Guest commentary: Ensuring educational options

I have received significant input on the 2015-2017 budget related to K-12 education. Ensuring quality educational options for all children is a priority for me and for Wisconsin.

One third of the state general fund is spent on K-12 education, our number one expenditure.†

I am pleased to report that the legislatureís Joint Finance Committee (JFC) recently voted to modify the governorís proposed education budget by investing nearly $200 million in additional funding over the 2015-2017 biennium.

THE JFC voted to level fund public schools in 2015-2016 and increase funding by $100 per pupil in 2016-2017 for all Wisconsin public school students.

This is in addition to the increases that were approved in the 2013-15 budget, when school districts received a $75 per pupil increase in year one and another $150 per pupil increase in year two.†

The committee also voted to increase educational opportunities for families by removing the cap for the statewide parental choice program. As has been proven by the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau time and time again, the choice program allows for more aid per student to flow into the public school system because the cost per pupil in the choice program ($7,210 for K-8 and $7,856 for high school) is significantly below the state average of $11,071 per pupil in the public schools.

IT IS important to note that the choice program is available only to parents at or below 185% of the federal poverty level.

The JFC also made significant changes to responsibly limit the program after removal of the statewide cap. For example, starting with the next round of applications, the program is limited to prior year public school students, with the exception of entry points for kindergarten, first and eighth grade.

The program is also limited to 1% of pupils in a school district (with a 1% annual increase in future years). Furthermore, school districts can continue to count resident students for general aid and revenue limit purposes and retain those dollars, just as they are allowed to do under the widely-accepted open enrollment program.

THE BUDGET also includes the expansion of independent charter schools in Wisconsin.

Under this proposal, the proposed Madison Prep charter school, which is modeled on meeting the needs of low-income minority students, could be authorized by the UW System. Tribal colleges would also be allowed to authorize independent charter schools. Wisconsinís Native American tribes highlighted their desire for charter schools that focus on preserving and revitalizing tribal languages and culture as a priority at the recent State of the Tribes Address.†

FINALLY, school accountability is incredibly important. That is why under the JFC budget proposal, all schools receiving public funding (choice, charter, public) will be graded using the same five-star report card system that accounts for studentsí growth in reading and math skills, school poverty levels, and a schoolís ability to close gaps in achievement among groups of students. †

Funding, flexibility, and accountability are essential elements of a successful educational system and this budget reflects these priorities. †

Rep. Amy Loudenbeck, R-Clinton, represents Wisconsinís 31st Assembly District which includes a portion of Beloitís East Side. She serves on the Legislatureís Joint Finance Committee and can be reached at rep.loudenbeck@legis.wi.gov or (888) 529-0031.

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