Gov. Scott Walker will propose a modest increase in funding for Wisconsin public schools in his budget to the Legislature on Wednesday, two years after his steep cuts and all but elimination of collective bargaining for teachers sparked the unsuccessful movement to recall Walker from office.
Walker is also making incentive money available, which could be used as incentive payments for teachers based on how well schools perform on state report cards, Walker told The Associated Press in an exclusive interview.
Walker provided details of his education funding plan to the AP ahead of its public release Sunday. Not only will he put more money into K-12 schools in his two-year budget, Walker will increase funding for the University of Wisconsin System and technical colleges two years after their funding was also slashed.
The roughly 1 percent increase in aid to schools Walker is proposing comes after he cut aid by more than 8 percent in the first year of the last budget. Schools would get $129 million in aid under Walker's plan, but total K-12 funding would go up $276 million.
Walker will not lift the lid on revenue limits, which determine how much state aid and property tax income school districts can spend. Walker said he was concerned about moves that might cause property taxes to increase.
State Rep. Sondy Pope, the ranking Democrat on the Assembly's Education Committee, said Walker's proposal isn't enough.
At the rate of state aid funding for public schools, it would take 12 years to replace the money lost in the last budget, she said. Walker contends schools have been able to save money because the collective bargaining law also required teachers to contribute more toward their pension and health care benefits.
The nonpartisan Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance reported in November that those cuts in benefits and limiting union-negotiated raises to the rate of inflation offset about two-thirds of the reductions in school revenue in the 2011-2012 academic year.
Pope said the increase in aid Walker is proposing won't be enough to help schools struggling to make ends meet.
"These people are trying to starve Wisconsin public schools," she said.
Republican Sen. Luther Olsen, chairman of the Senate's Education Committee, said he was glad to see Walker putting more money into public education.
"It's a lot better than having to cut like we did in the last budget," he said. "It's not as much as I wanted but we're glad it's not negative or zero."
The Republican-controlled Legislature will review Walker's budget over the next four months and make changes before voting on it sometime in June. The two-year spending plan takes effect in July.
Walker's funding for schools includes $73 million more for voucher schools, $23 million for charter schools, and $21 million in grants for special needs students to receive a voucher to attend private schools. A proposal for those special needs vouchers passed the Assembly last session, despite broad opposition from the state Department of Public Instruction, disabilities rights groups, and the state school boards association. It did not pass the Senate.
Walker's plans for expanding the voucher system are highly anticipated but he did not immediately provide those details.
Funding for the UW System would go up $181 million under the budget, two years after it was cut $315 million. Technical college aid would increase $5 million.
UW spokesman David Giroux said the increased funding, coupled with the university being exempted from so-called lapses that could have resulted in $66 million in cuts, was "very positive."
"We want to create a stronger workforce for Wisconsin, and new taxpayer investments are essential to that effort," Giroux said. "It looks like we will have enough funding to preserve today's levels of college access and quality, along with new investments in UW programs focused on job creation. That's a smart investment."
Walker is making $64 million available in incentive payments for K-12 schools, tied to their grades on statewide report cards. Of that, $24 million would go to schools with an A or B grade, $30 million would go to schools that show a certain level of improvement on the report cards and $10 million would be available to the lowest performing districts for a one-time grant if they provide an acceptable improvement plan.
On average, that would equate to a roughly $1,000 per-teacher bonus in the highest performing and improving schools.
"Our goal with this is to provide an incentive every year for schools to be in those top two categories," Walker said. "I want things to be driven by performance."
The statewide teachers union, which was a prime driver in last year's effort to recall Walker, has steadfastly opposed such a plan and has instead called for greater investments in public education.