The Joint Finance Committee voted 12-4 along party lines to change Gov. Scott Walker’s K-12 education plan by adding a boost for low-spending school districts and increasing the income cutoff for students in the statewide voucher program.

Dems slammed the proposal late Monday afternoon, saying the additional $639 million provided by the motion still left public schools short of where they were before Republicans took over in 2011, when taking into account things like inflation.

“No matter how tough times are, you have to find a way to pay for the basics, and the basics as far as the state of Wisconsin is concerned is good roads, good schools, not in that order,” said state Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton.

The plan would spend about $10 million less than Walker’s original proposal. But it would keep his plan to pump more than $500 million into per-pupil categorical aids that are split evenly among school districts based on enrollment.

Dems also argued the proposal would expand the statewide choice program at the expense of public schools. They pointed to Legislative Fiscal Bureau estimates that districts losing students to the voucher program would raise property taxes by $30 million to make up for the state aid they’d lose.

But Rep. Dale Kooyenga, R-Brookfield, took issue with the suggestion.

“Parents expand school choice,” Kooyenga said. “We can have all the best intentions in the world of expanding school choice, but if parents tell us that’s silly, then school choice does not expand.”

Walker thanked JFC members for “supporting the education portion of my budget.”

“Once signed, this budget will include more actual dollars for K-12 education than ever before in our history,” he said.

The committee Monday also unanimously approved a $1 billion building budget, expanding Gov. Scott Walker’s proposal by more than $200 million as lawmakers seek to fund an expanded engineering program at UW-Platteville, among other things.

Co-chair Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, said the engineering building at Platteville has long been on lawmakers’ radar. But the effort to land a $10 billion Foxconn plant in southeastern Wisconsin added some urgency to the project.

Read more at the Budget Blog.

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