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Republican Leaders' State Budget Plan Would Force Immediate, Massive School Cuts, Johnson Says

The budget process

• In February 2005, Governor Doyle introduced his 2005-07 state budget proposal, which increased state school aid by $850 million.

• On June 10, the Joint Finance Committee, controlled by Republican legislative leaders, adopted a budget that reduces the governor's school aid package by about $400 million.

• The State Assembly will take up the budget the week of June 21, and Senate action will follow.

• Once both houses have agreed on a single version of the budget (which is scheduled to happen by July 1 but often runs later), it is sent back to Governor Doyle, who can sign it or veto it in part or whole.

School districts throughout the state would have to immediately cut millions of dollars from their 2005-06 budgets if the state budget approved Friday (June 10, 2005) by the Joint Finance Committee became law, WEAC President Stan Johnson said.

The budget plan approved by the legislative Republican leadership that controls the Joint Finance Committee falls nearly $400 million short of what Governor Doyle proposed in education funding for the next two years.

"It would force communities to either dramatically raise taxes or severely harm kids and undermine Wisconsin’s great schools," Johnson said.

School districts have set local budgets under current revenue cap law, which allows an increase of $248 per pupil in 2005-06 and $252 in 2006-07. The Republican plan approved early Friday by the Joint Finance Committee allows increases of only $120 per pupil for 2005-06 and $100 in 2006-07.

"That would force immediate and massive cuts as children come back in September to schools with fewer teachers and support staff, larger class sizes, and far fewer curriculum opportunities," Johnson said.

Milwaukee Public Schools alone would have to cut $40 million, which Superintendent William Andrekopoulos said is the equivalent of laying off 499 teachers. Other examples of school cuts that would result from the Republican budget plan, according to Governor Jim Doyle's office, are: $10 million in Madison, $8.5 million in Kenosha, $8.5 million in Racine, $8.2 million in Green Bay, $5.9 million in Appleton, $5.3 million in Waukesha, $4.4 million in Eau Claire, $4.3 million in Janesville, $4.2 million in Oshkosh, $4.1 million in Sheboygan, $3.5 million in Wausau, $3.4 million in West Allis, $3.1 million in Stevens Point, and $3 million in La Crosse. The governor's office has posted a list (pdf file) of cuts for every school district under the Republican budget plan.

Doyle said the Republican leaders' plan is "a cruel hoax on schools and property taxpayers." He said he would "use every power at my disposal to make sure that we get a budget that is fair to both property taxpayers and our schools."

The budget the governor proposed in February calls for an additional $850 million investment so that the state lives up to its promise to fully fund two-thirds of the cost of public education.

Doyle said the Republican leaders' proposal "would force school districts to choose between a massive property tax increase or laying off thousands of teachers, raising class sizes, and cutting programs from music to athletics."

"Not only will the Republican budget cause the largest education cut in decades, but it also sets taxpayers up for a huge property tax increase. Republicans know there is no way schools can handle this kind of cut, and the only option will be a massive increase in property taxes."

Doyle cannot use his veto power to add funding to any package approved by the Legislature. However, he said, "If in the end, I have to veto the whole budget in order to make sure we protect property taxpayers, and we protect education in this state, then that's what I'm going to do."

Sen. Robert Jauch called the Republican leaders' plan "an inexcusable assault on children" that will result in a $110 million cut for Wisconsin schools in the next two months alone.

“The Republican plan is as indefensible as it is horrific, and it will certainly result in chaos for school budgets in northern Wisconsin and throughout the state,” he said.

The Republican leaders' plan also slashes Doyle's proposed increase in the highly successful SAGE class-size reduction program - from $42.9 million to $6.1 million. SAGE (Student Achievement Guarantee in Education) reduces class sizes in kindergarten through 3rd grade in classes that largely serve students from low-income households, but the Joint Finance Committee budget would let schools opt out of SAGE in grades 2 and 3.

"Governor Doyle proposed a fiscally responsible budget and made education his first priority," Johnson said. "The Republican legislative leaders are making education a very low priority and potentially sacrificing the future of our kids in the process."

Johnson again urged WEAC members to join in the WEAC Lobby Day in Madison June 16. The Assembly will vote on the budget the week of June 21, and Senate action will follow.

"The timing is critical," Johnson said. "Now that the budget is out of the hands of Republican legislative leaders and in the hands of the full Legislature, we hope common sense and fairness will prevail.

"It is essential that WEAC members communicate with legislators to impress upon them how important great schools are to the future of our children and to the economy of our state.

"If you can't make it to Lobby Day on June 16, please use the OnWEAC Cyberlobby to tell your legislators that our great schools and the children of Wisconsin can no longer absorb these budget cuts, and that every kid deserves a great school."

Posted June 10, 2005

At the Capitol News Archives