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Wisconsin lawmakers set $639M in new funding for schools

Lawmakers writing the next state budget on Monday voted to include a $639 million funding increase for Wisconsin schools — about $10 million less than the record amount Gov. Scott Walker proposed earlier this year.

The budget-writing committee also included in the budget an increase in the household income limits for the statewide private school voucher program in order to expand the number of families who are eligible to send their children to private schools using a taxpayer-funded voucher. The plan also limits the number of times a school district can ask voters to raise property taxes to pay for building projects and school operations.

The plan proposed by Republicans, who control the budget committee, also allows school districts that spend less per student than the average school district to raise their property taxes, eliminates expiration dates for teacher and school administrator licenses and gives about $9 million to public and private schools to buy computers for ninth graders.

Despite the increase in funding, which Democrats have long called for after years of cuts or no increase in state funding for schools, the Republican-backed proposals drew the ire of Democrats on the budget committee because they also included expanding the number of taxpayer-funded vouchers, independent charter schools and adding state money for services for schools at private schools.

"How is that we can continue to divert money to private schools?" Rep. Gordon Hintz, D-Oshkosh, said. But Rep. Mary Felzkowski, R-Irma, said the Republican plan aims to allow parents, regardless of their household income, to provide the best choice of school for their children.

Walker earlier this year proposed nearly $649 million in new spending for schools in his $11.5 billion K-12 education plan, which he promoted for months this year at public schools across Wisconsin.

A spokesman for budget committee co-chairwoman Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, said Monday the budget-writing committee reduced that figure to $639 million in the next state budget because of reductions to funding proposed by Walker for rural school districts and for schools in the Milwaukee School District that meet academic achievement goals.

Walker, in a statement, thanked the committee for its actions after the package was approved 12-4.

School district administrators and board members have hailed the thrust of the governor's budget proposal: a provision that would increase the $250 school districts currently receive per student by $200 in the 2017-18 school year and another $204 in the 2018-19 school year.

But those school officials also are starting the next school year without knowing for sure that they'll see that increase as lawmakers continue to delay passing a 2017-19 state budget, which was due to be in place July 1.

"There are some superintendents that are posting long-term substitute positions or one-year positions to mitigate the risk in between accessing the money and implementing staff," Brad Saron, Sun Prairie School District Superintendent, said Friday.

Darling said lawmakers in the Assembly and Senate will vote on the full budget during the week of Sept. 14.

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