During a discussion at Ripon College on Oct. 27, state Sen. Luther Olsen, R-Ripon, made the following claim: “I’ve been fortunate enough in the Committee on Joint Finance to really work and push to not cut … but to increase the money for K-12 education in our state. This last budget we’ve increased it $200 million dollars more than the Governor put forth.”
The Wisconsin Legislature’s Joint Committee on Finance – sometimes referred to as the Joint Finance Committee or the Committee on Joint Finance – is a bipartisan, 16-member committee responsible for reviewing all bills introduced “for the appropriation of money, providing for revenue or relating to taxation.” In 2015, Olsen served as one of the Committee’s vice chairs.
Republican Governor Scott Walker’s 2015-17 state budget proposal included a $127 million cut to K-12 public education funding in the first year.
In May 2015, the JFC voted on a number of fiscal items and policy changes to the Governor’s budget request. The changes, outlined in an omnibus motion, included the restoration of the $127 million to be cut in 2015-16 and the allocation of an additional $69 million in per-pupil aid the next year. That’s roughly $196 million secured for K-12 education by the JFC’s changes to the budget. The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction reported that the total increase in K-12 state aid in the 2015-17 budget was $206 million.
The DPI reported that $108 million of the total increase is in the form of general state aid, but that most of it will be directed toward property tax relief, and not resources to directly help educate public school students.
According to a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article, some criticized the amendments, claiming that the increases are ultimately negated by other parts of the bill, which send more taxpayer money to private and independent charter schools.
“This plan Republicans put out yesterday is really undermining what public education is supposed to promise us,” Milwaukee Public Schools Superintendent Darienne Driver told the Journal Sentinel.
The budget expands the Wisconsin Parental Choice Program, which allows students to attend private schools using publicly-funded tuition vouchers. Public school districts receive state funding proportional to the number of enrolled students; when a student leaves their district to attend a private school, that state aid is instead used to pay for their private school tuition. The Wisconsin Budget Project reported that this expansion will reduce state funding for public schools by $48 million over two years.
Olsen claimed that since the previous budget, the JFC increased state funding for K-12 education by $200 million more than Walker initially proposed.
Walker’s 2015-17 budget proposed a $127 million cut to K-12 education funding. The JFC’s omnibus motion included changes to the budget which restored that $127 million, and allocated an additional $69 million –– a total of $196 million more than Walker’s initial proposal. However, a significant portion of that will go toward private school vouchers and property tax relief. For these reasons, The Observatory rates Olsen’s claim mostly true.
Ripon College Live Events, Discussion with Wisconsin State Senator Luther Olsen https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ozjR163tRtc
Wisconsin Budget Project, Summary of Wisconsin Budget for K-12 Education http://www.wisconsinbudgetproject.org/an-updated-summary-of-the-proposed-wisconsin-budget-for-k-12-education
MacIver Institute, Budget Blog – School Choice Expanded Again, Education Funding Increased and Drug Testing For Government Assistance http://www.maciverinstitute.com/2015/05/state-budget-changes-this-week-what-you-need-to-know/
MacIver Institute, ANALYSIS: The 2015-17 Wisconsin State Budget http://www.maciverinstitute.com/2015/07/analysis-the-2015-17-wisconsin-state-budget/
MacIver Institute, Joint Finance Committee – K-12 Omnibus Motion http://static.maciverinstitute.com/Tues%20K12%20Edu%20Omnibus%2051915.pdf
Wisconsin State Legislation, 2015 Joint Committee on Finance http://docs.legis.wisconsin.gov/2015/committees/joint/1384
Ballotpedia, Joint Finance Committee, Wisconsin State Legislature https://ballotpedia.org/Joint_Finance_Committee,_Wisconsin_State_Legislature
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, GOP touts restored school funding as critics cite fundamental problems http://archive.jsonline.com/news/statepolitics/gop-budget-plan-includes-sweeping-changes-for-racine-district-b99504003z1-304418641.html
Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, Statewide voucher program enrollment counts https://dpi.wi.gov/sites/default/files/news-release/dpinr2015_103.pdf
Washington Post, What the heck is going on with Wisconsin public education? https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2015/05/28/what-the-heck-is-going-on-with-wisconsin-public-education/
WI Department of Public Instruction, Oct 14 2016, https://dpi.wi.gov/news/releases/2016/general-state-aid-certified-school-districts
Wisconsin Legislative Bureau, Budgeted GPR Funding for K-12 School Aids, Jan 18 2016 https://gallery.mailchimp.com/7126ec513f66440e67bfd72aa/files/1_18_16_ed_cuts_LFB_memo.pdf