Gov. Tony Evers unveiled key highlights of his upcoming education plan to increase funding for several public school programs by nearly $2 billion if reelected this November.
Evers’ education initiative would draw money from Wisconsin’s projected $5 billion state budget surplus to improve reading and literacy outcomes, expand student nutrition and mental health access, and address staffing shortages without raising property taxes.
The Democratic governor unveiled his proposal during a back-to-school press conference with State Superintendent Jill Underly at the Academy of Accelerated Learning in Milwaukee last Tuesday.
“Budgets are about priorities,” Gov. Evers said. “I know our kids, families, and schools need our help now more than ever to get caught up [and] ensure every kid has the support and resources they need to be successful.”
Key funding provisions include $750 million in additional special education aid by 2025, $10 million annually to fund reading literacy programs for 4K and 5K students, $5 million for financial literacy programs and $240 million to ensure every school district has at least one full-time staff member focused on mental health services.
Evers also aims to expand free school lunches to K-12 students who currently qualify for reduced meal prices and significantly lower meal costs for all remaining students. About 78 million lunches were served without cost during the 2021-22 school year to Wisconsin students, according to the Governor’s office, but the program has since ended.
The plan’s largest funding initiative would allow schools to increase their revenue limits, allowing schools to raise an extra $350 per pupil in 2023-24 and $650 per pupil in 2024-25 through property taxes and state aid.
Schools would also receive a $24 per-pupil aid increase in 2023-24 and a $45 increase the following year, resulting in over $60 million in estimated investments.
“The proposed increase of revenue limits will allow districts to apply the new resources to improve their support of teaching and learning,” Professor of Educational Leadership Richard Halverson told the Cardinal. “This budget promises a boost at a time when we need our school communities to make a full recovery from the COVID pandemic crisis.”
Evers will formally introduce the plan early next year as part of his 2023-25 biennial executive budget, though this is dependent on him winning reelection in November.
However, with Republicans heavily favored to retain both houses of the Wisconsin Legislature, Evers’ education plan faces severe hurdles even if he wins this November. In the governor's previous two budgets, the Republican-controlled legislature rejected many of Evers’ initial plan or significantly whittled them down.
Many state Republicans have already voiced opposition to the proposal, including Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (Rochester), who dismissed the plan as a politically motivated stunt intended to paper over the governor's actions during the pandemic.
“This is a feeble ploy to try to win votes after the disastrous results of Governor Evers' failures,” Vos tweeted. “The impact and damage done to children's education by shutting down schools for two years is not something their parents will easily forget.”
Republican gubernatorial nominee Tim Michels disparaged the plan as a waste of money and a continuation of bad policies.
“[Governor Evers’] plan for education is the same as it always is. More money and more bureaucracy,” he said.
Michels added that he would take Wisconsin schools in the “right direction” by empowering parents with greater information access and giving students more options.
It consists of $75 million to fund direct classroom support to meet staffing needs and address rising costs of school supplies due to inflation. The remaining $15 million is allocated for Evers’ “Get Kids Ahead” initiative, which provides mental health services in schools.
At the press conference on Tuesday, Evers — a former teacher, administrator and state superintendent — underlined the critical necessity of his plan and called on lawmakers to support it.
“We have to do this if we finally want to make a difference for kids,” Evers said in the Tuesday press conference. “We have to do this … [T]his is the opportunity of a lifetime.”