Education Remains a Top Priority
By Senator Devin LeMahieu
Over the past few months I have heard from families, educators, and taxpayers throughout our community with their concerns about the future of education. I believe we have great public and private schools in the 9th Senate District, but we must make sure they continue to be strong and innovative. Throughout this budget process, education has been one of my top priorities and I am working to address the concerns that I have heard.
One particular area of concern for many families is the decrease in the per-pupil aid for K-12 education in the Governor’s proposed budget. The current proposal includes a $150 reduction in per pupil aid for the first year of the biennium, but then restores and increases that to approximately $170 per pupil in the second year. This amounts to a $112 million reduction over the course of the biennium.
I am committed to restoring funding to K-12 education and am working with my colleagues to find the resources to do so. I am confident Republicans in the legislature will find the money necessary to restore funding to K-12 education and keep our public schools whole. We must continue to invest in education.
In addition to restoring the funding, there are other measures I am focused on that will help school districts with their budgets and ultimately protect taxpayers.
The Course Options program is a well-intentioned program designed to increase access to college and alternative courses not offered by a student’s school district. An unanticipated Attorney General opinion subsequently expanded the program beyond its initial intent. Current law also includes administrative timelines that compound the difficulty placed on school district budgets.
The program has created major difficulties for our local schools, and amounts to an unfunded mandate on many local districts. I am working with my colleagues to repeal or reform the program to ease the burden on local schools. Students and parents would still have access to many great opportunities including the Youth Options program, Advanced Placement courses, Part-Time Open Enrollment, and Concurrent Enrollment.
The prevailing wage law is another issue that affects all levels of government, including our schools. The law compels units of government, including school districts, to pay inflated wages based on a flawed and biased wage calculation, rather than the market rate on public construction projects.
A recent study from the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance found that if the prevailing wage rate reflected average market-based wages and benefits, state and local governments could have saved as much as $299 million on these projects in 2014, an 11.3% savings.
This amounts to real savings for schools. Hilbert taxpayers approved a referendum this spring totaling $11,665,000. Applying the 11.3% savings from the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance study, the district could have save an estimated $1,830,600 on the project. Manitowoc taxpayers could have saved $67,800 on its recently approved $600,000 referendum. Random Lake taxpayers approved a referendum last fall totaling $8.5 million; a repeal or modification of this law could save as much as $960,500. In the 9th Senate District alone, this would have saved local taxpayers over $2.8 million.
While protecting public schools is critical, there are other important educational aspects of the Governor’s proposed budget. I am happy to see the Governor proposed an expansion of school choice. Some concerns with the proposal have been raised, and we are working to address these concerns. However, it is important to have educational options for students – especially for those families that cannot afford other options.
Education is one of the most important services state government provides. I will continue to work to provide the necessary resources for the best possible education for all students, while also looking out for state taxpayers.
Senator Devin LeMahieu (R-Oostburg) serves the 9th Senate District, which includes portions of Calumet, Manitowoc, and Sheboygan Counties.