School voices heard by commission but the real work is just beginning

When the Blue Ribbon Commission on School Funding held its final meeting  on Dec. 19, it was clear that the voices of school leaders who testified at hearings held around the state and those who submitted written comments were heard. As Commission members worked their way through option papers on various school funding topics, the stories school leaders told were frequently cited.

See Statements from the co-chairs: Rep. Kitchens; Sen. Olsen

In the same way school leaders advocated effectively to persuade the legislators who were members of the Commission, now it will be time for school leaders to advocate with their own legislators to ensure these vital recommendations become law.

Among the key recommendations that the Commission voted to advance are the following:

  • Recommend that annual per pupil adjustments indexed to inflation be made to revenue limits and further that an offsetting increase in general school aids be provided to mitigate the potential increase in school property taxes from such adjustments with  a goal to have the state fund two-thirds of school costs;
  • Recommend providing additional funding by weighting low-income and English language learner pupils as 1.2 FTE in the general school aids and revenue limit formulas;
  • Recommend increasing special education categorical aid;
    (The Commission endorsed a range of options that would increase the reimbursement rate from the current 25.3 percent to anywhere from 26 percent to 60 percent over a period of years.)
  • Recommend changing the declining enrollment adjustment to revenue limits to compare a district’s rolling average to a fixed base year rather than to the prior three-year rolling average and  a separate change to allow districts to calculate their revenue limits based on a five-year average of pupil enrollments;
  • Recommend providing additional funding for school based mental health services, including through a new categorical aid that would provide districts with $25 per pupil in 2019-20 and $50 per pupil in 2020-21 and through an increase in community and school mental health collaboration grants;
  • Recommend allowing districts that offer full-day 4K programs to count participating pupils are 1.0 FTE rather than 0.5 or 0.6 FTE as under current law;
  • Recommend that future increases in support for schools be provided through increases in general aid rather than through per pupil aid or the school levy credit;
  • Recommend expanding high-cost transportation aid to cover costs that exceed 125 percent of the statewide average per pupil transportation costs rather than only those that exceed 145 percent of the statewide average costs; and
  • Recommend a range of options to extend sparsity aid payments to “sparse” districts with enrollments greater than the current 745 pupil limit, although in some cases at a lower per pupil payment for those higher enrollment “sparse” districts than is provided to districts currently eligible for this aid.

The task will now falls to the non-partisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau staff to generate a report containing the full recommendations of the Commission.  It will then be up to individual legislators to have the recommendations drafted in bill form to be introduced for legislative consideration.

At that point the efforts of school leaders will become critical to advancing these proposals.

Note: The WASB, in conjunction with WASDA and WASBO, will host a panel discussion on the recommendations of the Blue Ribbon Commission on School Funding at the Education Convention in Milwaukee. The panel discussion will be held on Friday morning, Jan. 25 and will feature the Commission co-chairs, Rep. Kitchens and Sen. Olsen.