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Legislative Update

Governor, State Supt. release K-12 state budget priorities

by | Sep 6, 2022 | Legislative Update Blog, State Budget | 0 comments

Today, Governor Tony Evers and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jill Underly released a K-12 education state budget plan that focuses on “improving reading and literacy outcomes, expanding access to student mental health services and school nutrition, providing financial literacy and out-of-school programming, addressing the staffing shortages to help keep class sizes small, and increasing per pupil and special education aids while holding line on property taxes”.

The plan provides an increase of nearly $2 billion for public schools at a time when stronger than expected tax collections have created a projected $5 billion state surplus. According to the release, that will allow for an increased investment in K-12 education without raising property taxes.

Gov. Evers and Superintendent Underly listed the following as priority areas for their funding plan:

  • Improve reading and literacy outcomes 
    • Gov. Evers has advocated for years to increase state-level support for our kids and our schools to improve reading outcomes and staff support for our kids.
    • Improving academic outcomes by investing in reading and literacy, providing a new literacy-focused categorical aid of $10 million each year to fund literacy-related programming for our kids.
    • This work would focus on implementing evidence-based reading instructional practices with special attention to establishing systems and structures for sustainability. There would also be a focus on improving reading-specific transitions from 4K to 5K to first grade to ensure a strong reading foundation for each Wisconsin kid.
  • Expand access to mental health services and school nutrition
    • “Get Kids Ahead” Permanent Aid
      • According to the Office of Children’s Mental Health (OCMH), the COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated the mental health challenges while research shows that improving student mental health also improves student health and learning, attendance, and engagement, while reducing bullying, risky behaviors, violence, involvement in the juvenile justice system, and substance use. OCMH recommends consistent and ongoing student mental health funding to address these needs.
      • Gov. Evers has invested $30 million in federal pandemic relief funds into his “Get Kids Ahead” initiative to expand access to school-based mental health services for kids. Every public school district was eligible to opt in to receive these funds, each receiving a minimum of $20,000 with the remaining allocation distributed on a per pupil basis.
      • Gov. Evers’ and Superintendent Underly’s proposal continues the governor’s commitment to student mental health and wellness by investing more than $240 million through a permanent Get Kids Ahead student mental health categorical aid and streamlining funding so that every school and student has access to these resources.
      • Through this proposal, every district will get enough funding to have at least one full-time staff member focused on mental health services, with additional funding based on student enrollment. Overall, this will provide a $100,000 base for all local education agencies, or $100 per pupil.
      • This proposal also distributes funding for evidence-based practices on a reimbursement model, rather than a grant model, streamlining funding so every school and every student can access these resources.
    • Healthy Meals, Healthy Kids
      • Through the federal coronavirus relief bills passed at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the federal government started universal reimbursement for all school meals, but these programs have now ended. About 78 million lunches were served during the 2021-22 school year to Wisconsin children, free of charge.
      • Gov. Evers and Superintendent Underly’s proposal would provide free meals to all students who qualify for free and reduced meals, as well as significantly decrease the cost for full-priced students. This would help ensure kids aren’t hungry when they’re trying to learn, and they get the nutrition they need—regardless of their family income.
      • The plan expands access to affordable school meals for Wisconsin students by creating a state-funded program to reimburse districts for breakfast, milk, snack, and lunch expenses for students.
  • Invest in financial literacy and out-of-school programming
    • “Do the Math” Initiative
      • Financial literacy is something every Wisconsinite needs to be successful—from household budgeting and understanding consumer financing to insurance decisions and retirement planning. Strong financial literacy curriculum will provide a strong foundation for students’ financial futures.
      • Gov. Evers and Superintendent Underly’s proposal creates a $5 million “Do the Math” initiative administered by the DPI to provide districts the resources to start or improve financial literacy curriculum and prepare students for financial success.
      • The department will work with CESAs to develop a regional support network that includes professional development for educators and a model curriculum/scope and sequence for districts to implement.
    • Out-of-School programming for kids
      • The pandemic underscored and exacerbated the need to invest in programming for kids both in and out of the classroom.
      • Last year, Gov Evers announced around $50 million in Beyond the Classroom grants to over 100 eligible nonprofits providing virtual and in-person programming for school-aged children to help increase enrollment capacity, provide additional learning opportunities, or increase mental health support for school-age children during the 2021-22 school year and summer months of 2021 and 2022.
      • Gov. Evers and Superintendent Underly’s proposal invests $20 million in an Out-of-School Grant program that increases access to community- and school-based before and after-school programming, modeled after DPI’s ESSER III program.
  • Help address staff shortages to keep class sizes small
    • The coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated challenges schools were already facing, including ongoing staff shortages, requiring both short- and long-term solutions to address this issue head-on.
    • Gov. Evers’ recently announced $75 million investment was designed to help meet staffing needs in order to help address the teacher shortage and keep classrooms small while addressing rising costs for school supplies due to national inflation, and other needs.
    • Gov. Evers and Superintendent Underly’s proposal provides another tool for districts to address this issue, allowing any school district to hire retired teachers and staff by changing the law regarding rehiring retirees to help districts fill open positions with experienced staff.
  • Increase per pupil and special education aids
    • Increasing state support for schools through per pupil aid
      • Last year, Republicans in the Legislature rewrote Gov. Evers’ education budget to essentially freeze local district spending by not adjusting revenue limits and later rejected a special session called by the governor to increase investments in K-12 education at a time when our kids and our schools needed help most.
      • Gov. Evers has worked to address this through federal pandemic relief funds, including more than $110 million in CARES Act funds allocated by Gov. Evers last fall to help school districts hire educators and staff, provide more after-school programming, or buy art supplies and computers, as well as another $75 million in ARPA funds Gov. Evers announced last week to help meet staffing needs to keep classroom sizes small, address rising costs due to national inflation, provide direct classroom support.
      • Gov. Evers and Superintendent Underly’s plan increases spending authority for districts while holding property taxes stable by providing additional state support for schools, smoothing the fiscal cliff created by the Legislature by using one-time federal dollars for operating costs. This includes:
        • Revenue limit increases of $350 per pupil in 2022-23 and an additional $650 per pupil in 2023-24, along with a roughly $800 million state investment to hold the line on property taxes.
        • Per pupil aid increases of $24 per pupil in 2022-23 and an additional $45 in 2023-24 (matching percentages of increase to the revenue limit growth), resulting in a more than $60 million in estimated investment.
    • Increasing state support for schools through special education aid
      • Gov. Evers and Superintendent Underly’s plan will ensure our schools have the resources they need to ensure every kid can succeed by investing $750 million over the biennium to increase special education aid.
      • This would increase the reimbursement rate for special education from roughly 30 percent to 45 percent in the first year of the biennium and to 60 percent in the second year of the biennium, with a goal of achieving 90 percent reimbursement by the 2026-27 school year.

Superintendent Underly will submit her full 2023-25 agency budget request and additional investments for the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) on Sept 15. Gov. Evers will then consider agency budget requests, including the DPI’s, as part of the 2023-25 biennial budget process. The governor’s budget will be released in February or March via the biennial budget message. 

See the full release here.

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