Gov. Tony Evers says he will continue to push for two-thirds funding for public schools despite GOP opposition and that he’ll work to close down some adult state prisons in the future.
Evers in a WisPolitics.com virtual luncheon today said he wants the state to return to funding two-thirds of public K-12 school budgets. He also said he wants to continue to decrease state prison populations while improving mental health resources and programs to reduce recidivism.
“All of those things together will dramatically decrease the number of people in our system and close prisons,” said Evers. Asked whether he envisions a day when an adult prison is closed, he said: “Absolutely, yes.”
Evers’ budget doesn’t call for closing any state prisons. Meanwhile, he’s proposing an increase in state funding to the Department of Public Instruction of $1.6 billion in general purpose revenue. That proposed investment is part of a plan that would restore the state’s commitment to funding two-thirds of public education.
The guv said his proposal to increase school funding has received bipartisan support in the past from Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos’ Blue Ribbon Commission on School Funding, adding “apparently he doesn’t know that.”
According to the Legislative Fiscal Bureau, the state is picking up 65.2 percent of K-12 costs in the 2020-21 school year. The state repealed the requirement that it pick up two-thirds of costs in the 2003-05 budget.
Evers also said the state could save some money by improving educational programs to decrease the number of prison inmates who are released and end up back in prison.
“This is something that’s costly to the state of Wisconsin and more importantly it’s unfair,” Evers said, adding “we have to ensure that people that are in prison are there for a very serious reason.”
He said educational programs inside and outside prisons would help reduce the number of people who end up in prison in the first place while decreasing the number of inmates who end up back in prison, reducing the financial burden on taxpayers from the state’s prison system.
Evers blamed Republicans for halting progress on closing the state’s two juvenile state prisons.
He said they failed to include the funding needed for construction of replacement facilities in Milwaukee and Outagamie counties in their budget.
Three years ago, then-Gov. Scott Walker signed legislation to close the prisons that included $80 million for both new state-run prisons for the most serious offenders and county-run facilities for others. But the estimated costs for four county-run facilities came in at roughly $111 million. So far, only Racine County is moving forward with plans for a county-run facility. Meanwhile, the GOP-run Joint Finance Committee in 2019 rejected Evers’ proposal to fund two state-run youth prisons amid pushback from locals about efforts to site the facilities.
Evers said his “plan B” for closing Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake juvenile facilities in northern Wisconsin is to work with counties to establish closer to offenders’ homes, which he called “an even better solution.”
The state faces a July deadline in state law to close the troubled youth prisons. But Evers is proposing to repeal that, and his budget doesn’t envision closing them until after a new state-run juvenile facility in Milwaukee would be completed in early 2024.
Also on education, Evers said Republicans’ proposals to incentivize schools to reopen by offering them more funding is “out of the question.”
The guv said CARES Act money Republicans are saying should be used to incentivize those schools has already been allocated to help increase testing and vaccination efforts at UW System schools. He said using that money for other things just won’t happen and schools need money regardless of where their students are taught.
“No. I mean it costs money to do it virtually, it costs money to do it in person,” adding “It’s out of the question.”
Joint Finance Committee Co-chair Mark Born, R-Beaver Dam, tweeted during today’s luncheon that Evers was mischaracterizing what GOP lawmakers are asking.
“We asked the Governor to direct additional federal funds to schools that are already open. Parents want their kids in the classroom. They want a Governor who does too,” Born tweeted.