MADISON, Wis. — Assembly Republicans on Wednesday said they support increasing funding for K-12 schools by $500 million over the next two years, putting them at odds with Democrats and Gov. Tony Evers who proposed spending nearly three times as much.
The Republican plan would increase special education funding by less than a tenth of what was requested by Evers, the former state superintendent of schools.
Boosting education funding by $1.4 billion, a 10% increase, was one of Evers' central campaign promises. Education funding is the single largest item of state spending in the budget, currently taking up about a third of all money allocated.
The budget-writing Joint Finance Committee, controlled by Republicans, was scheduled to vote Thursday on education funding. It is the most significant portion of the budget the panel has taken up to date as it works on revising Evers' proposal for the full Senate and Assembly to consider.
Assembly Republicans, nearly 40 of whom gathered for an unusual news conference in the Assembly chamber, called their plan a "pro-kid budget." That's a reference to Evers praising the last state budget, which increased education funding by $639 million, as "pro-kid."
"So obviously, if the last budget was kid friendly, this is kid friendly plus," Vos said.
Evers, in an interview with Wisconsin Public Radio, urged patience.
"The education budget won't be decided tomorrow," Evers said. "It's a long process."
Democrats who serve on the budget committee said they hoped this wasn't the Republicans' final offer, particularly on special education.
Evers called for a $606 million increase, but Republicans are proposing 90% less — just $50 million. Still, that would be a 13% increase over current funding levels and the first increase in over a decade. But Democrats said that doesn't go far enough to meet the needs of school districts struggling to meet the costs of educating special needs students.
"We have a governor who has done the right thing by K-12 education ... and the Republicans have decided to cut it," said Democratic state Sen. Jon Erpenbach.
Republicans were also proposing $20 million more for mental health needs, $4.6 million more for high-cost transportation, raising revenue limits for low-spending districts and increasing the per-pupil funding of $200 the first year and $204 the second year — the same increase as in the last budget. They would also increase state funding to two-thirds of education costs, the first time that target has been met since 2003 when the requirement was removed from state law.
Rep. John Nygren, co-chair of the Legislature's budget committee, said the deal would result in property taxes going up on average less than 1%, or about half as much as the Evers proposal.
Republicans in the Senate were "headed in a very similar direction," said Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald.
Evers' education proposal, in addition to $606 million for special education, includes $611 million in general aid. That money is funneled through the state aid formula that takes into account property wealth of a district, resulting in poorer districts receiving more funding.
Evers met with Vos and Fitzgerald earlier Wednesday to discuss education funding, the first time they have met up in a month. Evers emerged from the meeting saying he hoped to find common ground with Republicans on education, criminal justice reform and transportation.
Evers on Monday suggested Republicans don't want to negotiate with his chief of staff because she is a woman.
Vos and Fitzgerald have repeatedly rejected the accusation they won't negotiate with women in Evers' office. Vos said after their Wednesday meeting it was "too early to tell" if progress had been made, but he suggested that he was ready to move on.
"In politics, it is a mistake to have a grudge," Vos said.
Evers seemed to strike a conciliatory tone in his statement following the meeting, saying he looked forward "to continued conversation around ways we can find common ground."