Assembly Republicans propose $500 million more for schools

MADISON — Assembly Republicans on Wednesday, May 22 said they support increasing funding for K-12 schools by $500 million over the next two years, considerably less than half of the $1.4 billion that Gov. Tony Evers proposed.

Republicans unveiled a broad outline of their plan in the Assembly chamber a day before the budget-writing Joint Finance Committee was scheduled to vote on it. That Republican-controlled committee is reworking Evers' budget before advancing it to the full Senate and Assembly for approval.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said he hoped Evers would accept the Republican plan.

Evers, who was state superintendent of schools before being elected governor, praised the last budget that increased funding by $639 million as "kid friendly."

"So obviously, if the last budget was kid friendly, this is kid friendly plus," Vos said.

Evers' spokeswoman did not immediately return a message seeking comment.

Education funding is the single largest item of state spending in the budget, currently taking up about a third of all money allocated. Evers' $83.5 billion state budget included fulfilling his campaign promise to increase state aid for K-12 schools by $1.4 billion, or 10%. That includes $606 million for special education. Republicans said they would increase special education funding by $50 million.

Republicans were also proposing $20 million more for mental health needs and increases in the per-pupil funding of $200 the first year and $204 the second year — the same increase as in the last budget.

Rep. John Nygren, co-chair of the Legislature's budget committee, said the deal would result in property taxes going up on average less than 1%, or about half as much as the Evers proposal.

Evers met with Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald earlier Wednesday and said he looked forward to finding common ground on education, criminal justice reform and transportation.

Fitzgerald said in a statement that Republicans in the Senate and Assembly "seem to be headed in a very similar direction in crafting another pro-kid budget. I'll continue to talk with the speaker and members of the Senate caucus ahead of tomorrow's vote."

Evers' education proposal, in addition to $606 million for special education, includes $611 million in general aid. That money is funneled through the state aid formula that takes into account property wealth of a district, resulting in poorer districts receiving more funding.

Sending money to schools on a per-pupil basis, as Assembly Republicans proposed, spreads it out equally across the state, regardless of how wealthy or poor a district is.

Evers and Republican legislative leaders have only met a couple of times. Evers on Monday suggested Republicans don't want to negotiate with his chief of staff because she is a woman. He called on Vos and Fitzgerald to explain why they won't work with women who lead his office.

Vos and Fitzgerald have repeatedly rejected the accusation they won't negotiate with women in Evers' office, but Vos has said he will only deal directly with Evers because they are the elected officials, not staff.

Fitzgerald said Evers and Republicans on Wednesday discussed the "back and forth between the administration and the Legislature." He said that "maybe" progress had been made, but Vos said it was "too early to tell."

"The conversations that we have are going to stay private. That's what we all agreed to," Vos said. He later suggested he was ready to move on from their sparring over the weekend.

"In politics, it is a mistake to have a grudge," Vos said.

Evers seemed to strike a conciliatory tone in his statement following the meeting, saying he looked forward "to continued conversation around ways we can find common ground."