State Senate Republicans Unveil Budget Plan

At a Capitol press conference, Senate Republicans today released key details behind their budget proposal and a set of memos from the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau summarizing the plan.

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) said that the Senate GOP proposal includes all actions taken by the Joint Finance Committee (JFC) through June 15, plus what his caucus worked on as well as the agreements the Senate has reached with the Assembly on K-12 funding.   Fitzgerald sent a letter to Assembly Speaker Robin Vos asking for the Assembly GOP’s response to the Senate proposal in the hope that the JFC can meet and complete all outstanding issues in one session.

Milwaukee Journal SentinelLatest state budget plan increases money for schools, but local taxpayers share costs

Among the key K-12 provisions affecting public schools are the following:

Per-Pupil Categorical Aid:  Adopt Governor’s proposal to increase per-pupil aid $200 in 2017-18 and $204 in 2018-19.

Health Care Cost-Shift Mandate: Delete the proposed requirement that a school district must certify that its employees will be required to pay at least 12% of costs and payments associated with its employee health coverage plans.   Instead, require districts to report annually to the state Department of Administration (DOA) regarding employee health care, including plan design, premium contributions, self-insurance contributions, deductibles, copays, coinsurance, and other methods by which employees contribute to health care costs.

Sparsity Aid:  Delete the Governor’s proposal to increase payments from $300 to $400 per pupil and to provide $100 per pupil for sparse districts with between 745 and 1,00 pupils. Provide that any district that qualified for sparsity aid in one year but not the next to receive 50% of its prior year aid award.

Revenue Limit–Per-Pupil Adjustment:  Adopt the Governor’s proposal to maintain current law, under which there is no per-pupil adjustment in the 2015-16 school year and each year thereafter.

Revenue Limit–Low Revenue Adjustment:  Increase the low-revenue adjustment (a/k/a low-revenue ceiling) from the current $9,100 per pupil to $9,300 per pupil in 2017-18, $9,400 per pupil in 2018-19 and increase the adjustment by $100 per pupil each year thereafter until this adjustment reaches $9,800 in 2022-23; maintain it at $9,800 each year thereafter.

Revenue Limit Exemption for Energy Efficiency Measures:  Modify the Governor’s proposal to eliminate this exemption by prohibiting school districts from adopting a resolution to utilize this exemption during the period from the effective date of the budget bill and June 30, 2019.  (In effect, this provision would impose a two-year moratorium on energy efficiency projects.)

High-Cost Transportation Aid Increase:  Expand program to cover districts with transportation costs above 145% of statewide average, rather than 150% as under current law. Provide that any district that qualified for high-cost transportation aid in one year but not the next to receive 50% of its prior year aid award.

Open Enrollment Transfer Amount: Increase transfer amount for a non-special (regular) education pupil by $100 per pupil above the current law indexing amount in each year from 2017-18 to 2020-21.  (Under current law, the open enrollment transfer amount is indexed to increases in general and categorical aid to public schools in the same way per pupil payments to private voucher schools and independent charter school payments are adjusted.  For example, under the Governor’s original budget proposal this adjustment would be $217 per pupil in 2017-18.)

Restrictions on Scheduling School District Referenda:  Effective January 1, 2018, limit school district referenda to being held only on regularly scheduled election days, with districts restricted to holding referenda on two dates per year.

Rescinding of Previously Passed Referenda:  Specify that a school board may reduce its revenue limit by adopting a resolution to rescind all or a portion of any increase to a district’s revenue limit approved by an operating referendum.  The resolution must specify the first school year for which the reduction in the revenue limits applies.  (Similar to a provision in Senate Bill 193, authored by Sen. Duey Stroebel (R-Saukville).)

Exclude Shared Costs Attributable to Referenda from Equalization Aid Calculation: Specify that, for the purpose of determining shared costs under the equalization aid formula, any amount levied by a school district in the prior year for either operating or debt service costs that were authorized by a referendum that was held after the effective date of the bill would be excluded from shared costs, if the result of excluding the amount does not increase the equalization aid for the district.  (This provision would appear to permanently bar lower-property wealth per pupil districts–districts  from getting any increase in state equalization aid as the result of passing a referendum.)

High-Cost Special Education Aid:  Allow school districts to qualify for reimbursement of 90% of eligible prior year costs above $30,000 (up from 70% under current law).

School Mental Health Aid:  Adopt Governor’s proposal to provide $3 million, beginning in 2018-19, to create a categorical aid program to reimburse school districts and independent charter schools for school social workers.

Community and School Mental Health Collaboration Grants: Provide $3.5 million, beginning in 2018-19 (a $1 million increase over what the Governor proposed).

Mental Health Training Grants:   Provide $291,300 in 2017-18 and $314,100 in 2018-19 to fund training for school districts and independent charter schools in providing mental health screening and intervention services to pupils.  (These figures reflect  the Governor’s recommendation, less $200,000 annually that was already provided for this purpose by 2017 Wisconsin Act 31.)

Mental Health–MA Consultation: Direct the Department of Health Services (DHS) to provide reimbursement for clinical consultations under the medical assistance program, subject to federal approval.  This would allow mental health professionals to be reimbursed for time spent in discussions with school staff (social workers, counselors, teachers, etc. and parents).  Specify that DHS may not provide reimbursement for a clinical consultation that occurs after June 30, 2019.  Require DHS to report to the Joint Committee on Finance by March 31, 2019, on utilization of these services.

Define “clinical consultation” as, for a student up to age 21, communication from a mental
health professional, or a qualified treatment trainee working under the supervision of a mental health professional, to another individual who is working with the client to inform, inquire, and instruct regarding all of the following and to direct and coordinate clinical service components: (a) the client’s symptoms; (b) strategies for effective engagement, care, and intervention for the client; and (c) treatment expectations for the client across service settings.

Personal Electronic Computing Device Grants:  Provide $9.2 million, beginning in 2018-19, for grants to school districts, private schools, independent charter schools, and tribal schools for personal electronic computing devices (e.g., tablets or laptops).  Grants would equal $125 per ninth grade pupil and would require schools to provide equal matching funds as a condition of receiving the grants.   (This item appears to be similar, if not identical, to what the Assembly proposed back in June.)

Early College Credit Program:  Delay the creation of the early college credit program and the restoration of the part-time open enrollment until the 2018-19 school year.  Specify that technical colleges would not be included in the early college credit program but would remain under the youth options program, which would be modified to reflect this. Specify that tuition for a pupil attending a UW college under the program could not exceed 50 percent of the amount per credit that would be charged to a resident undergraduate student, and that tuition for a pupil attending a private college or university could not exceed one-third of the amount charged per credit to a resident undergraduate student attending the UW-Madison. Further, specify that pupils attending private schools could participate in the program.  (This item appears to be similar, if not identical, to what the Assembly proposed back in June.)

School Levy Tax Credit:  Decrease the Governor’s proposed $87 million increase in the distribution amount for the school levy tax credit in 2018-19 by $60 million from $940 million to $880 million for property taxes levied in December, 2017, and payable in 2018. Subsequently, increase the distribution by $42.6 million in 2019-20 from $880 million to $922.6 million, beginning with property taxes levied in December, 2018, and payable in 2019, and in each year thereafter. (The ongoing distribution amount would be just under $17.4 million less than the $940 million recommended by the Governor.)

We will examine provisions in the Senate Republican plan affecting private voucher programs and independent charter schools in a separate post.