May Advocacy Tip: Legislators who deserve our thanks

With what was likely the last floor action for the 2017-18 legislative session completed, we encourage you to take the opportunity to thank state legislators who have done positive things for K-12 public education.  Showing gratitude and giving credit when lawmakers do things that we support is a crucial component in building relationships with them.  We don’t want them to feel we were unappreciative the next time we ask for their support.

Overall, it was a very good session for public education and there were many lawmakers from both parties who showed a strong interest in working with their local school boards and administrators as well as with the WASB.  We are highlighting only a few examples in this post, which is neither exhaustive nor complete, so if you don’t see your legislators and they have been helpful to you in some way please reach out to thank them.

In addition to the legislators, the WASB would also like to thank the school board members and administrators for their work in developing relationships with these lawmakers and helping to make them aware of their circumstances and needs.

Representative John Nygren (R-Marinette)
Twitter: @rep89; Facebook: @RepNygren89

It’s hard to imagine one lawmaker being involved in more positive developments for public schools than Rep. Nygren was this session.

As co-chair of the budget-writing Joint Finance Committee (JFC), he oversaw a state budget that provided an increase of over $600 million in state resources (largely in per pupil categorical aid) for public schools.  This was essentially what the WASB had asked for as part of our legislative agenda and approximated an inflationary increase.

As part of that budget debate, he championed the cause of historically low-spending school districts (several of which were in his Assembly district) and included a long-overdue increase in the low revenue ceiling.  It appeared a difference of opinion with the governor (who had proposed a sparsity aid increase instead) doomed this effort when the budget was signed into law containing neither a low revenue ceiling adjustment nor a sparsity aid increase.

To his credit, Rep. Nygren did not give up or concede the issue to the next state budget debate.  He worked with the governor’s office, Sen. Howard Marklein (R-Spring Green), Rep. Jeff Mursau (R-Crivitz) and others to reach a compromise (Act 141) that accomplished both goals, received strong bipartisan support, and has been signed into law.  This funding will provide real assistance for urban, suburban and rural school districts who are low spending or sparsely populated across the state.

Rep. Nygren also authored a bill proposed by the WASB on the administration of NARCAN in schools.  That bill was signed into law as part of his national model HOPE (Heroin, Opiate, Prevention, and Education) Agenda to battle the state’s opioid epidemic.

Senator Luther Olsen (R-Ripon)

If you’ve attended any WASB events over the years, you’ve likely had a chance to hear from or talk to Sen. Luther Olsen.  A former school board president, he has not forgotten his roots and has always been willing to appear at our events and have an open dialogue with our members.  As chair of both the Senate and Assembly Education Committees over his legislative career, it would be hard to find a state elected official who has had more influence on K-12 education policy during that time.

As a nationally-recognized K-12 education policy-maker, Sen. Olsen was involved in developing the National Conference of State Legislatures’ (NCSL) study No Time to Lose which our Delegate Assembly voted to support in January.

Sen. Olsen also was intimately involved in the state budget increase to public schools as the vice-chair of the JFC.  As Chair of the Senate Education Committee, Sen. Olsen has control over what K-12 bills are voted on by the full Senate.

Some bills this session that were authored by Sen. Olsen that the WASB supported:

Bills that the WASB opposed and Sen. Olsen did not let pass out of his committee include:

Senator Janet Bewley (D-Ashland)                     Representative Sondy Pope (D-Mt. Horeb)
Email:                                                Email:
Twitter: @JanetBewley4WI                                                                                Twitter: @RepSondy
Facebook: Janet Bewley                                                                                        Facebook: @sondyp

When you are a minority Democrat in a state government with a GOP governor and GOP majorities in both houses of the Legislature, getting a bill passed is no easy task. The ranking members on their respective education committees, Sen. Bewley & Rep. Pope deserve recognition for authoring bills that, while they did not gain much bipartisan traction this session, are supported by our member resolutions.  Included in these were:

  • A school safety plan that included a revenue limit exemption for school safety-related expenditures and additional state aid for mental health programs.
  • School funding bills that included returning the state’s share back to two-thirds, providing more state aid for low-income pupils and increasing revenue limits.

