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  • Wisconsin
  • Lisa Lambert Snodgrass

The 2019-2021 budget, passed in 2019, was an improvement on past funding allocations for both P-12 and Higher Education statewide and the outlook for continued growth, specifically for education allocations, was high; however, the 2020 and the 2020-2021 education budget allocations have been heavily impacted in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and plummeting state and federal revenue.

funding priorities for p-12 and/or higher education

In response to plunging revenues and sharply rising costs due to COVID-19, Wisconsin Governor, Tony Evers, cut $70 million from the overall state's budget for the fiscal year ending June 2020. Approximately $41 million, or 59 percent, of that cut came from the education allocations, specifically from the University of Wisconsin system.1 In July, the Governor ordered an additional $250 million be cut from the 2020-2021 state budget. And once again, the K-20 education allocations, which account for approximately one third of the overall budget, were to disproportionately bear the brunt of the cuts. University of Wisconsin President, Tommy Thompson responded by calling for the Governor's office to assist in obtaining resources needed to ensure that K-12 and university campuses and communities were prepared for a safe return in the fall.1

In May 2020 the U.S. Congress passed the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act (HEROES) that has built in provisions to help bolster Wisconsin's education system. The HEROES Act allocated $1.4 billion for Wisconsin's education system, specifically,

  • • $915 million for K-12 public schools

  • • $422 million to the University of Wisconsin system as well as other public colleges and universities in the state.

These funds were intended to offset cuts to salaries and in turn save approximately 10,000 jobs in the K-12 arena and 2,800 jobs in and around higher education as well as provide resources for shifting the curriculum to online formats.2

The federal CARES Act provided an additional $46.7 million in emergency education [End Page 380] funding for Wisconsin K-12 public and charter schools as well as various colleges and universities. The Act also provided an additional $174.8 million in a relief fund specifically for Wisconsin's K-12 public schools. Gov. Evers and State lawmakers worked to pass a bill to earmark this funding as an effort to offset cuts to the biennial budget.3

changes to the funding formula for p-12 and/or higher education

Amid the extensive budget cuts due to COVID-19 and the resultant decline in the state economy, Gov. Evers declined to reopen the biennial budget to negotiate cuts opting instead to call for system wide budget cuts. Therefore, there were no significant changes to the funding formula for K-20 education. In the 2019-2021 budget the per pupil expenditures were increased by $63 per year, setting the per pupil aid at $742 in year one and an additional $62 in year two for a per pupil expenditure of $805. These were the largest nominal increases for P-12 education spending to a biennium budget since 2005-07 placing the 2019 per pupil rate as $12,558.3 However, accounting for the budget cuts at the time of this writing, the per pupil expenditure is anticipated to decrease by $552 for a total per pupil rate of $12, 006, well below the national per pupil expenditure of $12,756.4

pressing state issues

Student and staff safety & school reopening plans, a shortage of teachers, and equity in access have been the most pressing issues for state legislators, policy makers, administrators, teachers, parents, students, and community members amidst the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic.

To address safety and school reopening plans, the Wisconsin Education Association Council (WEAC) Region 7 developed a School District Safety Report Card with a list of 14 science-based criteria for safely reopening Wisconsin schools. The criteria includes coronavirus testing of students and staff, mandatory masks, mandatory social distancing, temperature monitoring, phase-in in-person learning, along with other similar standards.5 And while this report card does not consider budgetary shortfalls to address the standards, it does impact public perception of...