By Bethany Blankley for The Center Square

Earlier this month, the Republican-majority Joint Finance Committee (JFC) stripped 131 policy proposals and cut $1.4 billion worth of spending and taxes from Democratic Gov. Tony Evers’ proposed budget.

On Thursday, the JFC Omnibus motion for public instruction was no different.

“Republicans stopped Governor Evers’ attack on poor kids in choice and charter schools. We continue to fund those options for parents,” Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills and co-chair of the committee, said.

Unlike the governor’s funding mechanism that proposes one-time funding designations, the JFC motion asks school districts for a reliable and predictable funding plan. It includes an additional $500 million in K-12 education, making the state’s total investment in education $12.3 billion.

Under previous Democratic leadership, which used the same funding mechanisms as Evers’, the state faced a “huge structural deficit” when the Great Recession hit, she says. Under Republican leadership, “We dug out of that hole and are now delivering record funding,” she said.

The JFC motion proposes $75 million in funding for Special Education aid in 2019-2020, and $531 million in 2020-2021. Special education aid reimburses districts for a portion of the costs of providing special education services to students. Base level funding is about $369 million, of which eligible costs in 2018-2019 will be reimbursed 25.3 percent by the state Department of Public Instruction.

The JFC estimates its proposed funding will also increase the reimbursement amount of special education costs to 30 percent in 2019-2020 and 60 percent in 2020-2021, roughly twice the current amount.

“When the budget process started, Gov. Tony Evers introduced a proposed K-12 education budget that was an all-out assault on school choice, threatening to deny families critical educational options,” CJ Szafir, executive vice president at the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty (WILL), told The Center Square. “He even went after special needs children in the proposed elimination of the Special Needs Scholarship Program.

“Thankfully the JFC stripped away these provisions and today they stood firm amidst blatantly false attacks from education reform opponents.”

The JFC motion increases funding for Wisconsin’s school choice and public charter school programs. It provides an additional $10.6 million in funding for the Milwaukee Private School Choice Program, and $14.3 million in 2020-2021, in addition to adjusting funding lapses.

It adds $24.5 million in 2019-2020 to Racine and statewide private school choice program funding, and $31.6 million in 2020-2021, also adjusting for lapses.

It provides $3.3 million in 2019-2020 and $3.15 million in 2020-2021 as a re-estimate of the special needs scholarship program and adjusts program lapses.

It also funds the Independent Charter School Program by $10.5 million in 2019-2020 and $17.5 million in 2020-2021 as a re-estimate of the program and also adjusts lapses.

The JFC motion adds $404 more per student into the classroom over the next two years, increases Special Education funding by $100 million, and doubles the funding for mental health programs to a total of $3 million.

It also includes an additional $800,000 for the school transportation for rural communities (on top of the base $12.7 million), and creates a $1 million grant to assist recruiting teachers in rural areas.

Darling and her co-chair, Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette, said in a joint statement they were “continuing to put taxpayers first.” They pledged not to reverse the strides the legislature had made over the last eight years, saying, “Our careful budgeting and reforms led to more than $2 billion in available revenues. There is simply no reason to raise taxes. We will make significant investments in shared priorities, but we will do it by living within our means. Our budget will be responsible, sustainable, and funded with the money we already have on hand.”

On May 9, the JFC voted 11-4 against Medicaid expansion, with one member absent. While Minnesota Public Radio argues that Medicaid expansion would save taxpayers money, several groups argue the opposite is true.

A report by the Institute for Reforming Government found that by not expanding Medicaid, the state has saved money and not reduced care since 2014. As a result of former Gov. Scott Walker and the Legislature reforming BadgerCare, “everyone living in poverty in Wisconsin has access to health care services providing full benefits for the first time in history,” the state Department of Health reported in 2014.

A WILL analysis found that the state’s uninsured rates “is one of the lowest in the country – 5.8 percent without expanding Medicaid – and the state is one of just a handful with no coverage gap.”

The committee also axed legalizing medical marijuana and decriminalizing some marijuana offenses, raising the minimum wage, and giving driver’s licenses to illegal aliens.

Bethany Blankley is a contributor to The Center Square. Reposted with permission.

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