Budget Blog Update: JFC Votes On K12 And Higher Ed Funding


Republicans Count Massive $2.6 Billion Of Federal Aid Towards Funding Of K12 Schools


Democrats And Education Establishment Outraged That More State Aid Wasn’t Heaped On Top Of The Federal Aid


Republicans Did Add $109 Million Of State Aid To K12 Special Education – Evers  Wanted To Increase Taxes By Billions, Already Nixed By Republicans, To Pay For A $700 Million Increase


Republicans Redistribute $150 Million Of ARPA Funds To Pay Schools That Stayed In-Person Instruction At least 50% Of The 2020-2021 School Year And Towards Literacy Efforts


Popular UW Tuition Freeze Eliminated – Will Evers, Up For Re-election Next Year, Go Along?


How High Will Evers’ Regents Jack Tuition?


No Action On Critical Race Theory


May 27, 2021


On Thursday, the Joint Finance Committee voted on budget items related to the Department of Public Instruction (DPI), the University of Wisconsin System (UW), and the Wisconsin Technical College System (WTCS).

Prior to their deliberations on the 2021-2023 budget, the Joint Finance Committee (JFC) met under the 13.10 administrative review process to discuss the Department of Public Instruction’s latest plan to distribute federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding to K12 schools. While most of the ARPA funding is being sent back through the Title 1 program, which state government has almost no say on how that funding is spent, there is about $150 million in discretionary funding that Wisconsin can spend on as we see fit. Republicans on Joint Finance modified the ARPA federal funding plan submitted by DPI on April 1st to send more aid to schools that stayed open at least 50% of the time in the 2020-2021 school year and to increase spending on literacy initiatives across the state.

The Republican motion:

  • Reduced administrative costs by $662k
  • Took a total of $114 million from DPI’s original plan ($37 million from the minimum aid per school portion + $77 million from learning loss portion = $114 million total) and redirected it to schools that stayed open 50% of 2020-2021 year with a minimum grant award of $781 per pupil
  • Establishes an after-school & summer school competitive grant program
  • Earmark $5 million total for literacy efforts, including $2 million to school districts for literacy professional development of teachers, $300k to school districts for literacy professional development of principals, $800k to Cooperative Education Service Agencies (CESA) to improve literacy and $1.9 million to analyze all 13 UW educator prepartory programs & implement recommendations to improve those programs


In promoting their plan for the ARPA K12 funds, Senator Joan Ballweg (R- Markesan), a former teacher, stressed the importance of literacy and explained that is why Republicans repurposed some of the funds to literacy efforts around the state.

“Up to third grade, children are learning to read. After third, you are reading to learn.”

Democrats on the committee immediately complained that the change would hurt Milwaukee and Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS). In response, JFC Co-Chair Howard Marklein (R- Spring Green) asked the Legislative Fiscal Bureau how much MPS is receiving in total ESSER III funding. According to the non-partisan LFB, MPS will receive $506 million in ESSER III funding. Fiscal Bureau also pointed out 90% of the ESSER aid is unaffected by Republican amendment.

As the debate at the table turned to education funding in general, Representative Even Goyke (D – Milwaukee) criticized Republicans for being stuck in 2020 and that they seemed fixated on what certain schools did in response to the virus. Senator Mary Felzkowski (R-Irma) rebutted that Republicans are responding to parents and their concern over the need for full-time, in-person instruction. Felzkowski pointed out that the School District of Wausau lost 500 kids to other districts because Wausau refused to return to in-person instruction. The districts that accepted these 500 students took on an added, unexpected burden and the republican motion helps those districts deal with that burden.

Sen. Felzkowski also drew attention to Wisconsin’s falling literacy scores – Wisconsin is dead last in the country in reading for Black children and, overall, Wisconsin has fallen 31 places in literacy since 1992. Felzkowski ended with that the Republican ARPA fund change was not about politics, but about the children and that closed schools don’t children to read.

As MacIver has pointed out repeatedly, proficiency rates in the state are astonishingly low, despite increasing K12 budgets over the past decade.


Senator Kooyenga (R – Brookfield) said we must get back to in-person instruction. Kooyenga went on to point out that throughout the pandemic, 25% of kids in Madison schools have been chronically absent, and we have seen 50% increase statewide in the chronically absentee rate.

During their debate, Republicans continued to focus on the fact that the state had received an unprecedented amount of federal aid in the last 18 months. In 2009, the last time Wisconsin was flush with a $3.7 billion dump of federal stimulus cash, former Governor Jim Doyle reduced GPR spending on K12 education by $284 million. While the state government’s commitment to K12 was reduced or dare we say “cut” by $284 million, Gov. Doyle replaced it with $789 million in one-time federal school aid. The state dollars that Doyle shifted out of K12 education were distributed out to other areas of his budget that were in the red from the economic downturn.



Courtesy Of Legislative Republicans
2021-2023 State Budget Debate


Moving on to the DPI budget, Republicans proposed and passed:

  • $109 million in additional GPR funding to Special Education, raising the state’s commitment to 30%, the “highest dollar amounts ever in state history”
  • $17 million in additional funding for high-cost transportation
  • $6.3 million more toward sparsity aid
  • $12 million more to mental health categorical aid, more than double the last budget which saw a $6.5 million dollar increase
  • $7 million in additional funding for school-based mental health grants, a $6 million increase over the last budget and matches the Governor’s original budget proposal
  • Setting aside $350 million to maintain education funding stability in the future
  • A  guaranteed minimum of $781 per pupil to all school districts if the schools were in-person at least 50% of the 2020-2021 school year


Both the Republican’s ARPA plan and budget proposals passed on a party-line vote of 11-4.




In addition to the DPI budget changes, JFC voted on Higher Ed budget-related items as well.

Most notably, JFC chose to end the popular tuition freeze for in-state students at UW System Schools. Governor Walker first implemented the freeze in 2013, and it has been saving students and families thousands of dollars in college tuition and loan costs since then. The freeze was set to expire, and no motion was taken up to continue it.



In addition to the tuition freeze, the Republicans’ motion in Higher Ed included:

  • $5 million in the freshwater collaborative
  • $2 million to be used for agricultural specialists
  • $750k to be used for foster youth programs
  • A general aid increase of $4.5 million to the Wisconsin Technical College System
  • $5 million in funding for a nurse educator program

The Higher Ed motion also passed along party lines with an 11-4 vote.


Next week, JFC is set to take action on the budgets for the Department of Natural Resources, Department of Workforce Development, as well as others. Be sure to follow along as MacIver continues our 2021-2023 budget coverage.