JOINT Finance Committee holds public hearing in Berlin

By Alexa Santos, Fox 11 News

BERLIN (WLUK) -- Legislators from all over the state gathered in Berlin Friday.

The state's Joint Finance Committee heard from the public on many issues, but education was a stand-out.

In an auditorium filled with people wanting to speak out on Governor Walker's proposed budget...

One topic was heavily focused on: education.

"One of the most important parts that he included was increased spending for public education," one speaker said.

Oshkosh school district superintendent Stan Mack was one of many local school leaders to speak on the subject.

Mack said, "It will be a benefit greatly to the district in the fact that it will allow the school district to avoid a third operating referendum."

The budget proposed by Governor Walker includes about a $650 million increase in funding to public schools.

State Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette, said, "I think when all's said and done, we're going to be pretty close to where the governor's at."

State Sen. Luther Olsen, R-Ripon, said, "Education is very important to the state of Wisconsin, and we're hearing that loud and clear."

The joint finance committee is majority republican. Democrats on the committee say there's room for even more to be done for education.

State Rep. Katrina Shankland, D-Stevens Point, said, "We've heard even if the budget does pass as is, some school districts will still have to make cuts. That says a lot about Republican Scott Walker and Republican Legislature over the last three budgets."

A group called Wisconsin Leadership Development advocated within and outside of the hearing for several causes, namely public education.

Carol Lenz, a public education advocate, said, "There's a great need to increase funding just to keep our class sizes down. Public education should be public."

But others agree with Walker's plan to fund all schools, not just public.

Justin Moralez, with the American Federation for Children, said, "Many people such as myself and my organization believe that kids are the ones we should be funding, not the institution."

There will be three more joint finance committee public meetings. Votes on the budget are expected to start in May.

On Thursday, the committee announced it was scrapping Governor Walker's transportation plan and starting from scratch.

Committee members say they're taking public feedback from these meetings into consideration when coming up with a new plan.