Gov. Tony Evers campaigned on the promise to increase funding for public schools by $1.4 billion and now a bipartisan legislative task force that heard from parents, teachers and others across Wisconsin is also calling for significant increases in state spending and local property taxes.
Commission co-chair Sen. Luther Olsen, a Republican who also chairs the Senate’s Education Committee, said Wednesday that he hopes the panel’s report released last week provides an opportunity for Republicans and Democrats to work with Evers on school funding.
“I don’t think any of this stuff is going to be easy,” Olsen said. “I would like to say the hard work is done, but the hard work is just beginning. Now the rubber meets the road.”
Evers, when asked about the report after touring a Madison elementary school Wednesday, called it a “great first start.” The Democrat said he expected there would be areas of overlap with what he will propose, but he didn’t specify what exactly.
Evers, who was state schools superintendent until being elected governor, had proposed a 10 percent funding increase for schools at a cost of $1.4 billion. Evers told The Associated Press last week that he would propose the funding increase in his first state budget, which will be released in February or March.
The group, co-chaired by Olsen and Rep. Joel Kitchens, a Sturgeon Bay Republican, met for more than a year and held eight hearings across Wisconsin in urban, rural and suburban school districts. The 16-member panel included Republican and Democratic lawmakers, along with the Green Bay schools superintendent, the director of the Wisconsin Association of School Boards and representatives of the school choice program.
The group’s recommendations, more than two dozen of them, included allowing per-pupil revenue limits, which keep down how much schools can raise from local property taxes, to increase each year based on inflation. They had been allowed to go up tied to inflation from 1998 until 2009, and since then it has either gone up by a certain amount or been frozen. They have not gone up since 2015.
Olsen said the goal of allowing increases tied to inflation is to allow schools to gradually get more money and hopefully reduce the need to hold a referendum vote to increase property taxes.
But the idea drew opposition Wednesday from the powerful state chamber of commerce.
Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce vice president Scott Manley called it a “bad idea that will hurt Wisconsin families and businesses.”
“The current system protects taxpayers by requiring government to obtain taxpayer approval before raising taxes,” Manley said. “Lawmakers must continue to ensure this vital taxpayer protection remains in place and reject the proposal for guaranteed annual property tax hikes.”
The report also calls for the state to provide two-thirds of the total cost of education, which would soften the reliance on local property taxes. The state last paid for two-thirds of school costs in the 2002-03 school year. The two-thirds requirement in state law was repealed as part of the 2003 state budget.
After dipping to a low of 61.7 percent during former Gov. Scott Walker’s first year as governor in 2011, the state share of public school costs has slowly increased to 65.4 percent for the current year, or just shy of $7 billion. It would take about $130 million to get to 66.6 percent.
Evers ran on the promise of restoring two-thirds funding.
Other recommendations from the commission include spending more money on special education, English-language learners, low-income students, rural districts with high costs for transportation, gifted and talented students, and early-childhood programs.
There is no total cost for all the recommendations.
“You don’t go out and talk about school funding and come back and say ‘There’s too much money, let’s save some,’” Olsen said. “It’s going to be ‘We need more money.’”
Olsen said he hoped some of the recommendations would be included in Evers’ two-year state budget proposal. And if not, they could provide a guideline for the Republican-controlled Legislature as it works on revising Evers’ budget, Olsen said.
“If he comes in much richer than the Legislature wants to go, this could be a landing spot,” Olsen said.
After nearly two years of consideration, the Clinton School Board unanimously approved placing a sweeping facilities referendum on the April 2 ballot Wednesday night.
The $41.9 million referendum calls for shuttering the district’s timeworn elementary and middle schools—which are each more than 60 years old—and building a new 4K through sixth-grade campus on district-owned land next to Clinton High School.
Seventh and eighth grades would move to the high school building, which is about 60 percent occupied and would be renovated. The tax impact would be an additional $22 a month on a home valued at $100,000.
A new 4K through sixth-grade campus would accommodate 600 students and cost $32.8 million to build. Upgrades at the high school, which would include a new roof, gym floor and asphalt repairs, would cost $3.6 million. Costs for security enhancements and interior renovations at the high school are estimated at $1.9 million.
The board’s vote comes after years of facilities studies and community meetings on potential referendums. Board members last year tabled a similar $39.9 million referendum that would have been on the November ballot after responses to a community survey showed residents were split on the idea.
Superintendent Jim Brewer said Wednesday that the board believed a November referendum would have passed but decided to wait, take its time and “listen to the constituents.” He said the board has done its due diligence and “absolutely” believes the referendum will pass in April.
