The Legislature's budget-writing committee will vote Monday on a spending plan for the state's K-12 schools, moving the weeks-overdue state budget closer to passage — but details of the education package are still unclear.
"For the most part, stay tuned," said Joint Finance Committee co-chair Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette, when asked on Thursday what will be included in the plan the committee will consider.
Nygren said not much has changed since the state Senate and Assembly released competing education packages earlier this summer. Lawmakers have agreed to keep intact an increase in categorical aid proposed in Gov. Scott Walker's original budget, Nygren said.
The budget will also likely include a measure to allow low spending districts to raise their revenue limits, both Nygren and co-chair Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, said.
Darling said one of the "biggest downsides" to the delay in passing the budget has been that some schools are holding off on making hiring decisions until they know what kind of funding they will receive from the state, including some in her district.
The new fiscal year began on July 1, but the state will continue to operate under the previous budget's funding levels until a new one is passed.
"We’ve got to get going," Darling told reporters on Thursday. "School’s starting and we’ve got to tell the schools what their budgets are."
Nygren dismissed the complaint from schools as "smoke and mirrors," arguing that districts have resisted changes to Walker's proposed budget because they were relying on the funding levels he offered.
He also pushed back against complaints from Democrats, who argued this week that the Joint Finance Committee should have voted first on the education and transportation budgets rather than leaving them until the end of the process.
"We wanted to start with K-12 education and transportation at the beginning of this process to avoid something like this," said Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton, on Thursday.
But Nygren argued the committee has traditionally saved those issues for the end of the budget process, and the timing is not indicative of their priority level.
The committee will also vote on Monday on the budgets for state building projects and for the state's lottery fund.
The governor's proposal includes funding for University of Wisconsin System projects, including classroom renovations, technology upgrades and utility improvements, and $33.5 million to renovate Sandburg Hall at UW-Milwaukee.
Also included in the governor's recommendations are $75 million for a Southeast Wisconsin Law Enforcement facility, $8.9 million to construct an addition for an inmate programming facility at the Wisconsin Secure Program Facility in Boscobel, $18.5 million to increase the project budget for cell hall improvements at the Green Bay Correctional Institution, $18 million for renovations at the Mendota Mental Health Institute, $5 million to remodel and expand the La Crosse Center and $13 million for water, food and electrical improvements at the Veterans Home at King.