State, local officials react to Walker's K-12 education funding plan

By Chris Gothner, Channel 3000

MADISON, Wis. - State and local officials are reacting to Gov. Scott Walker's plan for $649 milllion in additional school funding, which was announced Sunday.

If approved by the Legislature, it would increase the state's share of total education costs to 64.6 percent, its highest level since 2009, according to The Associated Press. That would mean $200 in funds per pupil.

State Superintendent Tony Evers, who's up for re-election this spring, offered plenty of praise for Walker's plan in an interview with News 3 on Monday. He said the plan makes up for a lack of state education funds over the past few years.

"It gets us to a starting place that is much better than the starting place we had the last two budgets," Evers said. "It's catching up and it's also addressing some lagging issues."

Evers said Walker's budget plan largely mirrors his own proposal.

"(The) overall increases, focus on rurals, focus on mental health -- he did all three. Would I have wanted it maybe distributed a little differently and so on? But $650 million is the right trajectory," Evers said.

Evers said his differences with Walker's plan lies in how funds would be distributed. He wouldn't raise districts' revenue limits, or how much money they can raise through taxes.

"I'd like to see (funds distributed) in less of an equal way and more of an equitable way," Evers said. "Certain kids have higher costs than others."

Evers said he also would have liked to see more funds for special education and English learners.

"It would have been good to have some increases," he said.

Locally, Middleton-Cross Plains Area School District Superintendent George Mavroulis said Walker's plan is welcome news for his district.

"The last five years have been a challenge from state funding perspectives," he said. "Our costs have been going up and student needs have been increasing, so every penny, every little bit will help."

Mavroulis said district leaders are still digging into the details, but he likes the plan's emphasis on student mental health and workforce development and said it could allow for additional programs for students.

"This will give us an opportunity to really look at how can we support them in that learning," Mavroulis said. "We might be able to do some things a little bit differently with this funding."

Mavroulis said he hopes after years of tight state funding, things are on the right track.

"I'm optimistic," he said. "I'm hopeful that things are moving in the right direction."

Reaction from state legislators has been mixed.

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, said late Monday he can't get behind the school funding plan.

Fitzgerald said he's cautious and knows other Republican senators won't support it yet before a full discussion.

Rep. Katrina Shankland, D-Stevens Point, released a statement Sunday saying the plan doesn't repair the damage Walker has caused to public education during his tenure as governor.

“This new budget doesn’t dig Gov. Walker out of the hole that he created to reward the private voucher lobby, and it doesn’t make up for the millions in additional property taxes that Wisconsinites
have had to pay to fund their local schools," the statement said. "The damage Republicans have caused public schools during their six years of one-party rule will take much more to repair than what the governor is proposing."

The Wisconsin Association of School Boards released a statement in support of Walker's plan. 

"This is great news for Wisconsin’s 422 public school districts and the students they serve," the statement said. 

Walker will formally present his budget to the Legislature for its consideration Wednesday afternoon.