DPI Budget Priorities: Funding, Mental Health, Rural Schools, Summer Learning

eversState Superintendent Tony Evers today (Nov. 15) submitted his 2017-19 budget request to Governor Walker which delineates the Department of Public Instruction’s (DPI) top fiscal priorities for schools: fund schools, meet mental health needs, support rural schools, and expand summer learning.

In total, the budget request amounts to a $707 million increase in funding over the biennium, not including legislated automatic increases for vouchers and independent charter schools. Over $500 million of that figure goes toward general school aids to provide property tax relief and to implement the “Fair Funding for Our Future” plan Evers has championed. The remaining roughly $200 million is targeted toward programs that directly impact the needs of students.

Funding: As mentioned, Supt. Evers is once again proposing to implement an updated version of his Fair Funding for Our Future plan.  This proposal, which would kick in in the second year of the biennium, includes additional spending authority for all school districts to catch up with inflation in both years, with a 2 percent increase in revenue limits ($200 and $204 per pupil, respectively) and increased state aid to hold property taxes flat. It also guarantees a minimum of $3,000 for every student, a 20 percent weight for impoverished students in the general aid count, and moves funds currently allocated to the School Levy Credit, First Dollar Credit, and High Poverty Aid to general aid so these funds go directly to schools. The plan includes a hold harmless provision designed to ensure that all districts would receive the same dollar amount of state support as under current law.

The request also proposes significant increases in special education categorical aid funding, expanded supports for English learners and targeted resources for rural schools. It also recommends weighting the per pupil categorical aid to account for students in poverty, students learning English, and students in foster care.

Mental Health: The budget proposal would provide funding through grants and a new categorical aid to support school-based mental health services.  This includes funding for mental health professionals and social workers in schools, grants for school-community collaborations, and training of educators and school staff.

Rural Schools: The budget request proposes to create a teacher retention program that would provide funds for rural districts to use for recruiting and retaining staff. Changes to sparsity aid to alleviate the fiscal cliff for districts whose enrollment hovers around the program’s participation cap are also included. New dollars for pupil transportation aid and high-cost transportation aid, which disproportionately impacts small districts with long bus routes, are included as well.

Summer Learning: The budget proposal would allow districts, for revenue limit purposes, to count students enrolled in summer school in a similar fashion to regular school year counts and increase the pupil transportation reimbursement for summer learning. Current law, for revenue limit purposes, counts summer school students’ enrollment (FTE) at 40% of that of regular year students.

Read More: Full DPI biennial budget request