WI Leaders at Odds Whether to Spend Surplus on Public Schools

Feb 13, 2020

Credit Wikimedia Commons Michael Anderson

MADISON, Wis. -- Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers wants state lawmakers to meet in special session to discuss spending surplus money on education. But it appears GOP leaders won't go along with the idea.

Last week, the Democratic governor announced a plan to spend $250 million of the state's projected budget surplus on public schools. Some of the money would go toward school-based mental health services.

Heather Dubois Bourenane, executive director of the Wisconsin Public Education Network, says there's another component of the plan her organization supports that would boost special education aid. "That is a funding gap that could be closed a little bit with this proposal and open up money that districts need today to fill essential program and staffing services," she states.

Last year, a non-partisan research group said Wisconsin's reimbursement rate for special education funding is 25%, which is considered low. Republicans control the legislature, and party leaders have given a cold shoulder to the governor's proposal. They instead want to use the surplus to provide more tax relief and pay down debt.

Supporters of Evers' plan say it would allow districts to rely less on property tax hikes. Dubois Bourenane says the possibility of keeping property tax rates in check should be attractive to Republican lawmakers. "I think for a state that has become accustomed to having to raise taxes on itself in order to pay for basic school services, that's the sort of welcome relief that we're looking for," she states.

According to the governor's office, nearly 1 million state residents have voted to raise their own property taxes for local schools since 2011. It's unclear if Republicans will meet in special session to discuss the plan. GOP leaders have ignored special session requests from Evers on separate topics.