Among the dozens of Democratic Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers’ line-item vetoes for state Republicans’ two-year budget on Wednesday was a move to boost funding for public education for the next four centuries.
The budget approved by Wisconsin lawmakers hiked the revenue limit for school districts—or how much they can raise from state aid and local property taxes—by $325 per student “for the 2023-24 school year and the 2024-25 school year.” Evers, a former public school teacher and administrator, turned that into “for 2023-2425.”
Evers said during a press conference that while he has been able to increase aid by over $300 per student in recent years, “we know that we will still have a lot of work [to] ensure that state investments can keep up with inflation. So I have also used my broad veto authority to provide school districts with predictable long-term increases for the foreseeable future.”
As The Cap Times reported:
It comes amid high inflation and after two years of frozen per pupil revenue limits in the previous state budget. Republicans justified those limits by pointing to the significant amounts of federal Covid-19 relief funding districts received, but districts suggested that put them in a challenging position as they relied on one-time funds for ongoing costs.
In many cases, districts now face fiscal cliffs for the 2024-25 budget, after the federal money has expired. The Madison Metropolitan School District, for example, provided the maximum base wage increase for staff this year of 8%, and combined with other costs, faces a cliff of more than $20 million before it has even started working on that budget.
The change, by the time it expired in 2425, would add $130,650 per pupil to a district’s revenue limit. The revenue limit for MMSD in 2022-23 was $14,254 per student.
Dan Rossmiller, who represents the Wisconsin Association of School Boards, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that the boost was “certainly appreciated” but the impact could vary by district and may not be enough to address inflation in some regions.
“I wish the amount would have been higher,” Rossmiller said. “With inflation at 40-year highs, it’s really important to be able to attract and retain teachers and staff, and to be able to pay the increased costs of everything in a school district’s budget.”
The governor’s veto message says in part that “building on our historic progress in fully funding our public schools, this budget and 2023 Wisconsin Act 11 provide an overall increase of nearly $1.2 billion in spendable authority for public school districts, including state categorical aids. This increase will be more than 10 times larger than what the increase in spendable authority was for public school districts in the 2021-23 biennium.”
“While this is progress compared to the last biennium, this budget is well short of my proposed level of spending for our schools,” the message notes. “We must continue to work to prioritize school funding during this biennium and into the future. This budget is an important step toward meeting our ultimate goals for our schools and our kids.”
More broadly, Evers’ message stresses that “we have gotten to work these last four years making smart, strategic investments—and our economy shows it. So, we began this biennial budget process with historic opportunity, and with it, historic responsibility—not to be careless or reckless, but to save where we can and stay well within our means while still investing in needs that have long been neglected to protect the future we are working hard to build together.”
“Even as I am glad the Legislature joined me in making critical investments in several key areas, the fact remains that this budget, while now improved through strategic vetoes, remains imperfect and incomplete,” the message adds, explaining that Evers did not veto it in full because doing so “would mean abandoning priorities and ideas that I have spent four years advocating for.”
In addition to the public education funding adjustment, Evers targeted the GOP’s $3.5 billion tax cut for the state’s richest residents, taking action to ensure that relief “goes to working families who need help affording rising costs—not the wealthiest 11 taxpayers in Wisconsin, who would have received an average tax cut of $1.8 million per year,” the governor’s office said.
Evers’ more than 50 vetoes for the 2023-25 budget also include changes to invest in childcare for working parents, help lower-income households update their homes to address dangers such as lead and mold, and enable the University of Wisconsin system to retain 188.80 full-time positions.