Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers calls for a $2 billion increase in funding for public schools

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Govt. Tony Evers on Tuesday called for spending nearly $2 billion more on public K-12 schools, a plan released nine weeks before the election that is designed to allow school spending to increase without resulting in higher property taxes.

Evers’ plan relies on tapping part of what is projected to be a $5 billion state budget surplus. Deciding how to spend that money will be the focus of the Legislature’s work next year as it evaluates the governor’s budget proposal and passes its own two-year spending plan.

“We have to do this if we finally want to make a difference for kids,” Evers, a former teacher, administrator and state superintendent for schools, said at the news conference. “We have to do this. … This is an opportunity of a lifetime.”

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Evers will formally introduce the education funding plan next year if he wins reelection in November. It would then have to be approved by the Republican-controlled Legislature before taking effect in July. Evers faces Republican Tim Michels in the Nov. 8 election.

Michels, in a statement, said Evers’ plan was “the same as it always is. More money and more bureaucracy. The tired, old Evers approach has not worked.” A key part of Michels’ education platform is expanding private school vouchers to all students statewide, which Evers opposes.

“He’s spent his career in education and our schools keep getting worse, especially (Milwaukee),” Michels said. “I will get Wisconsin headed in the right direction. I will empower parents with greater access to information and more options for their kids.”

Republican legislative leaders who will vote on the next budget did not immediately reply to messages seeking comment.

Evers unveiled highlights of his education plan at a news conference at the Academy of Accelerated Learning in Milwaukee, where he was joined by state superintendent for schools Jill Underly as they welcomed students back to class for the fall.

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The largest part of Evers’ plan would provide $800 million in additional school aid to hold down property tax increases while allowing schools to increase revenue limits by $350 per student next school year and $650 in the 2023-2024 school year. Revenue limits are the maximum amounts schools can raise from state aid and property taxes combined, although there are exceptions. School districts frequently turn to voters to ask for permission to exceed state-mandated revenue limits so they can increase spending.

Wisconsin Gov.  Tony Evers speaks at Cumberland Elementary School, July 8, 2021. Gov.  Evers is calling for spending nearly $2 billion more on public K-12 schools.

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers speaks at Cumberland Elementary School, July 8, 2021. Gov. Evers is calling for spending nearly $2 billion more on public K-12 schools.
(AP Photo/Scott Bauer, file)

Under the Evers plans, aid per student would increase $24 next year and $45 the year after, at a cost of $60 million. That money is outside of the revenue limits for schools. He is also calling for spending $750 million more on special education.

Other parts of his plan would spend $240 million to ensure that every public school district has at least one full-time staffer focused on mental health services.

One of the goals of the plan is to improve student reading and literacy. It includes a new $10 million aid program to fund literacy-related programming, with an emphasis on helping 4- and 5-year-old students who are just beginning to learn how to read.

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The plan also strives to expand access to free meals for students by creating a state-funded program to reimburse districts for breakfast, milk, snacks, and lunch expenses for students. Evers said the plan would provide free meals to students who qualify for free and reduced price meals, while also lowering costs for other students.

Other parts of the education funding proposal include efforts to improve financial literacy programs, bolster out-of-school programming, and change the law relating to the hiring of retired teachers and staff to allow more open positions to be filled by experienced staff.

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