MADISON – Wisconsin schools with small budgets or rural locations could get additional funding, under legislation signed by Gov. Scott Walker.
The Republican governor also said Monday that he wants the state to provide additional money to improve safety in schools in the same way the federal government helped improve safety in airports.
“To have that same degree of security, we need to provide resources to schools. … No one should feel unsafe in a school,” Walker said on WTMJ (AM-620). “The state is going to have to step up.”
Democrats have also backed allowing schools to raise money for safety improvements, but they say the state should pair that with gun control measures.
Both Democratic lawmakers and Walker have opposed proposals from some other Republicans to let teachers carry guns.
The bill signed by Walker Monday, Assembly Bill 835, will provide $6.5 million more for schools in sparsely populated rural areas. It will also allow an estimated $15.6 million more for districts with the tightest budgets, with some of that money coming from higher property taxes.
The legislation signed by Walker was pushed by Assembly Republicans but won bipartisan support, passing the Senate 31-1 last month and the Assembly 91-2.
Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling (D-La Crosse) said the latest bill and budget increases for schools signed last summer don’t do enough to make up for budget cuts made during the Great Recession.
“Wisconsin continues to grapple with a teacher shortage, larger class sizes and school safety concerns as a result of Governor Walker’s budget cuts,” Shilling said. “With the constant string of election year flip-flops from Governor Walker, the lack of long-term school funding will continue to be a concern for many local school districts.”
Under the measure, special state aid for an estimated 144 thinly populated districts will increase to $400 per pupil from the current level of $300. That amount comes on top of the districts’ normal state aid.
The package would also provide more money for up to 107 school districts that spend the least on their students.
Starting in 1993, state law limited how much districts could raise in property taxes and state aid per student, but districts were locked in at different rates depending on what they were spending at the time. Leaders of the most frugal districts said they have been punished for years with lower revenue limits because they were spending less a quarter-century ago.
Previously, the minimum that school districts can raise through state aid and local property taxes was $9,100 a year per student.
Going forward, the state will allow school boards in as many as 100 low-revenue districts to raise at least $9,400 per student in the 2018-’19 school year.
The measure could lead to higher property taxes in those school districts, so the plan includes a provision to placate conservatives concerned about rising taxes. If voters in a district have rejected a referendum to increase taxes within the past three years, that district will not be able to raise taxes under the plan without a new referendum.
State Rep. John Nygren (R-Marinette), who represents eight low-revenue school districts, said superintendents and school boards have increasingly asked for the help.
“People are coming back and saying we need some relief,” he said.
On school safety, Nygren said Assembly leaders are open to providing state money for school safety improvements. But GOP lawmakers are unlikely to back allowing schools to raise property taxes for safety plans, as Senate Democrats have proposed, Nygren said.
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