Gov. Walker, Tony Evers promise two-thirds funding for schools

MADISON — Gov. Scott Walker said Monday that if he's re-elected, he'll increase state funding for schools to two-thirds of their total costs, echoing a pledge made this summer by his Democratic opponent, Tony Evers.

Walker also promised to increase funding for town roads while reiterating his support for guaranteeing insurance coverage for people with pre-existing conditions, even as he seeks to repeal the federal health care law that provides it. Evers on Monday was campaigning with former U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to hit Walker on the issue.

Education, roads and health care have been key issues in the governor's race, which polls show is a tossup just three weeks before the Nov. 6 election.

Walker pitched his two-thirds education funding proposal on WISN-AM's "The Jay Weber Show," saying it could be done without raising property taxes and while keeping in place the Act 10 law, which took away collective bargaining powers from teachers and forced them to pay more for benefits.

"You've got to keep the reforms intact," Walker argued.

Britt Cudaback, the campaign spokeswoman for Evers, who is the state's school superintendent, called Walker's funding promise a "desperate move" that comes more than two months after Evers made the same pledge .

The Republican Walker this year has argued that he is a "pro-education governor ," citing his most recent budget that increased education funding to a record-how dollar amount. But it was still about $300 million short of where funding would have been if it had increased at the rate of inflation based on where it was the year before Walker took office. He cut education funding by about $700 million in 2011.

Walker said Monday that the two-thirds funding commitment could only be met if the state kept in place the 2011 Act 10 law, which saved school districts money by requiring teachers and other employees to pay more for health insurance and retirement benefits.

Evers has said that if he's elected, he'd work to restore some of the collective bargaining power lost under Act 10, though teachers and other public workers might still be required to pay a portion of their benefits costs.

Walker was campaigning with former Gov. Tommy Thompson, who signed a law requiring the state to meet two-thirds of school funding needs starting in 1996. The state last did that for the 2002-2003 school year, the year after Thompson left office. The law was repealed as part of the 2003 state budget.

After dipping to a low of 61.7 percent in Walker's first year as governor in 2011, the state share of public school costs has slowly increased to 65.4 percent for the current year — just shy of $7 billion. It would take about $130 million to get to 66.6 percent.

Walker said during the radio interview that he could do it without raising property taxes, but he didn't say how. Walker said more details would come later.

Evers is proposing a 10 percent funding increase for schools in the budget he submitted in September for the Department of Public Instruction, which he leads. His budget, which rewrites the state's complex school aid formula, calls for meeting the two-thirds school funding commitment by the 2021 school year.

Evers contends that his plan can also be done without raising property taxes, but it doesn't spell out where the money would come from.

Evers was focused on health care Monday, campaigning with Sebelius, the former Kansas governor who served as health secretary under President Barack Obama. Walker tweeted his support for protecting people with pre-existing conditions, noting that his mother is a cancer survivor, his wife has diabetes and his brother has a heart condition.

But Walker also wants to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which currently guarantees coverage. He wants a state law instead, but critics say that wouldn't be as effective or affordable as the national guarantee.

Also Monday, Walker said he would increase road funding for towns, but he released few details. The Legislative Fiscal Bureau said his outline appears to equate to a $53 million increase.

Evers has said that Walker has failed to lead on fixing the state's roads. His spokeswoman, Cudaback, called Walker's pledge of more road funding an "empty, election-year promise."