Evers Calls for $250 Million in School Spending

Kitchens doubts proposals will go anywhere

Door County schools would get a small influx of revenue under a package of education bills proposed by Gov. Tony Evers, but Republicans say the proposals are going nowhere. 

Evers called a special session of the Wisconsin Assembly on Feb. 11 to consider a package of bills that would use $250 million of the state’s budget surplus on special-education and mental-health funding. 

Evers called the proposal a win-win during a phone interview Feb. 12, and said it would help reduce the number of schools statewide that must go to referendum every two years. 

“Not only does that help our schools, but it’s going to lower property taxes,” Evers said. “One of the reasons referenda happen is because the state hasn’t done its fair share supporting our schools. As we put that money toward the schools, we’ll see fewer referenda.”

All five Door County school districts have gone to voters for revenue-limit overrides. 

First Assembly District Rep. Joel Kitchens said he doesn’t see the bills going anywhere, however. 

“From a practical standpoint, it’s not going to happen,” Kitchens said. “To spend the surplus on education, I think politically it’s not going to happen,” he said. “I’m not saying there aren’t valid things to be done, but more likely they’ll be done in the next budgetary session.”

Kitchens said he would prefer that the state pay down debt and potentially use the surplus for property-tax relief. 

Under the bills, many of which follow the recommendations that came out of the Blue Ribbon Commission on School Funding co-chaired by Kitchens, Door County schools would receive an additional $457,734 in state funds for special education and sparsity aid. The bill would expand second-tier funding for sparsity aid to assist rural districts such as Southern Door, which doesn’t qualify as a small school under sparsity guidelines but is spread over a large geographic area. The aid helps to offset the transportation costs incurred by larger districts. 

“Some of the things we have an interest in are going to come through and some of the things Republicans wanted to do,” Evers said.

The state’s budget office projects that Wisconsin will have an $818 million budget surplus this year – about $450 million more than originally projected. Republicans have called for the surplus to be returned to taxpayers as property-tax relief.  

Evers also commented on a bill he signed in January that creates the state’s first dyslexia guidebook. 

“Clearly we’re not satisfied with the level of expertise that we have in reading,” he said. “The focus on dyslexia will be helpful. Wisconsin has this odd, long historical fight among folks interested in having a phonics-based reading program and those who are not. We’re at a point now where we can use the best thinking from both of those sides.” 

Evers called the bill a step in the right direction to improve state reading scores, but he said many factors play a part in reading instruction, many of which fall outside the classroom. 

Help for Farmers

During his State of the State address, Evers proposed an $8.5 million package of bills to help Wisconsin farmers, including $1 million to work with the dairy industry to boost exports to 20 percent of the nation’s milk supply by 2024. Republicans responded with a package of bills of their own, incorporating some of Evers’ goals and jettisoning others. One of those proposals would increase spending for boosting dairy exports to $5 million starting in 2021. Evers was positive about the response. 

“Anytime somebody agrees with us, we’ll be glad to share the spotlight, but it’s more about helping out our farmers,” he said. “I’m looking forward to them coming in with a set of bills that I can sign. It looks like it’s in a good place.” 

Republicans have proposed a property-tax credit of up to $7,500 for farmers, as well as an expansion of an income-tax deduction for health insurance premiums paid by self-employed individuals. 

One bill Republicans did not include in their package is a bill that would provide $400,000 to help farmers diversify and do succession planning, and provide grants for farmers to hire consultants to review their business plans. 

Special Education / Sparsity Aid
Gibraltar: $52,822
Southern Door: $99,986 / $105,205
Washington Island: $6,151
Sevastopol: $63,814
Sturgeon Bay: $129,756