Wisconsin Gov. Evers Signs Shared Revenue and School Choice Voucher Funding Bill

The bill would raise the cap on the minimum amount of revenue school districts are allowed to collect from state aid and local taxpayers.

Gov. Tony Evers signs AB-245, the shared revenue bill, to increase funding for local government including the city and county of Milwaukee, at a fire station in Wausau Tuesday morning. (Rep. Katrina Shankland/Facebook)

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Democratic Gov. Tony Evers signed legislation on Tuesday that increases local government funding, provides Milwaukee with a path to address its funding crisis, and requires several controversial policy changes for local governments across the state. Evers also signed another bill that was negotiated alongside the local government funding bill, increasing school districts’ revenue limits and boosting state aid to independent charter and private voucher schools.

Evers said the shared revenue issue is one that he began working on when he first took office in 2019.

“That effort began for me with a simple truth: that for far too long, our local communities have been forced to do more with less,” Evers said at a signing ceremony in Wausau. “We’ve seen the consequences of that in action, play out in communities across Wisconsin, especially in recent years… Local partners in every corner of the state have been forced to make impossible decisions about what essential services to fund, having to choose between paying for first responders, addressing PFAS, fixing the roads, and other critical priorities that affect the health, safety, and well-being of Wisconsinites everywhere.”

Evers signed the shared revenue bill, which will dedicate 20% of the state’s sales tax to local government funding, while surrounded by a bipartisan group of state lawmakers, including Sen. Mary Felzkowski (R-Irma) and Sen. LaTonya Johnson (D-Milwaukee), and local officials from across the state.

“I believe… the state should be doing its part to support our local partners and our local communities should have the resources they need to make sure those basic and unique needs are done,” Evers continued. “And I’ve also believed that supporting our local communities is an area where we could work to find common ground and bipartisan support. Well, folks, I was right.”

The bill will provide an additional $274.9 million to counties and municipalities that can be spent on costs related to law enforcement, fire protection, emergency medical services, emergency response communications, public works and transportation.

The Wisconsin Counties Association and the League of Wisconsin Municipalities celebrated the “historic” legislation, praising the bipartisan efforts and saying the new funding would position the state for future prosperity.

“Working alongside our state leaders, this new law creates a sustainable funding source for local governments and more closely aligns incentives for government to promote a vibrant and flourishing economy,” said Mark O’Donnell, the counties association chief executive. “Under this momentous agreement, local governments will see an increase in shared revenue payments linked to our state’s economy, creating the resources to provide the vital services our citizens need.”

The legislation also creates an innovation grant program meant to encourage counties and municipalities to consolidate services.

Milwaukee provisions challenged by local stakeholders

The signing happened more than three hours away from Milwaukee, the state’s most populous city, which was also a major point of contention throughout the negotiation process. Evers’ spokeswoman Britt Cudabeck and Milwaukee County Executive David Crowley’s spokesman Brandon Weathersby both said on Twitter that he chose to sign the bill in Wausau because the legislation affects every Wisconsin community, not just Milwaukee.

The legislation gives Milwaukee and Milwaukee County the ability to enact, if two-thirds of their governing bodies approve, an additional 2% sales tax in Milwaukee and 0.4% tax in Milwaukee County. The additional revenue can be used to pay for unfunded pension obligations and public safety costs but comes with strings attached.

Crowley and Milwaukee Mayor Cavalier Johnson also joined Evers in Wausau for the signing.

“For Milwaukee County, this brings us closer to avoiding a devastating fiscal cliff and continue critical service our residents rely on each day,” Crowley said in a statement. “As deliberations on the sole issue of additional revenue turn to local legislative bodies, it’s important that Milwaukee County, as an arm of the state, acknowledge the fiscal realities that we must confront.”

Crowley said the fiscal cliff is “the biggest single threat” to improving the quality of life for Milwaukee County residents, and that it’s important they don’t “miss the mark.”

The support from the top county and city leaders comes as other local Milwaukee officials explore taking action to mitigate certain policies in the legislation.

Milwaukee Common Council President José G. Pérez said in a statement that it’s essential that the local body works to pass the 2% sales tax as soon as possible. He also said, however, that the council will begin efforts to remove several provisions from the state statutes.

