Two significant pieces of the state budget bill, education funding and SeniorCare, were taken up this week by the Joint Committee on Finance as it met on May 19th and 21st.  Following this week’s action, it is anticipated that the Committee will finish its work on the budget bill in the coming days.
 
On education funding, the Committee acted to increase education funding by nearly $200 million over the current budget proposal.  This increase will restore the funding reduction proposed in the first year and provide an increase in per pupil aid in the second year.  In addition to the per pupil funding, the Committee also increased funding for sparsity aid and transportation aid, as well as creating a new $5 million appropriation for a new high cost special education aid program.
 
The Committee also acted to preserve SeniorCare and removed the Governor’s proposed changes to this program from the budget bill.  SeniorCare is a valued program for many seniors in western Wisconsin and across the state and provides access to affordable prescription medications.  SeniorCare has proven to be a cost-effective program that saves dollars for both seniors and taxpayers.
 
In other action taken this week the Committee:
·         Created a dental pilot program, which will include Polk County, to expand access to dental services to low-income residents
·         Approved increased payments to hospitals that serve high numbers of low-income individuals
·         Eliminated the proposed mergers of state agencies given implementation concerns
·         Established drug testing requirements for participation in certain public assistance programs
·         Maintained oversight and consumer protection of for-profit colleges to prevent fraud and abuse