State Budget Alert: Joint Finance Committee

By John Forester | March 28, 2019

With the Legislative Fiscal Bureau’s (LFB) summary of the governor’s budget recommendations having been released, the 2019-21 State Budget process has begun to pick up speed.  The Joint Finance Committee (JFC) will conduct state agency briefings April 3rd and 4th (DPI is scheduled for April 3rd) and hold a total of four public hearings on the budget bill beginning on April 5th and concluding on April 24th (see previous post).  We will follow up with a separate post on coordinating SAA member testimony at the JFC budget hearings.

I would like to thank all those SAA members that have already begun conversations with their legislators regarding the governor’s budget recommendations.  For those that have yet to communicate with their legislators, it’s time to do so.  To be successful on this state budget, all SAA members must contact their legislators repeatedly throughout the long budget process.

I call on each district administrator to assemble your leadership team, collaborate on your district message and craft your plan for influencing your parents, your staff, your community, your media and your lawmakers — and then coordinate the delivery of that message.  This budget is vitally important for your school district and the children you serve.   It is critically important for you to reach out to your legislators and your community.

In your communications, please cover the following:

  1. Invite your legislators to your school(s).  Use the opportunity to show them some of the great educational opportunities afforded to the children in your district.  Show them what learning looks like today in your district.
  2. Express your strong support for at least a $200/pupil general revenue increase in each year of the biennium.  Explain the importance of these increases in per pupil revenues in both fiscal and human terms.  In particular, emphasize the impact on educational opportunities for the kids you serve.
  3. Express your strong support for the governor’s proposed increase in funding for special education. Explain your district’s fund 10 to fund 27 transfer, as well as the internal friction that transfer can generate inside your district.
  4. Express your strong support for the governor’s proposed increase in funding for school-age mental health.
  5. Express your strong support for the governor’s proposed increase in funding for English Learners.
  6. Express your strong support for eliminating current restrictions on hiring retired educators to fill key positions.
  7. Tell your district’s story.  They need to hear it.
  8. Encourage your legislators to stand up for the children you serve.
  9. Thank them for listening and for serving the citizens of Wisconsin.

Please send a letter (phone calls work too) using the information discussed above to the members of the Joint Finance Committee and your legislators as soon as possible.  I know many of you have already discussed these issues with your legislators, and I thank you.  I also ask that you contact them again.  For your convenience, I have provided links to the Senate Directory, the Assembly Directory and Who Are My Legislators.  Please copy your letter to the SAA.

Make no mistake about it.  We have to fight hard for funding increases for public school children.  Many legislators are pushing back against the governor’s proposed increases to K-12 education.  In particular, some legislators are loudly balking at increasing funding for special education.  Several are even spreading misinformation about how special education services are funded.  It is important that our legislators understand the following:

So, let’s stand up and fight for the needs of Wisconsin school children.

Thanks for listening, and for all your efforts on behalf of the children you serve.

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JFC Public Hearings Finalized

By John Forester | March 28, 2019

The Joint Finance Committee (JFC) has finalized the dates and locations for the 4 public hearings it will hold on the 2019-21 State Budget.

Friday, April 5, 2019 (10:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.)

Pontiac Convention Center

2809 North Pontiac Drive

Janesville, WI  53545

Wednesday, April 10, 2019 (10:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.)

Oak Creek Community Center

8580 South Howell Avenue

Oak Creek, WI  53154

Monday, April 15, 2019 (10:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.)

University of Wisconsin – River Falls

University Center – Riverview Ballroom #260

500 Wild Rose Avenue

River Falls, WI  54022

            Free Public Parking Accessible at:

            University of Wisconsin – River Falls

            PAY 1 LOT

            North Second Street

            River Falls, WI  54022

Wednesday, April 24, 2019 (10:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.)

University of Wisconsin – Green Bay

University Union – Phoenix Rooms

2430 Campus Court

Green Bay, WI  54311

 

 

 

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LFB Releases Summary Of Governor Evers Budget

By John Forester | March 26, 2019

From The Wheeler Report…

The Legislative Fiscal Bureau has released its summary of Governor Evers 2019-21 proposed state budget. Check it out here.

See Public Instruction agency summary here.

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Referendums Scheduled For April 2, 2019

By John Forester | March 26, 2019

From The Wheeler Report…

The following is a complete list of all 59 referendums scheduled for voting on Tuesday, April 2. The list includes:

See the report here.