WASB also worked with Sen. Bewley & Rep. Steve Doyle (D-Onalaska) on a bill to make it a Class I felony to make a threat to use a dangerous weapon on school premises.  The bill also prohibited intentionally making false threats. This bill was requested by law enforcement as a deterrent in these situations.  The bill garnered widespread bipartisan support and passed the Assembly with no opposition but was not taken up by the state Senate.

Key Bills Supported by the WASB

Click on the topic for more information on the selected bill. We encourage you to reach out to lawmakers who supported these proposals to thank them.

Bills signed into law:

State Budget – provided over $600 million in increased state funding for public schools including increases in per pupil categorical aid of $200 in 2017-18 and an additional $204 in 2018-19. The state budget never seems to pass with much bipartisan support and that was again the case this year. Find your lawmakers’ vote:

Low Revenue Ceiling/Sparsity Aid – increases the low revenue ceiling from $9,100 per pupil to $9,400 per pupil, beginning in the 2018-19 school year, and increases the revenue ceiling by $100 per pupil each school year thereafter until it reaches $9,800 per pupil in the 2022-23 school year. The bill also increases the payments to each school district eligible for sparsity aid from $300 per pupil to $400 per pupil, beginning in the 2018−19 school year. Find your lawmakers’ vote:

School Safety Grants – creates a $100 million grant program for school safety-related expenditures, including facility upgrades and staff training. The package also includes new requirements for school safety plans and reporting to law enforcement by school staff who hear students make threats of violence in or targeted at a school. Find your lawmakers’ vote:

Nomination Papers – Restores local control over the number of signatures required for the nomination of candidates to the school board in school districts that contain territory lying within a 2nd class city.  This bill was requested by the North Fond du Lac School Board and was authored by state Rep. Jeremy Thiesfeldt (R-Fond du Lac) and state Sen. Dan Feyen (R-Fond du Lac)Find your lawmakers’ vote: Bill passed both houses unanimously.

Bills that were not signed into law:

School Start Date – returns local school board control to the school start date.  The bill was authored by Rep. Jim Ott (R-Mequon) and Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills) and was supported by the following lawmakers:

Senate Sens. Darling, Kapenga, Hansen, Johnson, L. Taylor, Vinehout, C. Larson, Harsdorf, Nass, Vukmir and Stroebel

Assembly Reps. Ott, Kooyenga, Neylon, Felzkowski, Brandtjen, Skowronski, Rodriguez, Duchow, Riemer, Vruwink, Bernier, Nerison, Sinicki, Crowley, Petryk, Hutton, Bowen, Allen, Considine, Pope, Hebl, VanderMeer, Spreitzer and Zepnick

Publication of Proceedings – Allows any school district to, in lieu of publication in newspaper, publish its proceedings by posting a copy on its Internet site and in at least one public place.  Special thanks to the legislators who supported this bill because they risked critical ads and editorials from their local newspapers and the state newspaper association.  The bill was authored by Rep. Jeremy Thiesfeldt (R-Fond du Lac) and Sen. Duey Stroebel (R-Saukville) and was supported by the following lawmakers:

Senate Sens. Stroebel, L. Taylor, Feyen, Wanggaard, Nass, Craig, C. Larson, Darling, Lasee and Kapenga

Assembly Reps. Thiesfeldt, Fields, Bernier, E. Brooks, R. Brooks, Considine, Duchow, Felzkowski, Gannon, Horlacher, Hutton, Jacque, Jarchow, Kooyenga, Kremer, Krug, Kuglitsch, Kulp, Murphy, Mursau, Nygren, Pronschinske, Ripp, Rodriguez, Rohrkaste, Sanfelippo, Schraa, Sinicki, Skowronski, Snyder, Stuck and Tittl

Suspension/Expulsion for Firearms Possession – Provides local discretion over school disciplinary decisions involving a pupil who brings a firearm onto school grounds.   The bill was authored by Rep. Joel Kleefisch (R-Oconomowoc) and Sen. Tom Tiffany (R-Hazelhurst) and was supported by the following lawmakers:

Senate Sens. Tiffany, Moulton, LeMahieu, Marklein, Olsen and Stroebel

Assembly Reps. Kleefisch, Felzkowski, Ballweg, E. Brooks, Edming, Gannon, Horlacher, Jarchow, Katsma, Milroy, Mursau, Ripp, Tusler and Thiesfeldt