JUNE 17, 2015

Budget Update
The legislature has been working on the state budget for the last several months. As a member of the Joint Finance Committee, that has been my primary focus. I've been meeting with groups and individuals from my district and all across the state. I've received emails and calls from many of you, and I appreciate getting feedback and hearing about your concerns. I wanted to give you some more detailed information on some different areas that the committee has been working on.

The committee still has at least one more day of executive session left. After the committee has completed its work, the budget will head to the Senate and Assembly floors to be voted on in its entirety. It will then head to Governor Walker for his signature, hopefully by the end of June.


K-12 Education

In case you missed my guest column on K-12 Education this week, please click here to view it.  Also, please see  below for responses to many frequently asked questions on the K-12 budget or click here to view the document.

Funding
The legislature’s Joint Finance Committee (JFC) recently voted to modify the Governor’s proposed education budget by investing nearly $200 million in additional funding over the 2015-2017 biennium.  The JFC voted to level fund public schools in 2015-2016 and increase funding by $100 per pupil in 2016-2017 for all Wisconsin public school students.  This is in addition to the increases that were approved in the 2013-15 budget, when school districts received a $75 per pupil increase in year one and another $150 per pupil increase in year two.  These increases are per pupil “categorical aid” which means that property taxes will not go up. 

The claim that Wisconsin will be below the national average in per pupil spending was based on speculation of what might happen if the JFC did not restore funding that the Governor proposed to reduce in year one of the budget.  In fact, JFC not only restored the funding ($150 per pupil), but added another $100 per pupil in year two.  One third of the state general fund is spent on public education, our number one expenditure of state tax dollars. We are budgeted to spend $5.6 billion in 2017 on school funding in Wisconsin. Wisconsin is ranked 17th in per pupil spending in the country. In 2013, Wisconsin spent an average of $11,071 per pupil while the national average was $10,700 per pupil.  There is no data available for 2014.

Parental Choice Program
In addition to income qualifications which limit the statewide parental choice program to families at or below 185% of the federal poverty level, the JFC proposal includes many new mechanisms that will serve to responsibly limit the program after removal of the statewide cap.  For example, starting with the next round of applications, the program is limited to prior year public school students, with the exception of entry points for kindergarten, first and eighth grade.  The program is also limited to 1% of pupils in a school district (with a 1% annual increase in future years).  Furthermore, school districts can continue to count resident students for general aid and revenue limit purposes and retain those dollars, just as they are allowed to do under the widely-accepted open enrollment program.  As has been proven by the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau, the parental choice program allows for more aid per student to flow into our local schools.  That’s  because the cost per pupil in the statewide parental choice program ($7,210 for K-8 and $7,856 for high school) is significantly below the state average of $11,071 per pupil in the public schools. 

Accountability Reports and Testing
Under the JFC budget proposal, all schools receiving public funding (choice, charter, public) will be graded using the same five-star report card system that accounts for students’ growth in reading and math skills, school poverty levels, and a school’s ability to close gaps in achievement among groups of students.  This is a change from the Governor’s proposed letter grade report card.  Also, the motion requires the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) to request a waiver from the federal Department of Education to allow the state to approve between three and five assessments, with each school district, independent “2r” charter school, and private choice school able to select an assessment to administer in each year from an approved list.  If the waiver is obtained, DPI and the state will be required to utilize the services of the University of Wisconsin-Madison Value Added Research Center (VARC) to compile a list of nationally recognized, norm-referenced alternative assessments that are acceptable for statistical comparison with the assessment adopted or approved by the State Superintendent.

Independent “2r” Charter Schools
The budget includes the expansion of independent charter schools in Wisconsin.  Under this proposal, the proposed Madison Prep charter school, which is modeled on meeting the needs of low-income minority students, could be authorized by the UW System.  Tribal colleges would also be allowed to authorize independent charter schools. Wisconsin’s Native American tribes highlighted their desire for charter schools that focus on preserving and revitalizing tribal languages and culture as a priority at the recent State of the Tribes Address.  There was language in the Gateway Technical College motion that allowed for authorization of independent charter schools counties adjacent to the Gateway Technical College District (which would include Rock County).  Media interviews indicate Gateway has no intention of pursuing this type of arrangement.  However, I have asked for the adjacent counties provision to be removed.  

Tuition for Students Attending Out-of-State School
This is not a new policy item.  Current law allows for a permissive agreement between school districts for out-of-state pupils.  The only change proposed is to require the payment to be specified in the agreement.  This budget provision fixes a problem related to specific circumstances with the state of Michigan and Wisconsin in which Wisconsin students are attending Michigan public schools under an unfair tuition agreement. In February of 2015 the Wisconsin Association of School Boards (WASB) passed Resolution 15-09 which stated that, “WASB supports modifications to the tuition payment statute that currently allows some Wisconsin pupils to attend an out-of-state school with the pupil’s resident district making tuition payments to the out-of-state school district.”   

Learning Portfolio
The Learning Portfolio provision gives school districts the option of allowing students to earn credit through ‘competency based education’. Students would be able to earn credits for demonstrating competency in coursework outside of the traditional testing for competency methods. The program is completely optional and may be well suited for students seeking credit for demonstrating fluency in a foreign language or performance art (for example) as opposed to awarding credit hours for “seat time”.  This program is entirely voluntary.