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WPF Releases Budget Brief

By John Forester | March 25, 2019

The Wisconsin Policy Forum has released its Budget Brief on the Governor’s 2019-21 State Budget.  Check it out here.

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JFC Invites Just Six Agencies to Testify on Budget

By John Forester | March 25, 2019

From WisPolitics.com:

The Joint Finance Committee has asked the heads of six agencies to testify April 3-4 on the guv’s budget, a significant reduction from the number of cabinet secretaries who typically brief members on the proposal. 

In a letter to committee members, Co-chairs Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, and John Nygren, R-Marinette, said they’ve asked to hear from the departments of Public Instruction, Transportation, Health Services, Workforce Development, Corrections and Natural Resources. 

The co-chairs are also encouraging the Legislature’s standing committees to invite the other agencies to appear before them for budget briefings. 

The six department heads being called before the committee is a departure from past practice. According to information compiled by the co-chairs’ offices, the number of agency heads who have testified on the last seven budgets range from 16 in 2005-07 and 2015-17 to 21 for the 2017-19 budget. 

GOP leaders have expressed concern about the $83.4 billion in spending Gov. Tony Evers has proposed and discussed ignoring his proposal and instead building their own budget off current law. 

Dem Sen. Jon Erpenbach, a member of JFC, said he worried only calling six secretaries before the committee was a sign Republicans plan to swiftly push aside Evers’ proposal. He said that would set a difficult tone for negotiations to reach a compromise. 

“It’s a situation where the governor put a proposal out there, Finance has to look at it line-by-line and every agency matters,” Erpenbach said. “Every agency should be before Finance.” 

According to the letter, the co-chairs have asked cabinet secretaries to limit their testimony to 15 minutes. They then plan to grant members up to 10 minutes each for questions, including the time it takes agency representatives to respond. 

Rep. Chris Taylor, another Dem JFC member, questioned why the UW System, for example, wasn’t on the list considering its nearly $12.8 billion budget proposal when counting state money, federal aid and other revenue. She called the decision to have standing committees take testimony on some pieces of the budget “strange,” saying Republicans didn’t make such a move while Gov. Scott Walker was in office. 

“If they’re important enough to go to standing committees, they should be before the Joint Finance Committee, which handles the budget,” said Taylor, D-Madison. 

Read the letter here.

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LFB Memo Shows Impact of Evers’ Proposed Special Ed Aid Increase

By John Forester | March 22, 2019

The SAA just received a copy of a memo from the Legislative Fiscal Bureau (LFB) detailing the impact of Governor Evers’ proposed increase in special education (SPED) categorical aid on each school district.  Check it out.

Governor Evers’ proposal would increase state SPED reimbursement rates from the current 25.3% of special education costs to 30% in 2019-20 and 60% in 2020-21.  Evers’ proposal would boost SPED categorical aid by a total of $606 million over the 2019-21 biennium.

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WPF: Another Alarming Achievement Gap

By John Forester | March 19, 2019

Over the past year, the Blue Ribbon Commission on School Funding and Governor Tony Evers’ proposed 2019-21 budget have given considerable attention to English Learners and the state’s role in ensuring they have equitable and adequate resources. In their most recent newsletter, the Wisconsin Policy Forum (WPF) provides a brief background on ELs in Wisconsin – academic programming, achievement and funding.  Check it out here.

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Evers’ Budget Would Allow Districts to Rehire Retired Teachers

By John Forester | March 18, 2019

From WisPolitics.com . . .

Years ago, when the Iola-Scandinavia School District would post an elementary teaching job, it’d get several hundred applicants. 

Administrator Ray Przekurat says that’s now down to 30 or 40. 

For a high school social studies teacher, it’d be 60 to 80. Now it’s 10. For science, 20 to 25, now maybe five. 

And for specialty areas such as Spanish or tech ed, “You’re lucky to get a candidate,” he said. 

So that’s why he’s backing a provision in Gov. Tony Evers’ budget that would allow districts to rehire retired teachers, who could continue to collect their pensions while earning a new salary. 

The provision would reverse a 2013 change Republicans pushed through to address so-called “double dipping” by public employees. It also would follow a recommendation from a Blue Ribbon Commission on Education Funding, which urged the change to help school districts address a shortage of teachers. 

Sen. Luther Olsen, who co-chaired the commission, said he supports the idea but would rather take it up outside the budget. 

But GOP colleague Duey Stroebel, who sponsored a 2013 bill that banned retirees from receiving their pensions if they took another government job at more than half-time, said he would oppose including the measure in the budget or as a standalone bill. 

