December meeting of school funding commission anticipated; WASB recommendations to the commission

The Blue Ribbon Commission on School Funding is expected to meet sometime between now and the Christmas holiday to review the recommendations each member of the Commission brought forward and to try to come to a consensus on what official recommendations the Commission will make.  Watch the Legislative Update blog for updates on the scheduling of this meeting.

The Commission co-chairs, Rep. Joel Kitchens (R-Sturgeon Bay) and Sen. Luther Olsen (R-Ripon) (above from left to right), met individually with all members of the Commission during the summer and fall, along with staff of the non-partisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau (LFB).  The LFB has been tasked with providing a written analysis of those recommendations to aid the Commission in its discussion and deliberations.

Dan Rossmiller, WASB Government Relations Director, is a member of the Commission.  He made numerous recommendations based on resolutions adopted by the WASB Delegate Assemblies and testimony received at the nine public hearings the Commission held from December 2017 through June 2018.  Dan’s recommendations focused on the following topic areas:

  • Broad Goals, including implementing the recommendations of the NCSL’s “No Time to Lose” Report;
  • Equalization Aid formula, including:
    • Providing predictable and sustainable funding;
    • Providing voucher funding transparency for the statewide and Racine voucher programs;
    • Incorporating student weighting (e.g., a poverty factor);
    • Smoothing out the aid payment schedule and restoring the $75 million delayed aid payment to the appropriate fiscal year; and
    • Raising the secondary cost ceiling to reduce the negative aid penalties faced by more than 115 districts;
  • Special Education funding, including:
    • Significantly increasing special education categorical aid; and
    • Fixing the special needs scholarship program, a voucher program that provides significantly more funding to private schools educating children with disabilities than what public schools receive;
  • Addressing Student Learning Needs, including:
    • Weighting students from poverty backgrounds in the equalization aid formula and revenue limits or, alternatively, creating a statewide categorical aid for low income pupils designed to fund specific strategies designed to close achievement gaps;
    • Allowing districts to receive high poverty aid to receive it as a categorical aid (outside revenue limits) so it can be used for additional programming to improve the academic performance of low-income students;
    • Expanding funding for summer school programming, including increasing the revenue limit summer school membership calculation;
    • Creating a categorical aid or grant program to support after-school and/or before-school programming to provide assistance, such as tutoring, to students who need additional help;
    • Increasing the aid reimbursement to districts required to offer bilingual –bicultural programming and create a categorical aid available to all school districts that have English language learners;
    • Increasing categorical aid funding for school mental health staff and allowing it to be used to fund additional school counselors, psychologists and nurse as well as social workers;
    • Increasing community and school collaborative mental health grant funding;
    • Creating a grant program to fund professional development training in character education for teachers, principals and district administrators; and
    • Creating a grant program to enable school districts to (voluntarily) provide educational services to students who have been expelled and providing funding for community-based approaches involving social service professionals and law enforcement in monitoring students who have been expelled.
  • Early Childhood Education and Early Elementary Education, including:
    • Fully funding 4-year old Kindergarten programs in public schools;
    • Providing additional funding targeted toward tutoring and other academic interventions for students, especially low-income students, who are below basic in reading proficiency at grade 3; and
    • Reopening the Achievement Gap Reduction program (formerly SAGE) to allow new schools to enter the program;
  • Revenue Limits, including:
    • Increasing both state equalization aids and per-pupil adjustments to revenue limits by a predictable percentage each year that aligns with the percentage increase in the consumer price index (CPI-U) in the previous fiscal year applied to the statewide average revenue limit per pupil;
    • Changing the revenue limit membership calculation to allow a district to use either a five-year rolling average, a three-year rolling average or its current year membership, whichever is greater;
    • Modifying the declining enrollment hold harmless to provide that for any one-year loss in revenue due to declining enrollment, districts should be held harmless on 100% of that loss in the first year, 75% of that loss in the second year, and 50% of that loss in the third year, thus spreading out that revenue loss over a three-year period;
    • Increasing the low revenue ceiling (a/k/a low revenue adjustment) by up to $400 per pupil annually in each year of the 2019-21 biennium, and then permanently setting the low revenue ceiling equal to 100 percent of the prior year statewide average shared cost per pupil;
    • Increasing the current 40 percent summer school membership figure for revenue limit purposes to 100 percent (including interim sessions); and
    • Allowing school boards to /amend Energy Efficiency resolutions adopted prior to December 31, 2017.
  • Meeting the Needs of “Small But Necessary Districts,” including:
    • Creating a sum sufficient appropriation for Sparsity Aid and also raising the cap on allowable enrollment while providing for a graduated or sliding scale of sparsity aid payments to eligible districts so as to provide lower per pupil payment amounts for larger enrollment districts and larger per pupil payment amounts for smaller enrollment districts;
    • Providing a weighting factor for student enrollment in small school districts to increase the membership of small school districts for revenue limit purposes;
    • Gradually increasing state pupil transportation aids over time with an eventual goal of reimbursing 33 percent of local districts’ pupil transportation costs.
  • Ways for Districts to Share/Reduce Costs, including:
    • Providing state grants to school districts for Whole Grade Sharing Feasibility Studies and/or Consolidation Feasibility Studies;
    • Reexamining ways to provide state aid incentives to districts that enter into whole grade sharing agreements or that share services or staff; and
    • Providing a statutory mechanism to allow for the creation of new K-8 and Union High School Districts from existing K-12 Districts in order to facilitate/encourage the creation of regional high schools.