The state legislature’s budget-writing committee has signed-off on a plan that will increase education funding from the state by $639 million over the next two years.
The package of changes approved by the Republican-controlled Joint Finance Committee on Monday includes an increase in per-pupil funding, raises income eligibility caps for private school vouchers, and puts restrictions on when school districts can hold referenda votes.
Committee co-chair Alberta Darling (R-River Hills) described it as the biggest investment the state has ever made in education, and called the plan the “right blueprint” for Wisconsin.
While he was among several Republicans on the panel who said he wouldn’t mind seeing changes to the funding package, Sen. Luther Olsen (R-Ripon) called it a good budget for Wisconsin students and schools. “At the end of the day, I believe that our children are going to continue to have the education they need – even though there are more challenges out there,” he said.
Democrats were critical of the plan, which includes multiple changes to school choice programs, as sending more state resources to private schools. “I see a lot of experimentation, I see a lot of attempts on incentivizing, and I still see this continued attempt to divert taxpayer money to private schools,” said Rep. Gordon Hintz (D-Oshkosh).
Sen. Jon Erpenbach (D-Middleton) note the plan raises income caps on private school vouchers, something Republicans defended as needed to make sure all parents have access to the best education possible for their children. “It’s another budget of drip, drip, drip…and basically the dams are going to burst wide open and a lot more money will be headed toward private schools,” he argued.
The committee will not meet again until the Tuesday after Labor Day, where lawmakers are expected to complete their work on the overdue state budget and send the plan to the full Legislature for consideration by mid-September. Among the remaining issues the panel still has to finalize is transportation funding. The issue has been a major point of contention that has delayed passage of the budget for more than eight weeks.