By Senator Howard Marklein
July 7, 2017
My Education Priority Report Card
Funding for K-12 education is usually one of the most difficult pieces of the state budget process. More than $10 billion is invested in public K-12 education every year. This represents 35% of all state spending; the largest investment in state tax dollars every year. This much spending requires careful consideration, planning and strategy.
While we haven’t finished the education section of the state budget yet, there are a couple of items that I am specifically focused on to support the rural schools in the 17th Senate District. I have visited nearly all of the 33 school districts in the 17th District within the last year to discuss their needs, plans and ideas. I regularly contact the superintendents and leaders at our schools to touch base and seek input. The following pieces of the state budget are high priorities for me, based on these discussions and input from individuals throughout the district:
$200, $204 Increases in Per Pupil Aid – Governor Scott Walker’s budget proposed to add $200 and $204 in per pupil aid for every K-12 public school student statewide. This means that in 2017-18, every school district will receive $200 more per pupil across the board. In 2018-19, they will receive $204 more per pupil.
These funds will be distributed as Categorical Aids, which means that the increases will not impact the revenue cap under which the school district operates nor be affected by the equalization aid formula. This is needed financial relief, especially in the rural schools of the 17th District where enrollment is declining.
Sparsity Aid – The Governor’s budget increases sparsity aid from $300 per pupil to $400 per pupil and creates a second tier for schools between 746 and 1,000 pupils of $100 per pupil. Sparsity Aid funding will increase 56 % from fiscal year 2016-17 to fiscal year 2017-18.
Sparsity Aid is targeted relief for school districts with fewer than 745 members and less than 10 pupils per square mile. It is meant to add funding for small, rural school districts that are seeing declining enrollment. As I have mentioned before, school funding is tied directly to the number of children in the classroom. When this number declines, the overall size of a school’s budget decreases.
High Cost Transportation Aid – Many of the rural school districts in the 17th District have very expensive transportation programs to bus children to school. The Governor’s budget fully funds high cost transportation aids. Aid will increase 69% to an all-time high of $25.4 million over the biennium.
Mental Health Services – I also support the Governor’s investment of $6.5 million to improve and expand school mental health services.
Youth Options – The Governor’s budget creates an Early College Credit Program, combining Youth Options and Course Options into a more simple and flexible program allowing students to gain college credit before leaving high school. The budget will provide $2.9 million in funding to help offset the costs of the program for students, school districts, and colleges.
No Expansion of the School Choice Program – I have spoken up against new expansion of the School Choice Program. While I support a parent’s choice in education, I think the current system is working and sufficient. I believe that the choice payments should be made between the school district of residence and the choice school. This way, communities without a school choice school are not impacted by the program.
Fair Support for Low Spending Districts – Members of the State Assembly recently proposed a plan that would provide relief for low-spending school districts. I have been working with my colleagues to evaluate the plan to provide relief without penalizing districts that spend more. The original plan would have been detrimental to the majority of school districts in the 17th District. We are working on a more equitable approach.
Overall, I believe that this budget is very generous to public education. I also believe it makes positive, necessary investments in our schools. As we continue working on this part of the overall budget, I will keep up the fight for rural schools. Our communities have a voice in this conversation.
For more information and to connect with me, visit my website http://legis.wisconsin.gov/senate/17/marklein and subscribe to my weekly E-Update by sending an email to Sen.Marklein@legis.wisconsin.gov. Do not hesitate to call 800-978-8008 if you have input, ideas or need assistance with any state-related matters.