Walker backs tweaked Assembly GOP plan to pump aid into low-revenue school districts

Photo by Michelle Stocker, The Capital Times

Gov. Scott Walker Monday threw his support behind a plan from JFC Co-chair John Nygren to help low-revenue school districts after vetoing a similar provision from the state budget.

The legislation also would boost sparsity aid $6.4 million.

Still, fellow JFC Co-chair Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, said she wanted to see new revenue projections — expected later this month — before commiting to the plan.

The bill makes a significant tweak to the budget provision from Assembly Republicans that Walker vetoed: No district where voters have rejected a referendum raising revenue limits in the previous three years would be eligible for the increase.

Walker had vetoed the initial Assembly GOP plan, saying it would have allowed a big increase in property taxes those districts can collect “without voter input.”

“Our top priority is driving student success and ensuring our children receive a quality education, regardless of where they live,” Walker said Monday. “This legislation provides additional support for our rural school districts to address their unique circumstances.”

Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling, D-La Crosse, knocked the proposal as an election-year gimmick considering Walker’s veto of the low-revenue plan in the budget. Monday’s announcement also comes a few days after Walker said he’d seek to close a troubled youth prison in northern Wisconsin after Dems had pressured him to take such a move for months.

“If Gov. Walker and Legislative Republicans were serious about funding our local schools, they wouldn’t have scrapped this plan in the 2017-19 budget,” Shilling said. “Instead, Republicans prioritized the largest taxpayer handout to a foreign corporation in U.S. history and are now in damage control mode as Election Day looms.”

Nygren said he was able to win over Walker with the provision relating to property taxes.

“He didn’t want this going around the voter,” the Marinette Republican said.

Under the low-revenue proposal, districts now capped at spending $9,100 per year on students through a mix of property taxes and state aid would see that limit go up to $9,400 in 2018-19. The cap would then increase $100 annually to $9,800 in 2022-23.

According to the Department of Public Instruction, the average per-pupil spending limit for 2016-17 was $10,053, not including exemptions for things such as energy efficiency improvements. That’s the most recent number available.

The guv’s office said 90 districts would be eligible for the increased revenue limits, while another 11 would not because their voters rejected referendums during the three-year period.

Nygren said the bill includes a provision allowing ineligible districts to have voters approve new referendum to go up to the proposed spending limits rather than waiting the three years.

Read more in Monday’s PM Update.

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