Republicans indicate no school funding deal yet

Branden Bodendorfer | TriMedia

By SCOTT BAUER Associated Press

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Republican legislative leaders indicated Wednesday that they have not yet reached an agreement with Democratic Gov. Tony Evers on K-12 school funding following a rare closed-door meeting.

The roughly 30-minute meeting came a day before a key vote in the Legislature’s budget-writing Joint Finance Committee on school funding. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos told reporters afterward that he was confident the committee would vote on a deal on Thursday as planned, even though details appeared to be in flux.

Education funding is the single largest item of state spending in the budget, currently taking up about a third of all money allocated. Evers’ $83.5 billion state budget included fulfilling his campaign promise to increase state aid for K-12 schools by $1.4 billion, or 10%. That includes $606 million for special education.

But Republicans who control the Legislature have talked about spending much less, closer to the $639 million schools got in the last budget passed under Republican Gov. Scott Walker.

Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald both said after their meeting with Evers that they talked about spending more on special education, but they provided no details. Vos and Fitzgerald dodged most questions about the status of reaching a deal as they walked up three flights of stairs in the Capitol with reporters trailing them.

“We’re not going to announce anything walking up the stairs,” Vos said.

Evers’ spokeswoman didn’t immediately return a message seeking comment.

Fitzgerald said they were still negotiating over the total level of funding schools will receive. Republicans in the Assembly and Senate also had not met to reach agreement, he said. Fitzgerald said Tuesday they were discussing providing $200 per-pupil in each of the next two years, an increase of $505 million.

Republican senators also met privately Wednesday to discuss what they could support and Assembly Republicans planned an afternoon news conference to announce their position ahead of the budget committee vote. The Republican-controlled panel is reworking Evers’ budget before sending it to the full Assembly and Senate for approval, likely in June.

Evers’ education proposal, in addition to $606 million for special education, includes $611 million in general aid. That money is funneled through the state aid formula that takes into account property wealth of a district, resulting in poorer districts receiving more funding.

Sending money to schools on a per-pupil basis, as Senate Republicans are discussing, spreads it out equally across the state, regardless of how wealthy or poor a district is.

Democratic Assembly Minority Leader Gordon Hintz, in a Wednesday statement, called on Republicans to live up to their campaign promises to increase education funding.

“Now, with Governor Evers proposing historic investments in K-12 public education, we will see whether Republicans are ready to live up to the promises they made to the people they serve,” Hintz said.

Evers and Republican legislative leaders have only met a couple of times. Evers on Monday suggested Republicans don’t want to negotiate with his chief of staff because she is a woman. He called on Vos and Fitzgerald to explain why they won’t work with women who lead his office.
Vos and Fitzgerald have repeatedly rejected the accusation they won’t negotiate with women in Evers’ office, but Vos has said he will only deal directly with Evers because they are the elected officials, not staff.

Fitzgerald said Evers and Republicans on Wednesday discussed the “back and forth between the administration and the Legislature.” He said that “maybe” progress had been made, but Vos said it was “too early to tell.”

“The conversations that we have are going to stay private. That’s what we all agreed to,” Vos said. He later suggested he was ready to move on from their sparring over the weekend.
“In politics, it is a mistake to have a grudge,” Vos said.
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