Erpenbach Won’t Seek Re-election

By John Forester | December 8, 2021

From WisPolitics.com …Longtime Dem state Sen. Jon Erpenbach, a member of the Finance Committee and a former Senate minority leader, announced today he won’t seek re-election in 2022.Erpenbach, 60, is the first Dem lawmaker to announce plans to retire ahead of the 2022 elections.He was first elected to the Senate in 1998 and was unopposed for reelection four years later. It has been a solidly Dem seat since.Erpenbach thanked those who have supported him as well as the public employees “that work hard day in and day out to help legislators like me and the constituents we represent.”“I will miss spending time with all of the wonderful people across the state of Wisconsin that I have met along the way. I will also miss my Capitol parking space!” said Erpenbach, who often cracks jokes during debate on the Senate floor and in Finance.See the release here.

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Assembly Committee to Take Up Post-Secondary Ban on Teaching CRT

By John Forester | December 8, 2021

From WisPolitics.com …The Assembly Colleges and Universities Committee today will exec legislation that backers say would ban teaching critical race theory on UW and tech college system campuses.AB 413 would also prohibit race and sex stereotyping in training provided to employees in both systems.The bill that would impose a similar ban on K-12 schools — AB 411 — cleared the Assembly 60-38 in September.See the hearing notice here.

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WPF: Property Taxes Set for Lowest Increase in Two Years

By John Forester | December 7, 2021

From WisPolitics.com …Property taxpayers are in line for smaller increases this month than they saw in the last two years, thanks to a bump in school levies, a drop for tech colleges and a rise in a state tax credit, according to the nonpartisan Wisconsin Policy Forum.With information on municipality property tax levies not available until next year, the group looked at the other major components of taxpayers’ bills in drawing its conclusion.The Wisconsin Policy Forum, which does a look at statewide property tax levies each December, found gross property tax levies for K-12 school districts are going up 0.3 percent to $5.4 billion. Property taxes for K-12 education make up the largest portion of a homeowners’ bill, and the coming increase is the smallest since the 0.1 percent hike in 2016.The Legislative Fiscal Bureau’s preliminary look at property taxes under the 2021-23 budget suggested K-12 levies would drop slightly on the 2022 bills going out this month. But the Wisconsin Policy Forum found a slight increase due to several factors, including local referendums approved by voters.The group noted that in the 115 districts that have passed a referendum since January 2020, property taxes for the 2021-22 school year will increase about 1.9 percent. In the 306 that haven’t, levies will decrease by about 0.5 percent.Meanwhile, the rise in voucher school enrollment is also impacting school levies. Districts that lose state aid because students leave for the choice program can increase property taxes to help make up for the lost state aid. Voucher enrollment rose 6.6 percent to 48,919 students in 2021-22.On other portions of the property tax bill:*county levies will rise by 2.3 percent, similar to the increase from the previous year.*levies for the state’s 16 tech college districts will fall by 3.4 percent — just the second drop in the last two decades — due to additional state aid.*levies for more than 500 special districts will grow by 2.5 percent to $122.7 million. More than 86 percent of that will be from the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District. Its levy grew by 3 percent, while all other special districts combined by a 0.5 percent decrease.The group also noted its analysis looked at gross property tax levies before state credits are applied. That includes the state lottery credit, which is expected to rise by $85 million this year and should help hold down overall increases.See the report here.

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JFC Co-chairs Take Issue with USDE Action on State ESSER Plan

By John Forester | December 7, 2021

From WisPolitics.com . . .

