.
  • Voucher expansion, as funded in the JFC proposal, suggests the role of local school boards will increasingly become one of raising property taxes to support students that are not educated in district schools.
  • School boards are the caretakers for a great system of public education in which the state and local communities have made a significant investment; our state risks losing that investment unless public schools are provided resources that keep pace with inflation.
  • Ensuring that students have a quality teacher in the classroom is the most important school-based factor in improving student achievement, yet, the JFC proposal slides teacher licensing standards toward the bottom of all states–if the JFC proposal becomes law, Wisconsin would become the only state to license persons who lack a bachelor’s degree to teach subjects other than technical education–and it may make the job of vetting potential candidates for teaching jobs more difficult and time consuming.
  • Changes to teacher and administrator contract renewal timelines could cause significant problems for school boards and school districts:
    • The present teacher contract law timeline is well-aligned to the college graduation cycle of students with education degrees and it allows school boards to offer positions to new college graduates as they are coming out of teacher preparation programs. If openings can’t be confirmed and boards can’t offer positions to new graduates while awaiting passage of the state budget, we may lose them to neighboring states (e.g., Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois, etc.) that are in a position to offer the recent graduate the job earlier; these changes could also exacerbate the flight to other states of highly qualified teachers who desire more certainty with respect to their job status at an earlier time;
    • These changes could also harm smaller and rural districts, which typically pay less than suburban and urban districts. Pushing the hiring timeline back could create a “feeding frenzy” competition among districts for available candidates, in which smaller and rural districts will not be able to compete for teaching candidates in this narrow window; the same situation will apply for administrators;
    • Pushing the contract renewal timeline back into the summer during odd-numbered years in which the biennial state budget is adopted will likely make it harder for schools to reach many teachers to provide them with written notifications, because they are no longer at school each day. It may also make it harder for school boards to convene private conferences to which teachers are entitled during the summer months;
    • Currently, state statutes provide separate timelines for teacher and administrator contract renewals for good reasons. Administrators implement district personnel decisions. This change also affect the contracts of school principals, who typically play a key role in hiring teachers. This could put school districts into the dilemma whether during a budget year it should wait until the principal is hired to begin hiring teachers or it should hire teachers and the principal simultaneously in order to get everyone in place in time for the start of school;
    • District administrators play a major role in assembling school district budgets, which is often a more difficult and complicated task during a year in which a biennial state budget is enacted; the modified timeline in the provisions adopted by the JFC could make it difficult for a district to get a new superintendent in place with enough time before the school district’s annual meeting and /or budget hearing.