Rumors and Deals — Wisconsin State Budget Update

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Legislative “leaders” met behind closed doors for nine hours yesterday, May 27, 2009.  The Committe on Joint Finance is expected to “finish their work” in a public session starting at Noon today.  The agenda is here.

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Because they are meeting outside of the light of public scrutiny and the Legislative Fiscal Bureau has not posted budget papers on the education portion of the “fix,” we have to rely on rumors and memos from interested parties to learn what is happening.  Fortunately, the team at the WisPolitics Budget Blog has been doing a fine job reporting what little is rumored or known.

The big three education developments are some numbers on the Allowable Revenue Limit increase, a suggested compromise/delay on ending the Qualified Economic Offer from WEAC and the first inklings of a compromise proposal on Milwaukee voucher schools from State Senator Lena Taylor.

On the Revenue Caps, the word is that the new allowable increase for 2009-10 will be between $200 and $210 per pupil, instead of the $277 in the Governor’s initial budget.  By my calculations, that means about a $1.7 million to $1.8 million cut for the Madison Metropolitan School District.  No word on further cuts to categorical aid (yet).

The QEO compromise issue is complicated (I am not sure I understand it), but the general idea is that the proposed elimination of the QEO and the changes in arbitration rules would be delayed and temporary reforms would be put in place.  The proposal from WEC also includes things like allowing four year contracts and combining bargaining units.  You can read the WEAC memo here.  I haven’t seen a reaction yet from the Wisconsin Association of School Boards.

Without more details, it is hard to get a handle on Senator Taylor’s proposal on voucher schools.  here is what WisPolitics is reporting:

In February, Doyle called for a series of changes to the program that would require choice schools to meet many of the standards now imposed on public schools. That includes requiring the same number of instruction hours each year as public schools, administering standardized tests, and requiring all teachers and administrators to have a bachelor’s degree.

“What I’ve offered as a modification is really in many ways more stringent than what the governor has done,” Taylor said.

Taylor said today the compromise package had not been drafted yet.

But some key changes to the governor’s proposal include:

*Removing a requirement that schools must be accredited prior to accepting MPCP students, which Taylor said would be problematic for newly formed schools. Accreditation agencies require schools to be operating before they can be accredited. In its place, the compromise would require schools not yet accredited and wishing to enter the choice program to be screened by the Department of Public Instruction to determine whether they have the financial wherewithal to properly operate and have their educational plan and curriculum approved by a pre-accreditation agency. Furthermore, schools would have to undergo yearly academic audits by the accrediting agency.

*Requiring teacher’s aides to have at least a high school diploma, an area the governor’s proposal does not address.

*Giving schools two years before having to administer the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Examination to students, whereas the governor’s proposal would require that to happen within one year.

See more in Milwaukee Notes.

And as the Joint Finance Committee does their work, school districts await the bad news and prepare for more cuts in educational opportunities.

Menasha just got through cutting $1.27 million and agreeing to use over $200,000 from their Fund Balance to avoid further cuts (including maintaining SAGE).  What comes out of the JFC, the Legislature and the Governor’s office will likely lead them to reexamine these decisions look for additional cuts.

The Waupun Area School District has already cut $1.1 million from their 2009-10 budget and anticipate the latest hit from the state will require laying off 12-15 staff members, larger class sizes and fewer opportunities.

Whatever the Governor and his people tell you, the cuts are real.

Stay tuned.

Thomas J. mertz

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Filed under "education finance", Budget, Contracts, education, finance, Local News, School Finance, Uncategorized

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