Lawmakers, expert react to Gov. Walker's budget proposal

By Hannah Anderson, WSAW News

MADISON, Wis. (WSAW) -- Governor Scott Walker wants an increase of $649 million into K-12 schools, sending more money directly to the classroom. He made the announcement Wednesday during his annual budget address in Madison.

Rural schools will see a boost, too-- receiving $20 million more in sparsity aid and an increase in technology and infrastructure grant funding by more than $22 million.

The funds Walker wants to go toward K-12 schooling are getting positive reviews from across the state. Something he hasn't gotten from public school supporters in the past six years.

“It's really important to look at the context of the past six years. He's cut over a billion dollars in state aid to public schools. He's cut millions of dollars from our UW and faculty," said Rep. Katrina Shankland, (D) 71st Assembly District.

Shankland also said school districts like the Unified School District of Antigo are a prime example of what public schools are trying to do with what they have. The district is looking to consolidate its resources. The plan would move eighth grade students to Antigo High School-- making it an eighth through 12th grade building. All fourth and fifth grade students would move to Antigo Middle School-- making a fourth through seventh grade intermediate building. 4-year-old kindergarten through third grade students would move to East, West and North Elementary Schools. Nothing has been finalized on that plan just yet.

“Yes, we made a lot of cuts, but now he's doing the right thing and bringing back the money that's taken,” said Rep. Pat Snyder, (R) 85th Assembly District.

Snyder said the budget proposals seem a bit friendlier after years of cuts to public schools and the UW system.

"The state of the state is strong and the state of our budget is outstanding," Walker pointed out. "We're investing more money into education than ever before in the history of Wisconsin."

$11.5 million more is expected in K-12 funding. The University of Wisconsin System gets a five percent tuition cut for undergraduate students and $100 million more to help the system. Technical schools get a tuition freeze, plus a flat rate on a first year of UW classes.

“It's an investment in our future. You want the best for your kids and grandchildren. Well, unfortunately, it takes money and that's just the way it is,” said Sen. Jerry Petrowski, (R) 29th Assembly District.

"These significant new dollars for education will go into the classroom. In the past, our budget allowed our schools substantial savings. However, our budget isn't about the past. It's about propelling us into the future," Walker said.

All Governor Walker has to do now is convince fellow republicans --who control the state legislature-- to support his proposals. Experts say they aren't sure how it will all play out.

"The money for K-through 12 education is going to be distributed per pupil across the state, equally across the state. And so, therefore, that doesn't take into account that poorer districts usually get more than richer districts," said UW-Stevens Point Political Science Professor Ed Miller.

Republican legislative leaders have been cautious in their reactions to Walker's UW and K-12 proposals, saying they want to see how the additional spending fits with the rest of the budget.

With this budget in the books, now it gets a look from the legislature to be edited and voted on in the upcoming months.