BELOIT — The School District of Beloit may have a shot after all to share in Gov. Scott Walker’s budget plan to pour $649 million into K-12 education.
It all depends on whether the legislature’s powerful Joint Finance Committee strips out the fine print in Walker’s school funding proposal, which would provide higher aid payments only to districts in compliance with his administration’s controversial 2011 Act 10 provisions.
Currently, the Beloit district is not in compliance because employees pay just 2 percent toward health insurance benefits. Act 10 requires 12 percent, but allowed an exemption for districts that self-insure, like Beloit.
Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch met with Beloit Daily News journalists Friday. When she touted Walker’s higher school aid plan, she was questioned about why it would exclude a challenged district like Beloit. While she would not say if the governor might advocate changes to his own plan, she suggested Joint Finance might move to include Beloit and districts in similar situations.
“This is something that could probably change,” Kleefisch said. “We send off the budget to the Joint Finance Committee. We don’t expect the budget that returns to his desk for signature to look exactly the same as what we handed them.”
Whether that change occurs could mean millions in the Beloit district. With a little more than 7,000 students, the Beloit district stands to forfeit roughly $4 million over the two-year period covered in the biennial budget, and more millions every year thereafter.
Walker’s plan includes a beefed up K-12 investment package, seeing a possible $649 million funding infusion. All school funding increases would be allocated in relation to per-pupil payments received by state schools.
Kleefisch pointed to the increase of per-pupil funding from $250 to $650 in the biennial budget’s second year.
“This means the money will not go towards administration,” Kleefisch said. “This will go into the classroom...This is a huge boost for our children. It’s a big infusion, but it is an investment.”
Rep. Amy Loudenbeck (R-Clinton), a member of the Joint Finance Committee, said under Walker’s plan as written it appears the 12 percent contribution would be required for all health plans, including self-insured plans, unless the committee removes that clause.
The budget proposal, however, calls for switching to a self-insurance plan for state employees.
Kleefisch said the issue of insurance was an important discussion point going forward to ensure school districts and the state maintain proper financial health. Other ineligible school districts include Oconomowoc, Madison, Monona Grove and Verona.
Kleefisch also stressed the need to continued workforce development spending, touting the state’s lowered unemployment rate.
On other matters, the lieutenant governor pointed to a surplus of unfilled jobs as reason to boost workforce development, while providing adequate educational funding to position the state’s children on paths to strong careers in Wisconsin, rather than leaving the state. The state’s job website lists more than 95,000 unfilled positions.
“We have to meet employer needs,” Kleefisch said. She toured the Hendricks CareerTek space last month, and said the development of specialized programs was key in preparing students for the workforce.
Walker’s proposal is also slated to reduce the lowest income tax rate, a proposition that could save nearly three-quarters of all state taxpayers an average of $44 in 2017, according to the Legislative Fiscal Bureau. Almost all state residents with an adjusted gross income of $30,000 or more would see tax cuts, or 2.2 million tax filers seeing decreases, LFB data showed.
Kleefisch also said it was important to continue to freeze technical college and university tuitions to rein in unnecessary spending, while making tuition more affordable at the University of Wisconsin System.
“The UW System is a bargain compared to other public systems in the Great Lakes region,” Kleefisch said. “But we are still seeing students that are graduating with debt.”
Walker’s proposal also calls for spending $6.1 billion for existing transportation projects across the state, amid heated discussions on how to address glaring infrastructure needs and internal issues within the Wisconsin Department of Transportation. Active highway projects, including the I-39/90 expansion, will remain on schedule, Walker said in an interview last month with the Beloit Daily News. The proposal includes about $500 million in additional borrowing.
A scathing state audit last month found the transportation department dramatically underestimated the costs of its major highway projects, and did not manage expenses within the department. The audit claims the department underestimated 16 ongoing highway projects by a total of nearly $3.1 billion, while not keeping track of inflation and unplanned expenses to balloon each project’s cost.
To view the entire budget proposal, visit walker.wi.gov/wiworking.