School Board President Ken Luety reminded the crowd of about 13 that the board has been deliberating on a referendum for “a long time” and that years of planning came in advance of Wednesday’s vote.
Bob Butler, the district’s director of facilities and transportation, said the referendum’s language gives the district some wiggle room for razing the elementary school. While the referendum includes the new campus, the board will determine later whether it will also tear down the elementary school, which would cost just under $1 million, Butler said.
Brewer said the middle school will almost certainly be razed. He said the district would be open to working with the village of Clinton or selling the elementary school property.
Butler said the elementary and middle schools no longer meet “educational adequacy.” He said the middle school has concrete walls and that both buildings have asbestos, lack security and are not ADA compliant. He said each building’s heating pipes are crumbling and each has high groundwater.
Last April, Gov. Tony Evers, then the state schools superintendent, toured the district’s elementary and middle schools as part of his Advisory Council on Rural Schools, Libraries and Communities. Evers told The Gazette that Clinton is known as “a good, high-achieving school district, a district that has really energetic, great kids.
“And look at these facilities,” Evers said, implying the district’s success has come despite the aging school buildings.
A day after calling for a bipartisan compromise to resolve the partial government shutdown, President Donald Trump stormed out of a White House negotiating session Wednesday when Democratic leaders refused to agree to his demand for taxpayer funds to build a southern border wall.
“Just left a meeting with Chuck and Nancy, a total waste of time,” Trump tweeted afterward. He said he asked House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer of New York if they would agree to end the shutdown, now in its 20th day, in return for funds for a wall or steel barrier, one of his major campaign promises.
“Nancy said, NO. I said bye-bye, nothing else works!” the president tweeted.
Democratic leaders accused the president of throwing a temper tantrum.
“The president slammed the table, asked Speaker Pelosi if she would support his wall and when she said no, he walked out and said, ‘We have nothing to talk about,’” Schumer said. “He didn’t get his way and he just walked out of the meeting.”
Pelosi said a wall will not resolve the problems currently experienced at the border. “What Trump is claiming to be the situation at the border is not solved by a wall,” she said.
Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California, the Republican minority leader, said talks have been complicated because of Democrats’ hard-line stance, refusing to budge on the wall or even enter serious negotiations until the government is reopened.
“It is a real challenge when the Democrats won’t even give an offer back, won’t even do anything,” he said.
The hostile encounter marked a shift for Trump, who previously has spoken about the progress being made during talks. In recent days he has floated the idea of bypassing Congress entirely and declaring a national emergency at the border, which the administration believes will enable it to use other military funds to build the wall.
It also suggested that the shutdown is likely to become the nation’s longest ever, a threshold it would cross Saturday.
The White House theatrics did little to mask the uphill battle facing Trump, whose demand for $5.7 billion in funds for a border wall precipitated the government shutdown last month.
Despite a White House offensive this week—including a rare Oval Office prime-time address Tuesday, a trip to Capitol Hill on Wednesday and a visit to the southern border today—some Republicans are beginning to get nervous about the backlash they could face as the pain from the shutdown grows.
More than 800,000 workers have been furloughed, with many being forced to work without pay. Paychecks due to arrive Friday are not expected to arrive, forcing many families to miss mortgage payments, put off medical procedures or juggle bills.
Polls have shown that Americans increasingly blame Trump and the Republicans for the disruption.
Trump tried to assuage GOP concerns by meeting Senate Republicans Wednesday and urging them to stay united.
But his message did not appear to change the minds of the half dozen or so Senate Republicans who have come out publicly to urge Trump to reopen the government, even without getting the border money. They include Sens. Cory Gardner of Colorado and Susan Collins of Maine, both of whom will face voters in 2020.
Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who often votes independently from the GOP caucus and is among those urging Trump to end the shutdown without wall money, reminded Trump during the meeting that Americans were starting to feel the pain, according to NBC. He reportedly responded that Republicans should stay united.
Others left the meeting seeing no resolution in sight. Asked if he got the impression the shutdown would end soon, South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott said: “I did not.”
After the meeting, Trump and party leaders stressed solidarity. “Republicans are totally unified,” Trump said.
But the White House PR offensive this week hasn’t gone as smoothly as hoped, partly because Trump has at times seemed to undercut the unity message and distanced himself from the shutdown. He reportedly complained to broadcasters Tuesday that he didn’t think the Oval Office address or border trip were smart ideas and that his aides were making him do it.
In December, Trump said he’d gladly “own” the shutdown, but on Wednesday he told reporters: “This is not a fight I wanted. I didn’t want this fight.”
Shirley J. Andrews
Georgene M. Danger
L. Christine McDannell
Robert D. Raymond
Carol S. Tirpak
Pauline E. Wiedmer