JFC approves GOP education plan, Dems slam as inadequate

Republicans on the Joint Finance Committee approved putting an additional $500 million into K-12 education over the next two years as Dems slammed the plan as embarrassingly inadequate, particularly on special education.

The GOP plan, approved along party lines, included an additional $97 million for special education.

But it was well short of the $1.4 billion increase that Gov. Tony Evers proposed. That plan included a $606 million bump for special ed.

The GOP proposal would take the state to reimbursing 26 percent of special education costs in the first year of the budget and 30 percent in the second.

The state is now at 25 percent, among the lowest rates in the country. Under the guv’s budget, that rate would be 30 percent in the first year of the budget and then jump to 60 percent in the second.

Rep. Chris Taylor, D-Madison, slammed Republicans, saying they had no credibility with the public on education after the past eight years. By comparison, she said, the “people rose up” and elected Evers last fall after he spent a career as an educator.

She challenged Republicans to run next fall on their education proposal considering the demands from parents for a bigger funding boost.

“When you keep poking our public school kids with a stick, you will hear the parents roar,” Taylor said. “And we will keep roaring, and you will hear it in the next election.”

GOP Sen. Luther Olsen, chair of the Education Committee, countered the plan Joint Finance approved 11-4 tracks to what Evers wanted for special education when he was state superintendent, not guv. Then, Evers proposed reimbursing 30 percent of special education costs in the second year of the 2017-19 budget.

“Today, we are getting to his number,” said Olsen, R-Ripon. “You talk about a cut from a number. But we’re increasing from reality.”

Olsen also said the proposed increase would set a benchmark going forward.

Federal law requires states to maintain their spending commitment to special education in order to receive federal funds. If the GOP plan is approved, it would require the state to continue funding at least 30 percent of special education costs going forward.

Ahead of the meeting, JFC Co-chair John Nygren, R-Marinette, dismissed Evers’ education budget as a political document, particularly in light of the 60 percent reimbursement rate it would’ve hit in the second year. He argued that wasn’t a sustainable rate going forward.

He also said a “high level” cabinet secretary admitted to him the proposed funding level wasn’t realistic, but declined to say who it was. Nygren also said school administrators who contacted him were more comfortable with the GOP proposal than what Evers put on the table.

“Education leaders had questions if it was realistic,” Nygren said.

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