Pérez said the council will take up legislation separate from the sales tax that would double funding for the city’s Office of Equity and Inclusion and Office of African American Affairs, set aside money for litigation to fight provisions that “overstep our home rule,” and direct local agencies to apply for a federal grant to extend the streetcar.

The state law signed by Evers includes language that prohibits the city from using money from levying taxes on developing, operating or maintaining its streetcar, bars the city from using tax revenue on diversity, equity and inclusion positions, requires the city to maintain the level of law enforcement and fire department staffing at at least the current level and requires Milwaukee Public Schools reinstate school resource officers in schools.

The Milwaukee Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression criticized the legislation in a statement, calling it “the worst assault on the people’s movements in Wisconsin since the victories achieved coming out of the George Floyd Uprising of 2020.” Pointing to requirements to reintroduce police officers into MPS schools and for the city to maintain specified levels of law enforcement, the activist group said that the bill reduces people’s say over policing in their communities.

“These bills are a direct response to policy wins over the police secured by the Milwaukee Alliance and other community organizing efforts, including the banning of chokeholds, elimination of no-knock warrants, and a policy forcing the timely public release of video footage of police crimes,” the group stated.

Sen. Chris Larson (D-Milwaukee), who voted against the bill, pointed out that it requires Milwaukee to hire an additional 165 police officers beyond its current number. “If they can’t find qualified candidates, the city risks losing 15% of its shared revenue, for the next year. This is not progress,” Larson said on Twitter Tuesday morning.

Evers signs education funding bill

Evers also signed SB 330, which will increase payments to Wisconsin’s private choice and independent charter schools and raise revenue limits for school districts, on Tuesday. The bill was negotiated alongside the shared revenue deal.

The bill would raise the cap on the minimum amount of revenue school districts are allowed to collect from state aid and local taxpayers to $11,000 per student from $10,000 and increase per-pupil aid payments for private voucher and independent charter schools.

The bill would increase the per-pupil payments for private voucher and independent charter schools. According to a Legislative Fiscal Bureau memo, under the bill the aid for private school choice K-8 students would increase from $8,300 in the current year to $9,874 in the 2023-24 school year and $10,271 in the 2024-25 school year. Per-pupil payments for private school choice 9-12 students would rise from $9,045 to $12,368 and then to $12,765, and independent charter school students’ payments would increase from $9,264 to $11,366 and then to $11,763 per student.

Public school advocates, including the Wisconsin Public Education Network (WPEN), called on Evers to reject the deal, saying the bill underserves Wisconsin public school students.

“Public school students and local property taxpayers will pay the price, while private schools that can legally discriminate and pick and choose their students get a blank check from the state,” WPEN said in a statement. “With voucher enrollment caps set to come off entirely in 2 years, this is the most reckless and irresponsible thing Wisconsin could do with its massive surplus, especially when we consider that the nearly 80% of students participating in the statewide voucher program never attended a public school.”

Evers said on Tuesday that the “small bump” for independent charter and private voucher schools was a way to reach the goal of passing shared revenue.

“What people forget is everytime we have a budget for public schools, our money for vouchers goes up too and so there’s almost nothing different than last time,” Evers said. “We added a little bit more money in order to get this deal across the finish line, but the idea that somehow voucher schools and independent charters haven’t been receiving money and all of a sudden they are this time? That’s just not true.”

Evers also touted other portions of the education funding that was negotiated with shared revenue, but included in the budget rather than as separate legislation.

“I will never stop fighting to do the right thing for our kids because I believe, as I’ve often said, that what’s best for our kids is what’s best for our state,” Evers said. “Today, we’re one step closer to making a historic investment in this budget for K-12 schools and education.”

The investment includes an increase of $1 billion in state aid to public K-12 schools, raising the per-pupil aid by $325 in each year of the biennium, a $97 million increase in special education funding, $50 million to improve reading and literacy for K-12 students and $30 million to be spent on school-based mental health services.

He said the next step to introducing the new legislation is passing the biennial budget.

“We have to pass the budget,” Evers said. “The budget has not been signed. It hasn’t been approved by the Legislature, once that’s done I feel confident we’ll be in a good place to implement this.”

Wisconsin Examiner is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Wisconsin Examiner maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Ruth Conniff for questions: info@wisconsinexaminer.com. Follow Wisconsin Examiner on Facebook and Twitter.

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