The GOP Joint Finance Committee co-chairs are calling politically motivated the U.S. Department of Education’s issue with how the committee approved using some COVID-19 relief money for schools.Meanwhile, the state Department of Public Instruction says it will work with the Biden administration and lawmakers to resolve the issue.DPI announced yesterday the feds had signed off on most of the state’s plan for $1.5 billion in COVID-19 funds under ARPA. But it placed a hold on 5 percent of the money that the Joint Finance Committee directed to small, rural schools that had provided in-person instruction during the pandemic.The feds had required states to use the disputed money to support students most severely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. That included a requirement that the money be used for learning loss, after school programs and summer schools address the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on underrepresented student groups such as those who are homeless or are in foster care.In May, the committee reworked DPI’s plan for $154 million in federal money to create a pot of grants that were earmarked for districts that had provided in-person instruction for at least 50 percent of the 2020-21 school year. The committee also voted along party lines to give a priority to small, rural districts.The feds’ concern impacts $77 million of that money.At the time, the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau said it was unclear whether the feds would sign off on the JFC plan. Still, the agency noted federal guidance on COVID funds had been constantly evolving and if the Biden administration decided the state plan was inadequate, it would be up to DPI to try amending it until a proposal was approved.“We at the DPI are committed to working with legislative leaders and the USDE to address this issue,” said state Superintendent Jill Underly. “We all share a mutual interest in doing what is best for Wisconsin’s students, and that means supporting our learners as thoroughly and expediently as possible.”JFC Co-chairs Mark Born, R-Beaver Dam, and Howard Marklein, R-Spring Green, accused DPI of working “behind the scenes with their political counterparts in Washington D.C. to find ways to deny our efforts to reward schools that did the hard work of educating our kids in person during a pandemic.”“Our local school leaders, teachers, school boards, legislators and parents have been working very hard to do what is best for our kids, while government bureaucrats have been playing games with the funds that should be available to educate our kids. It’s time to do what is right,” they said.See the DPI release here.

See the Born and Marklein statement here.

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State Superintendent Statement on ESSER III Plan Approval by USDE

By John Forester | December 6, 2021

State Superintendent Dr. Jill Underly issued the following statement today in response to the U.S. Department of Education approving Wisconsin’s American Rescue Plan Elementary and Secondary Emergency Relief plan.

“Today, we received notification that the United States Department of Education has approved 95 percent of our ESSER III application. That means school districts will begin receiving much-needed federal relief in the coming weeks. This support will allow them to pursue innovative approaches to address the ongoing challenges presented by the pandemic, and to begin the process of addressing the new normal for learners, their families, our educators, and our communities.

“We at the DPI are committed to working with legislative leaders and the USDE to address this issue. We all share a mutual interest in doing what is best for Wisconsin’s students, and that means supporting our learners as thoroughly and expediently as possible.”

For the full statement and additional information on approval of the plan, visit https://dpi.wi.gov/news/releases/2021/jill-underly-esser-iii-arpa-statement.

See USDE Approval Letter here.

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LFB Releases General School Aids Memo

By John Forester | December 6, 2021

From The Wheeler Report . . .

The Legislative Fiscal Bureau has released a memo 2021-22 General School Aids Amounts for All School Districts. According to the memo, “The general school aids appropriation funds equalization, integration (Chapter 220), and special adjustment aids. In 2021-22, $5,013.6 million from the general fund is provided in the general school aids appropriation. Of the total amount of funding provided, 398 of the state’s 421 school districts are eligible for $4,945.2 million in equalization aid, 25 districts are eligible for $40.3 million in integration aid, and 62 districts are eligible for $28.1 million in special adjustment aid.”

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Evers Vetoes Senate Bill 463

By John Forester | December 3, 2021

Governor Evers today vetoed Senate Bill 463, which requires school boards to make information about learning materials and educational activities used for pupil instruction available to the public.  The bill also allows a district resident to bring legal action against the district in order to compel compliance.  The SAA opposed SB 463 and applauds the Governor’s veto.

See the Governor’s veto message here.

 

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Evers: School Districts to Get Additional $134 Per Student in ARPA Funds

