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State Budget Alert: Joint Finance Committee

By John Forester | March 29, 2021

With the Legislative Fiscal Bureau’s (LFB) summary of Governor Evers’ State Budget proposal having been released, the 2021-23 State Budget process has begun to pick up speed.  At this point, we believe the Joint Finance Committee (JFC) will conduct state agency briefings April 6th and 7th and hold a total of four public hearings (three in-person and one virtual) on the budget bill beginning on April 9th and concluding on April 28th (see March 10 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, SAA members in every school district must contact their legislators repeatedly throughout the long budget process.

I suggest that each district leadership team, behind the leadership of the superintendent and business manager, develop 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. Consider inviting 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. Discuss your district’s 2020-21 spending on COVID safety, technology, additional staffing, etc., and how you used your initial federal aid for these purposes.  Also, share your plans for using additional one-time federal aid on your district’s student recovery efforts.  Finally, make sure to explain that one-time federal aid is designed for COVID relief and recovery.  Resources to support continuing educational opportunities for your students must come from the state budget process.  Keep in mind that some legislators have openly expressed the opinion that, because of this one-time federal aid, public schools in Wisconsin don’t need ongoing support in the 2021-23 state budget.
  3. Express your strong support for the Governor’s proposal to increase the level of special education aid to reimburse 50 percent of aidable costs by the end of the 2021-23 biennium.  First and foremost, this proposal will help us meet the ongoing needs of our most vulnerable students.  Also, Wisconsin school districts collectively transfer about $1.15 billion annually from district general funds to cover the funding gap between required special education costs and current state funding.  Explain your district’s “general fund to special education fund” annual transfer and how significant increases in special education aid can help meet the needs of all students in your district.
  4. Express your strong support for at least a $200 per 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.
  5. Express your strong support for comprehensive pupil count mitigation including: 1) Allowing districts to use the greater of the 2019-20 or 2020-21 pupil count for revenue limit calculations; 2) Increasing special adjustment aid from 85 percent to 90 percent of prior year general aid in each year of the biennium; and 3) Treating the non-recurring declining enrollment exemption and base revenue hold harmless as recurring adjustments for one year only.  Be sure to explain your district’s projected fiscal impact of the pupil count decline and what that could mean for educational opportunities for the kids you serve.
  6. Express your strong support for the Governor’s $46.5 million proposed expansion of the School Mental Health Categorical Aid program to provide financial support for services provided by school psychologists, nurses, counselors and social workers.
  7. Express your strong support for setting the low revenue ceiling (LRC) at 90 percent of the statewide average maximum revenue limit per student.  The current LRC amount of $10,000 is 87.3 percent of the current state average revenue limit of $11,450. A steadily improving LRC policy is an important part of ensuring equitable resources for all children no matter where they live.
  8. Express your strong support for the Governor’s $204 million proposal to expand access to affordable, reliable, high-speed Internet and attack the “homework gap”.  While the bulk of this proposal is directed at much-needed broadband expansion, it would also allocate $20 million annually to fund broadband subscriptions for low-income families.
  9. Tell your district’s story.  Your legislators need to hear it.
  10. Encourage your legislators to stand up for the children you serve.
  11. Thank them for listening and for serving the citizens of Wisconsin.

Please forward your communications using the information discussed above (and the SAA Legislative Agenda) to the members of the Joint Finance Committee and your legislators as soon as possible.  Many SAA members prefer sending letters or emails to their legislators.  Some members have found that their legislators prefer phone conversations.  Several members have said they plan to produce a video to advocate for the needs of their students. All these methods work great.  All I ask is that you copy your written or video communications to the SAA so we can post them as examples for your colleagues.

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.

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 point to the one-time federal aid received by schools and contend that schools don’t need additional financial support in the state budget.

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

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

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