WASB sends letter outlining budget positions to legislators

The WASB GR staff recently compiled a letter to legislators outlining K-12 education provisions, some of which have been relatively under the radar, of the governor’s budget that we support.  We focused on the provisions that were not on the list of items that the co-chairs of the Joint Finance Committee (JFC) announced they were not going to consider.

As always, our positions on each of these items is based on WASB resolutions approved by the Delegate Assembly.

TO:                  Members, Wisconsin State Legislature
FROM:            Wisconsin Association of School Boards (WASB)
DATE:             April, 2019
RE:                  WASB Budget Positions

The WASB appreciates this opportunity to share our perspective and positions regarding the proposed 2019-21 State Budget.  The WASB’s positions are determined by resolutions voted on and approved by school board members statewide.  The WASB supports school funding changes that mirror key elements of the governor’s “Fair Funding” reform plan to the extent that those changes are adopted together as a package and not as individual items.

The WASB also holds the following positions on other items listed in the order they appear in the LFB Summary of Governor’s Budget Recommendations (by Agency – Public Instruction):

TWO-THIRDS FUNDING OF PARTIAL SCHOOL REVENUES (Item #4, p. 316) – SUPPORT

While the WASB supports “two-thirds” funding, returning to the state providing two-thirds funding would not necessarily mean additional classroom resources for school districts.  The way two-thirds funding is calculated, all of the increase from the state could go into levy credits, which would reduce property tax bills but would not allow school budgets to increase. Alternatively, if general aids are increased but revenue limits are not adjusted, schools would similarly have no ability to increase their budgets. In the latter case, it would simply mean a higher proportion of that capped amount would come from the state with a corresponding decrease in the proportion derived from property taxes.  WASB resolutions favor state aids paid directly to school districts and oppose the conversion of state aid funds into tax credits.

SPECIAL ADJUSTMENT AID (Item #8, p. 319) – SUPPORT

This change will limit the extent of the annual reduction in state aid to districts that are falling out of the general equalization aid formula because their per pupil property values are much higher than average. This phenomenon of falling out of the aid formula can be caused by rising property values, declining enrollment, or both. Declining enrollment can affect any school district, but rural districts have felt the greatest impact. Overall, 59% of Wisconsin’s school districts experienced declining enrollment from 2012-13 to 2016-17. WASB resolutions support adjusting the aid formula so that school districts whose property values are rising well above the state average will not lose state aid as a result of property value increases.

SECONDARY COST CEILING (Item #10, p. 320) – SUPPORT

WASB resolutions support raising the secondary costs ceiling, but also call for transferring a portion of  school levy credit funding to general school aids to fund any increase in the secondary cost ceiling. Providing additional funding to accompany this change is critical. Simply raising the secondary cost ceiling without putting additional funding into the general equalization aid formula will cause a redistribution of aid away from districts with lower property wealth per pupil and to districts with higher property wealth per pupil, in effect, penalizing lower property wealth districts.

REVENUE LIMIT PER PUPIL ADJUSTMENT (Item #12, p. 320) – SUPPORT

Aligning increases in the revenue limits to CPI would provide predictability and stability for planning school district budgets. This would be a positive step.  Many of our members question whether an increase of $200 per pupil in the first year and $204 per pupil in the second year would actually match inflation.  Increasing the dollar amount or providing additional special education categorical aid are two ways the Legislature could ensure an inflationary increase in spendable resources is being provided to schools.

LOW REVENUE ADJUSTMENT (Item #13, p. 321) – SUPPORT

This adjustment is necessary to decrease disparities between low revenue (low spending) school districts and higher revenue/higher spending districts. If per pupil revenue limits are adjusted by $200 and $204 respectively, the low revenue adjustment should correspondingly be raised to accomplish its purpose.

SPECIAL EDUCATION AID (Item #1, p. 323) – SUPPORT

The appropriation for special education categorical aid funding has been frozen at $368.9 million since the 2008-09 school year. However, special education costs have continued to rise since 2008-09, resulting in this aid reimbursing an ever-smaller percentage of overall costs. School districts increasingly have had to transfer money from their general funds to cover a growing portion of special education costs not covered by the state. Special education is the largest single underfunded mandate on school districts.