By John Forester | December 2, 2021

From WisPolitics.com …Gov. Tony Evers today announced Wisconsin school districts will get an additional $134 per child through the $110 million in ARPA funds he is directing their way.Evers said districts will be able to invest the money in “whatever they need, and most importantly, whatever our kids need.”The federal government has approved three different COVID-19 packages that include funding for schools. Some of that money, though, comes with restrictions on how and when it can be used.The guv’s office said there are also no time restrictions on when districts must use the $110 million.“I’ve always said what’s best for our kids is what’s best for our state, and these funds will go a long way toward helping ensure our kids get the services and resources they need to rebound and recover,” Evers said.When Evers signed the budget in July, he criticized GOP lawmakers for not putting more state money into K-12 education and said he planned to supplement the funding with more than $100 million in federal COVID-19 funds at his disposal. Republicans countered that the state money had to be considered in the context of the $2.4 billion in COVID funds flowing to districts through the three different federal relief packages. That money is divided up through formulas set by the federal government.Today’s announcement lays out the distribution of the money at Evers’ disposal. Using a per-pupil approach, districts will get the same amount of funding for each student.A breakdown from the guv’s office shows Milwaukee Public Schools — the state’s largest district at nearly 72,000 students — will get $9.6 million. Norris School District in Mukwonago — the state’s smallest at 16 students — will receive $2,139.The aid also will benefit independent charter schools with payments ranging from $669 for one with five students to $181,322 to one with 1,356 students.Evers announced the funding during a stop in Milwaukee, where he was joined by state Superintendent Jill Underly. They also had stops today planned in Chilton, Stevens Point and Holmen.See the release here.

See the distribution by district here.

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Supreme Court Will Make Minimum Changes in Redistricting

By John Forester | December 1, 2021

From WisPolitics.com …In a win for GOP lawmakers, the conservative majority on the state Supreme Court said today it will make the “minimum changes necessary” to the current maps as it sets new boundaries for Wisconsin’s legislative and congressional districts.The 4-3 majority also rejected calls from Dems and other groups involved in the redistricting suit to consider the partisan makeup of districts in drawing new lines.Dems have decried the current lines as a partisan gerrymander, arguing the 2020 election reinforced that as Joe Biden won the state by less than a percentage point a year ago, but won more votes than Donald Trump in just 37 of the state’s 99 Assembly districts and 11 of the 33 Senate seats.Writing for the majority, conservative Justice Rebecca Bradley noted the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled there is no legal standard for federal judges to rule if a map is politically “fair.” She wrote that the Wisconsin Supreme Court is taking the same position.“Claims of political unfairness in the maps present political questions, not legal ones,” Bradley wrote. “Such claims have no basis in the constitution or any other law and therefore must be resolved through the political process and not by the judiciary.”In her dissent, liberal Justice Rebecca Dallet wrote the majority opinion had all but guaranteed that the court can’t remain neutral and nonpartisan in the redistricting process and “effectively insulates future maps from being challenged as extreme partisan gerrymanders.”A federal three-judge panel had ruled the 2011 maps Republicans drew constituted a partisan gerrymander. But that ruling was undercut when the U.S. Supreme Court set the standard in another case barring federal judges from weighing in on whether a map is a partisan gerrymander.Dallet added the upshot of today’s state ruling is “to elevate outdated partisan choices over neutral redistricting criteria. That outcome has potentially devastating consequences for representative government in Wisconsin.”Fellow liberals Ann Walsh Bradley and Jill Karofsky joined in the dissent.Today’s ruling puts in place parameters for the parties to follow as they submit proposed maps to the justices to consider.The justices had earlier asked the parties to weigh in on several questions, including whether the court should consider the partisan leaning of districts in picking a map and if it should make as few changes as possible to the current lines, which Republicans drew when they had full control of the Capitol a decade ago. One of those questions includes the relevant state and federal laws the court should consider.Ahead of today’s ruling, the court had set out a briefing schedule over the next month with a possible trial in January to set lines. Today’s decision will influence the arguments the parties will make going forward.Though it was a 4-3 ruling in most regards, conservative Justice Brian Hagedorn wrote his own concurring opinion. He took issue with the majority’s assertion that only legal requirements may be considered in setting the new lines. Hagedorn argued that wasn’t correct, citing the redistricting criteria of communities of interest. Though not a legal requirement, “it may nonetheless be an appropriate, useful, and neutral factor to weigh.” He also backed the “least-change” approach in his concurring opinion.Conservatives Pat Roggensack and Annette Ziegler joined all parts of Bradley’s majority opinion.Read the ruling here.

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Loudenbeck Won’t Seek Reelection to Assembly

By John Forester | December 1, 2021

GOP state Rep. Amy Loudenbeck, who filed earlier this month to run for secretary of state, formally announced today that she won’t seek reelection to the Assembly next fall.Today’s announcement includes no mention of her future plans. The Clinton Republican was first elected to the Assembly in 2010 and is currently Assembly vice-chair of the Joint Finance Committee.See the release here.

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