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School Funding Commission Holds First Meeting

By John Forester | December 15, 2017

The Blue Ribbon Commission on School Funding, chaired by Representative Joel Kitchens (R-Sturgeon Bay) and Senator Luther Olsen (R-Ripon), held its first meeting yesterday in Madison.  The meeting consisted of a briefing on Wisconsin’s current school finance system by the Legislative Fiscal Bureau (LFB) and the Department of Public Instruction (DPI), as well as questions and discussion arising on various topics covered in the briefing.  The LFB and DPI briefing materials are linked below.

In my estimation, the questions and discussion by Commission members highlighted many of the important issues the Commission is likely to focus on over the next several months – per pupil revenue cap adjustments, per pupil categorical aid, declining enrollment, the low revenue ceiling, children in poverty, special education, English language learners, negative aid , the secondary cost ceiling, open enrollment, voucher funding, and more.  Superintendents Joni Burgin (Grantsburg) and Michelle Langenfeld (Green Bay), WASB lobbyist Dan Rossmiller, CESA 6 Administrator Ted Neitzke and UW-Madison professor Julie Underwood all did a fabulous job of questioning the presenters and raising key issues during the discussion.

It was a great start to the Commission’s work, with enthusiasm for the charge and hope for success in abundant supply.  But the day was filled with reality checks as well.  The Co-chairs noted that previous attempts to reform the Wisconsin school funding system have begun with fanfare only to have the recommendations ignored.  They also acknowledged that the only times that Wisconsin has accomplished significant school finance reform is when the state has also invested significant new revenue to help even out any winners and losers that reform inevitably creates.  When asked why they believe this time will be different, the Co-chairs responded that this Commission was created by Speaker Vos and Majority Leader Fitzgerald and these legislative leaders understand what is required for the effort to be successful.

The Co-chairs announced that the Commission is likely to have six (and perhaps more) listening sessions around the state, with the first scheduled at the end of January or early February.  These listening sessions pose the greatest opportunity for SAA members to engage the Commission members on the issues most important for the children they serve.  These sessions are also the best way for members to influence the outcome of the Commission’s recommendations.

Following the listening sessions, the Commission will hear from experts from some national organizations (like the National Conference of State Legislatures or the Education Commission of the States) on the school finance systems in other states.  The Co-chairs announced several times during the meeting that it was their intention to have the Commission recommendations finalized in time to be considered during the next biennial state budget process.

Finally, numerous SAA members have inquired about how they can follow the work of the Commission.  Commission staff have indicated that a Commission web page will be developed in the next few weeks to share information with the public about the work of the Commission.  The SAA will also keep members informed of Commission developments.

LFB Presentation

DPI Presentation

Wisconsin State Journal Coverage

Topics: SAA Capitol Reports, SAA Capitol Reports with Email Notifications | No Comments »

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