Special education aid reimburses districts for the cost of special education services provided to students with disabilities in the prior school year.  It is need based. By the time a district receives this aid, those services have already been provided.  Some argue that investing in Special Education Aid isn’t worthwhile because it won’t equate to more special education services. The reason for this is that those services are already mandated.  What the increased reimbursement rates will do is decrease the amount of costs each district must cover out of their regular education budgets and do so based on the actual special education costs incurred by a given district.  Investing additional funding either through a revenue limit adjustment coupled with equalization aid or through per pupil categorical aid would not recognize each district’s unique special education costs and reimburse each district accordingly.

HIGH COST SPECIAL EDUCATION AID (Item #4, p. 323) – SUPPORT

This aid reimburses schools for their costs associated with providing required services to students with the most severe and expensive to address disabilities.  The WASB supports full state funding for children with these high cost/low incidence disabilities, provided the additional resources come from increasing the current high-cost special education appropriation.

MENTAL HEALTH INITIATIVES (Items #6 & 7; p. 324-325) – SUPPORT

The WASB supports the provision of state funding adequate to: address the shortage of mental health professionals in our state qualified to address the needs of school-age children and young adults; provide adequate professional mental health supports in our schools and our communities; and permit schools to enter into effective partnerships with agencies that are involved with mental health to provide for school-based mental health programs.

BILINGUAL-BICULTURAL PROGRAMS (Items #8, 9, 10, 11 p. 325-326) – SUPPORT

The WASB supports providing supplemental levels of funding for students with additional needs.  The WASB encourages local school boards to develop and expand educational program opportunities for resident pupils with English language limitations with the objective that such students become functional in the English language.

SPARSITY AID (Item #14, p. 327)SUPPORT

The WASB supports providing sparsity aid based on enrollment size and population density (students per square mile), without regard to the percentage of the district’s enrollment that is eligible for free- and reduced-price lunch. If sparsity aid eligibility is expanded, additional funding will be provided to maintain sparsity aid payments to districts that are currently eligible.

PER PUPIL AID (Item #16, p. 328)SUPPORT

The WASB supports maintaining this funding at $654 per pupil, the same level provided by current law.

SCHOOL BREAKFAST PROGRAM (Item #23, p. 331) – SUPPORT
SCHOOL DAY MILK PROGRAM (Item #24, p. 331) – SUPPORT

The WASB supports providing supplemental levels of funding for students with additional needs.

HIGH COST TRANSPORTATION AID (Item #26, p. 332)SUPPORT
PUPIL TRANSPORTATION AID (Item #27, p. 332)SUPPORT

The WASB supports the continuation of the transportation categorical aid with the added provision for periodic adjustments in the aid amounts to maintain the relationship between the level of aids and the statewide average cost of providing transportation.

GIFTED AND TALENTED GRANTS (Item #32, p. 334)SUPPORT

The WASB supports increasing state funding for Gifted and Talented programming in Wisconsin’s public schools.

TEACHER DEVELOPMENT, TRAINING, AND RECRUITMENT (Item #33, p. 335)SUPPORT

WASB resolutions call on the Superintendent of Public Instruction to actively promote alternative administrative and teacher certification that includes a mentorship/residency and a training program.

The WASB strongly supports state and federal incentives to attract individuals of high ability into teacher training programs.

MINORITY TEACHER GRANT PROGRAM (Item #34, p. 335)SUPPORT

The WASB supports federal, state and local initiatives which will assist in increasing the numbers and availability of minority teacher candidates to all school districts in Wisconsin.

OPPORTUNITY SCHOOLS AND PARTNERSHIP PROGRAM (Item #20, p. 351)SUPPORT

WASB resolutions oppose the creation in Wisconsin of a recovery school district or a similar authority designed to take over public schools or school buildings.

MENTAL HEALTH AND SCHOOL CLIMATE TRAINING PROGRAMS (Item #1, p. 353) – SUPPORT

The WASB supports the provision of state funding adequate to: address the shortage of mental health professionals in our state qualified to address the needs of school-age children and young adults; provide adequate professional mental health supports in our schools and our communities; and permit schools to enter into effective partnerships with agencies that are involved with mental health to provide for school-based mental health programs.

GRANTS FOR NATIONAL TEACHER CERTIFICATION OR MASTER EDUCATOR LICENSURE (Item #4, p. 354)SUPPORT

WASB resolutions support state funding for the implementation of PI 34, the administrative code chapter outlining a DPI licensure program that includes master educator certification.