“Shared Sacrifice.” Those are Scott Walker’s words to describe his budget plan, necessary to get Wisconsin’s fiscal house in order. The above link is to a 21- page brief released by the Center for Children and Families, outlining the impact of Walker’s biennial budget. The summary includes references and links to the specific portions of the budget documents. The motive behind this budget – who is sacrificing and who is gaining needs to be fully disclosed, discussed, and debated by the people of Wisconsin before any vote on this budget is taken. It changes the basic premise of one of the strongest public education systems in the US – that every child has a right to a free and quality public education.
Let’s start with the bottom line budget facts. The nature and source of the deficit is debateable, but we’ll take the budget as written for the sake of this examination. The projected biennial deficit is $3.6 billion. The tax cuts amount to $83 million in the budget, on top of $117 million from the special session adjustments. Add to that the governor taking $106 million from the General Fund and transfering it to the Transportation fund, and the deficit has increased due to the Governor’s own allocation of funds. More on who benefits from these cuts later.
Early Childhood Education – The budget would cut $227 million over two years from the Wisconsin Shares program (base budget of $402.5 million). Wisconsin Shares assists low-income, working families to afford childcare in licensed daycare operations throughout the state. For many families, no daycare means no work. The budget would also give DCS the authority to adjust co-pays, provider re-imbursements, and gross income requirements at any time to save money. Head Start and 4K programs see an annual reduction of 10% from state contibutions to local prgrams.
K – 12 Education – General Equalization aid paid directly to districts cut $850 million over two years ( 8.4% in 2012, 7.7% in 2013). The budget claim is that reduced benefit contibutions and reduced mandates will make up the difference, but analysis of the equations used by the governor cast doubt on this claim.
School district revenue caps have no fiscal impact on the state, yet Walker’s budget would reduce the cap per student local districts can spend. The revenue limit must be reduced by 5.5%, or $846 per student compared to the current law. This budget would eliminate the ability of districts to raise property tax revenue to fund education in public schools, also eliminating the ability to take such a request to referendum in a local election process.
Almost $60 million in cuts by eliminating some services entirely under “Categorical Aid Repeals” – including the elimination of nursing services, at-risk programs, and alternative education grants.
Parental School Choice - Almost $41 million in increases over two years. Eliminates income eligibility – translation, even if you make $250,000, the state will pay your child’s tuition to any public or private school. Repeal of the requirement of charter schools to use student testing to track student achievement. Repeal of teacher licensing requirements for charter school teachers, and repeal the cap on virtual charter schools. Expand the authority to create charters to the UW system and any local school district. This favors higher income earners, as the removal of income requirements allows for state tuition payment at any income level – even the very wealthy.
Repeal School Mandates - Repeal of the minimum 180 day school year statewide, and the minimum 200 service day requirement in Milwaukee Public Schools. Repeal the requirement to have a full time Reading Specialist on staff in public schools. These cuts have NO fiscal impact on the state – they merely reduce services to students in public schools in an attempt to “offset” cuts to local state aid. The DOA (under the Governor’s control) receives $1.2 million over two years to develop a third grade student reading assessment. This puts reading assessment and evaluation solely under the Governor’s authority.
Wisconsin Covenant Program - Even though there is no fiscal effect in this budget period, since scholars who signed the covenant prior to September 2011 will receive their grants – this popular program is eliminated. Wisconsin Covenant creates a path which guarantees low-income students grants and a guaranteed place in a UW system school after high school; based on income and grade point average.
That’s just the basic education cuts. Every one of these cuts has one thing in common – they seriously impact services and education for public schools and especially lower income families, and favor higher income levels. There are winners in Walker’s budget, and if you examine the Tax Cuts portion of the budget you can see clearly what this is Budget is all about. $36.2 million dollars in Capital Gains exclusion and allowing the practice of “combined reporting” for business groups to combine losses to elude paying taxes. In addition, it would remove the authority of the State Depatment of Revenue to investigate any such loss reporting. Transportation is increased by at least $136million over two years (combined General Revenue transfer and sales tax transfers), and up to $200 million per year after that. This is due to the shift of revenue from the General Fund, and a new transfer of auto sales tax (growing up to 50%) over time to the transportation fund.
The people who funded Scott Walker’s campaign – large corporations and transportation construction interests profit. Period. Regardless of the rhetoric, this budget will cripple our progressive education system, take authority and autonomy out of the local districts; and reward the corporate, financial, and transportation construction money that put Walker and company where they are. In Wisconsin, everyone is entitled to a high quality, public education. Our state and republic depends on it – which is why we used to invest in it. Children who need a great education, and the low income families who need assistance to access education should not be sacrificed. When does the “sharing” refer not to the sharing of more wealth and resources amongst the already wealthy? Sharing of sacrifice by those who can really afford it, and believe the prosperity of everyone takes precedence over their acquisition of more wealth and power is the true essence of “sharing.” Tomorrow – Medicaid, Badgercare Plus, and the relation of the wealth gap and healthcare costs.