Special needs voucher expansion passes through committee, contact your elected officials now!

The state’s budget-writing Joint Finance Committee today voted along party lines to expand the Special Needs Voucher Program as part of the state budget bill.  With state resources so tight for public schools, and the funding for special needs vouchers coming directly from local school districts, why would the Legislature move to reduce funding for public schools by about $3 million over what it already spends on private school tuition next year, when the governor didn’t even include this move in his original budget proposal?

Voucher lobbyists have been active at the Capitol and it seems their campaign contributions are paying off, as the Republican move would add about 250 pupils to the entitlement next year.

Here are the nuts-and-bolts of today’s voucher developments:

Eliminate Prior Year Open Enrollment Requirement. Pupils would no longer have been denied under the open enrollment program in order to receive a special needs voucher. That change alone is estimated to increase the number of pupils in the program by 50 next year, and increase voucher payments by $621,400. The school districts the pupils live in would pay for the voucher tuition, but would be allowed to raise local property taxes to cover the private school price tag.

Eliminate Prior Year Public School Enrollment Requirement. Beginning next year, current private school students could receive tax-funded tuition under the special needs voucher program. Law now says they had to be enrolled in a public school the prior year. It is estimated that the change could increase the number of pupils participating in the program by 200 pupils next year and increase voucher payments by $2.5 million. Again, would be allowed to raise local property taxes to cover the private school price tag.

Voucher Payments. In the first year a pupil receives a special needs voucher, the private school would receive $12,000 from the public school district. The following year, the private school would receive the greater amount of these two scenarios:

  • Either the actual costs incurred by the private school the year before based on what they file with the DPI to document what it cost to implement the child’s most recent IEP or services plan (as modified by agreement between the private school and the child’s parent) plus related services agreed to by the private school and the child’s parent that are not included in the IEP or services plan; or
  • A flat rate of $12,000.

This is a no-win for taxpayers, with private schools in the voucher program required to provide little to no accountability for meeting student needs or being fiscally responsible. State aid would be siphoned from local public school aid and shifted to private schools up to 150 percent of the per-pupil payment (again allowing school boards to raise local property taxes to make it up). Special needs voucher costs above the 150 percent would result in the state shifting tax dollars to cover the private school tuition bill, up to 90 percent above the remaining amount.

Summer School, Too. In addition to covering more students at a higher rate, and promising additional state tax dollars to fill in any gap, the proposal opens the doors for private schools in the special needs voucher program to receive summer school funding, too.

Transportation Package Approved

The Joint Finance Committee met Tuesday and continued into Wednesday to finish its budget work after approving a GOP transportation package by a 12-4 vote that calls for cutting 200 DOT jobs and pre-empting some local regulations of quarries used for road and construction projects. The plan includes earmarks and fell well short of the long-term transpo fix Republicans have been promising, Dems said.

Joint Finance Committee takes up Foxconn

Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald says the Senate will debate the Foxconn incentive package Sept. 12. If the Senate approves the amended bill, it goes to the Assembly before on to the governor.

Sen. Lena Taylor, D-Milwaukee had this to say: “We are taking a foreign company, and we are giving them rights that Wisconsin companies don’t have,” Taylor said. “We’re allowing them to be excluded from our environmental rules that Wisconsin companies and Wisconsin individuals have to adhere to, and we’re allowing them to be excluded from our normal justice system. That’s what we’re doing.”

The Wisconsin court appeals process would be changed for Foxconn, under an amendment approved Tuesday by the Joint Finance Committee. Under the plan, the state Supreme Court would take jurisdiction over any appeal of a circuit court decision relating to the Foxconn project under an amendment Joint Finance Republicans proposed Tuesday. Under the proposal, any circuit court order related to a decision by a state or local official, board, commission or other entity would be stated automatically upon the filing of an appeal. The Legislative Fiscal Bureau said it was unaware of any similar provision applying to a particular company or enterprise zone such as the one created for Foxconn. Dems said changes in the bill would mean those same changes could apply to new manufacturers across Wisconsin. That would mean undercutting economic zone regulations and environmental protections for the entire state, not just the area about the planned Foxconn plant.

Prevailing Wage

Two years after the Legislature pushed through the repeal of the local prevailing wage in the dark of night, Republican politicians are at it again. The transportation budget introduced late Tuesday with limited debate, and approved among a party-line vote, calls for a complete repeal of Wisconsin’s Prevailing Wage statutes: continuing the repeal of the local prevailing wage statute and repealing prevailing wage statutes for both state building projects and state highway projects. The repeal would first apply to a request for bids issued on or after September 1, 2018 or for contracts with no bid requirements entered into on September 1, 2018.

As harmful as the measure would be to working families, it’s no surprise. The governor’s original budget included the full repeal of Prevailing Wage statutes. Two The Joint Finance Committee had pulled his proposal, prompting legislators to introduce their own bills to kill the fair wage laws. And now, the same committee has snuck the plan back into the budget it’s moving forward.

WEAC continues to monitor legislative activity and the impact on educators and working families. Look for our updates and encourage your colleagues to sign up for them as well. Direct your questions to communications@weac.org.