Alternative Teacher Licensure
Based on feedback received, the JFC is looking at ways to revise this proposal to ensure that it meets the intent of recommendation of the bipartisan “Speakers Task Force on Rural Schools” that was convened during the 2013-2014 legislative session. http://thewheelerreport.com/wheeler_docs/files/0506taskforcereport.pdf.

The budget proposal does allow for flexibilities for teacher licensure or permits.  However, school boards are under no obligation to utilize the provision. The proposal is for grades 6 through 12 and is not intended to replace the full-time professional educator in the classroom.  The alternative licensing option was identified as a way to allow local people to offer their skill and industry expertise in the classroom, to provide a learning opportunity that otherwise the student may not get. This is especially important subjects such as career and technical education, business, and other non-core subjects.  Under the alternative licensure option, the local school board and superintendent are designated the role of 1) identifying the course need in the classroom and 2) identifying a proficient individual in the community for an alternative license/permit to teach the course. Additionally, the license/permit granted by DPI would be valid only for the district where the individual has been deemed qualified; it is non-transferrable to other districts.  It is also limited to the subject or subjects for which a school board determines the individual is proficient and possesses sufficient experience. 


Transportation

There are a several budgeting options on the table for transportation funding.  We can borrow and spend, cut projects, or raise revenues and pay for projects as we go along.  This is one of the most difficult issues remaining to be settled in the budget and I am glad that this public debate is happening.  Wisconsin families, business owners and local officials need to talk about the future of our roads and bridges.  An investment in our highways is an investment in our economy and the future of Wisconsin. I look forward to seeing some real solutions in this budget and future budgets.

A few months ago, I asked the Wisconsin Department of Transportation to provide me with a summary of the justification for the I39/I90 expansion from the Illinois/Wisconsin border to Madison.  Some people had asked me if the project was still needed if traffic was adjusted for post-recession traffic volumes.  Here is their response:

We understand and expect the traffic volumes to change over time due to many factors that may increase or decrease. The forecasts have been adjusted multiple times since the original year of 2000.  The travel demand models were updated when the final design process was started after project enumeration. The current travel demand models updated social economic factors which, based on the recent recession, generally reflect a lower projection of future households and employment than what was included in the previous travel demand model.

Additionally, the current travel demand model incorporates the latest traffic forecasting methodologies, which provides an improvement over the previous methodologies utilized. The results of the improvements yielded a slightly lower growth rate in the travel demand model as compared to the previous model.  Our latest traffic counts support an expansion of this corridor of I-39/90 in Dane and Rock counties.

The original purpose of this project – to accommodate future traffic growth, meet current design standards, improve overall safety, and replace aging pavement and structures – remains the same. The need for the project – an anticipated increase in traffic volume, crash rates above the statewide average, and geometric, pavement, and structural deficiencies – also remains unchanged.

Design Standards and Aging Infrastructure
 There are numerous roadway deficiencies in the I-39/90 corridor that do not meet current design standards, including substandard horizontal and vertical curves, grades, bridge widths and structures that have reached their serviceable lives, interchange configurations, and deteriorated pavement conditions.

Safety
Between 2008 and 2012, there were 1,902 crashes along this stretch of Interstate. Of these, 543 resulted in injuries and 20 in fatalities. This crash rate is 20 percent higher than the statewide average. Safety is a priority in all WisDOT projects, and was a major component in last year’s reconstruction of the I-39/90 and WIS 11 (Racine Street) interchange in Janesville, in advance of the Interstate expansion.

I-39/90 is a route of national, state, regional, and local importance. The route is on the National Highway System (NHS) and is a Corridors 2030 Backbone route. Other factors considered important to this project corridor are:

Movement of Goods
 I-39/90 is a federal truck route with about 35% of its total traffic volume consisting of heavy trucks. Truck route designation increases the importance of the route to operate safely and efficiently. The high volume of trucks, compared to other interstate segments within Wisconsin (14%-20%), signifies the importance of the route in movement of goods throughout the state and nation.

Tourism
I-39/90 also serves as a gateway to Wisconsin’s northwoods, a regional destination for both instate and out-of-state tourists. Traffic patterns on I-39/90 reflect the importance of this highway as a seasonal recreational route. Therefore, the highest capacity utilization occurs during the summer months and holidays. 

Traffic volumes are important and are continually monitored by our corridor team. There are many other factors that are considered in justifying the expenditure of public funds for these highway improvements.  


Milwaukee Bucks

Gov. Walker, state and local leaders recently announced terms of the new Bucks Arena deal in a press conference. For more details, watch the press conference and the read the Governor's Press Release. I will be keeping a close eye on this issue and will keep you informed of any changes to come.
 


Where to Find Budget Information

 You can follow the executive sessions by watching Wisconsin Eye.

More information about the budget can be found here.

Executive Session agendas can be found here.


My Capitol office at 306 East is here to help you with general inquiries as well as questions and concerns regarding legislative matters. Feel free to contact me or my staff. We are always ready to assist you in your needs. Please visit my website for press releases and other Capitol updates.

If you have any comments regarding the subject of this E-Update, please feel free to contact me.   

State Capitol Room 306 East- PO Box 8952, Madison, WI 53708
Toll-Free (888) 529-0031 or (608) 266-9967
Email: Rep.Loudenbeck@legis.wi.gov

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