Gov. Scott Walker announced a $129 million investment in public education and an additional $181 million in funding for the University of Wisconsin System would be included in his upcoming budget announcement on Monday.
After ranking 38th out of 41 states with complete data from a 2012 National Assessment of Educational Progress, Walker said in a statement it is time for Wisconsin to improve its education system. The State of Wisconsin has to reward and repeat success while assisting struggling schools to improve, he said.
The announcement comes two years after the budget imposed cuts that totalled around $1 billion from state educational institutions. Walker cut $834 million from state K-12 education and $315 million from the UW System in the 2011-2013 biennial budget.
“My goal overall is to tie things based on performance,” Walker said in a press conference Monday. “I didn’t pick schools or districts that were part of this, the report cards did.”
Walker’s new budget, which he will unveil Wednesday, proposes a one percent increase in funding to public schools.
Rep. Sondy Pope, D-Cross Plains, was not satisfied with this amount of funding for public education after such severe cuts in the last budget cycle.
“I would call it paltry and stingy and miniscule,” Pope said. “He’s giving a nine percent increase to K-8 voucher schools, a 22 percent increase to high school voucher schools and then this paltry sum for all public schools after his 10 percent cut. Ridiculous.”
Pope said she thinks Walker and Republican legislators nationwide are attempting to “starve” public education to make the case for privatizing these institutions.
She added she feels the same way about the $181 million budget increase to the UW System and suggested Walker is taking away a “huge chunk,” of funding and then giving back a small amount so he can go into his next election campaign saying he returned funding to education.
“It’s very clear Gov. Walker’s priority is not public education,” she said. “He’s paying back the campaign contributors who got him there and kept him safe during the recall.”
Mike Mikalsen, spokesperson for Rep. Steve Nass, R–Whitewater, said the issue of adding the degree of funding Pope desires is not as simple as she makes it out to be.
The amount of money the state can invest in public education is dependent on the amount of money the state has at the current time, Mikalsen added. He said neither Wisconsin nor the U.S. economy are doing well right now and increasing spending would only lead to another structural deficit for the state.
“The governor and the Legislature are committed to only spending the money we have,” he said. “We are not going to go out and borrow money. We are not going to roll money over. We’re not going to steal money from other pockets like Gov. [Jim] Doyle did. Those Days are over.”
Tom Beebe, project director of Opportunity to Learn – Wisconsin, called the $129 million in public education funding “insufficient” and a “cruel hoax,” but said there is no one person to blame.
Beebe said for over 20 years, the school funding system has borrowed from schools just by the structure of the system.
“Costs go up, but resources, which can only come from taxes, haven’t caught up with the costs of public education,” he said.
UW System spokesperson David Giroux said the proposed $181 million in funding to the System is a step in the right direction that would allow maintenance of current academic programs and facilities.
Still, Giroux echoed Beebe’s point that rising costs of education paired with unsatisfactory state funding mean students will continue to carry the burden of increasing tuition.