Last month, the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau projected that Wisconsin would have a budget surplus of nearly $452 million by the end of 2021.
While Republicans have repeatedly called for cutting taxes and returning that surplus to Wisconsin taxpayers, Governor Tony Evers signed an executive order earlier today calling on lawmakers to “recommit to two-thirds state funding” for public K-12 education in Wisconsin
“Since 2011, nearly one million Wisconsinites have voted to raise their own taxes to support their public schools. In 2018, voters approved more than two billion dollars in debt and revenue increases for local schools, and frankly that’s just not sustainable,” Evers says. “I’ve always said what’s best for our kids is best for our state, and I believe that every kid deserves access to high-quality, public education regardless of their age, identity, background, economic status, or zip code.”
The Governor’s plan calls for the use of $250 million of the projected revenue surplus on education spending, including $130 million in property tax relief through equalization aid.
Republican Senator Scott Fitzgerald quickly tweeted his opposition to the spending, saying that the state’s last budget “spent more money on schools than ever before.”
Heather DuBois Bourenane is the Executive Director of the Wisconsin Public Education Network, a nonpartisan coalition of parents, educators, and school board members that advocate for “fair” funding for Wisconsin’s schools.
Bourenane says Fitzgerald’s comments are misleading.
“I mean, the dollar amount [of spending] increases because costs continue to increase. But when the increase doesn’t even keep pace with inflation, you can hardly say you’re scoring a victory for kids,” Bourenane says.
Bourenane also describes Evers’ proposal as a modest increase in education spending.
“I don’t look at [Evers’ proposal] as additional spending, I see it as a restoration of the state’s commitment to our kids,” says Bourenane. “When you adjust for inflation, we still aren’t funding our schools at the levels we were in 2011 when we had the biggest cuts in state history. If you go back a couple years more, it’s not even close to the levels of aid that we saw in 2009 or 2007.”
Jason Stein is the research director for the Wisconsin Policy Forum, a nonpartisan, policy research organization that analyzes critical policy issues.
Stein says the Legislature has a few options apart from lowering school district property taxes or providing additional education spending.
“Other options would include keeping some portion of the money in reserves for a situation in which we went into recession,” Stein says. “Another option would be, rather than putting the money into an ongoing spending increase or an ongoing tax cut, to think about what are one-time uses of this money since they may ultimately be for the state one-time money.”
Stein says those one-time uses could include paying down the state debt, as Republican leaders have expressed interest in, or investing in a capital project like renovating roadways.
The special session is scheduled to begin next Tuesday at 1 PM.
WisconsinEye contributed audio of Governor Evers to this story.