“When you’re not retired anymore, you shouldn’t be collecting your retirement benefit,” said Stroebel, R-Saukville. 

Republicans included the change in the 2013-15 state budget, barring retired public employees from claiming a pension if they are rehired and then work at least two-thirds full-time hours. That budget also included a provision requiring a break in service of at least 75 days before a retiree could be rehired, rather than the old 30 days. 

The Evers proposal would prohibit teachers from having an agreement in place when they retire to come back and work for the district. Also, their pension payments couldn’t increase due to the salary they earned while working again. But the break in service would go back down to 30 days. 

Przekurat said the change to the break in service is particularly important because school district contracts run through July 1. Requiring 75 days means a retiree couldn’t come back until mid-September after school has already started. 

He added the struggle to find teachers is particularly pronounced in rural areas for a number of reasons, including the starting salaries his district can offer compared to those in more urban areas. 

When the district posted a high school science teaching position last summer, it got zero applications, Przekurat said. It then used a search service that led to the hiring of Andrew Schefelker, who was killed in last month’s chain-reaction car crash on I-41. 

Przekurat said two retired teachers and two recent graduates who had just finished their student teaching applied for the job after it was recently posted, and one of the new grads has now been hired. 

He said the district is also looking to increase its starting salary, which was boosted two years ago to $36,250. With neighboring districts in the range of $38,000 to $40,000 and being a rural district, he said, it has made it more of a challenge to find applicants. 

“Just the overall decrease of candidates in teacher education programs is really hurting the whole state,” he said. 

According to the Department of Public Instruction, 12,323 people entered a Wisconsin teaching program in 2010, but there were just 7,956 in 2016, a drop of 35 percent. Likewise, the number of people completing the programs has dipped significantly with 3,426 in 2016, compared to 4,749 in 2010. 

The department’s slide show on the issue shows 5,031 teachers left the profession in the 2016-17 school year with 3,426 new teachers coming in, a net loss of 1,605. 

The agency also uses data on emergency licenses as its best gauge of teacher shortages, a spokeswoman said. That’s because districts can only seek them if they can’t find a fully licensed candidate to fill a job. 

There were 2,248 emergency licenses issued for the 2017-18 school year, compared to 1,126 in 2012-13. 

Some have speculated that fewer people have been going into teaching in Wisconsin since Republicans pushed through Act 10 in 2011. But Wisconsin is not alone in the crunch for teachers as there has been a drop nationally in the number of students majoring in education, along with those already in the classroom leaving the profession for other fields that pay better. 

Olsen, who voted for the 2013 change as a member of the Finance Committee, said part of the impetus behind it was the belief that people were being prevented from getting jobs because retirees were filling them. 

Now, he says the “world has changed in six years,” and it’s clear school districts are struggling to find employees. 

Members of the blue ribbon commission is now considering what bills to introduce, and Olsen said he’s hoping the change for teachers is part of the mix. 

“It’s not that they’re doing it and keeping people away from these jobs. It’s just there’s nobody to take them,” Olsen said. 

But Stroebel, a fellow member of the Finance Committee, worried about the impact on the state’s retirement fund of relying on employees who aren’t contributing to the system. 

Wisconsin has one of the only fully funded public pensions in the country, according to the state of Wisconsin Investment Board. SWIB announced in January the Core Fund, the larger of the two trust funds that cover pension payments, had assets of more than $93 billion to end 2018. The Variable Fund, the smaller of the two and a stock-only fund, had more than $7 billion in assets. 

Still, Stroebel argued if retirees are rehired and allowed to collect their pension, as under Evers’ proposal, they wouldn’t be contributing to the pension fund. That, he added, would mean there would be an additional burden on other public employees to keep the fund healthy. 

He said schools need to be more creative to in looking at ways to fill jobs. 

Some schools have cited high-demand subjects such as science as among the hardest to fill. But Strobel said they could look at bringing back retirees at less than the two-thirds cut off to teach those classes. 

According to the Department of Employee Trust Funds, there were 4,407 retirees who were rehired to public jobs in 2018. Of those, 55.7 percent were teachers. The vast majority worked less than two-thirds of full-time hours, allowing them to continue collecting their pensions. 

“It’s a market-driven thing as it should be,” Stroebel said. 

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GOP Says Evers’ Special Ed Boost Won’t Happen

By John Forester | March 13, 2019

Check out the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel story.

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