State Schools Superintendent Seeks $700M Increase In Next Budget

Additional Funding Would Cover School Aid, Mental Health, Rural School Programs

Children in a classroom
Nick Ut/AP Photo

The state schools’ superintendent is requesting $707 million in additional funding over the next biennium to increase state aid to K-12 schools and fund programs supporting in-school mental health services, rural schools and summer school.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers submitted the Department of Public Instruction’s 2017-2019 budget request to the governor and state Legislature on Tuesday.

Evers pointed to the number of school referendums passing across the state as proof the state isn’t doing enough.

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“We cannot say at the state level that we’re adequately funding schools if school board members and communities across the state are raising the taxes on themselves, many of them just to keep the doors open,” he said.

The superintendent, who was elected in 2009, has requested funding increases for his department in the past two budget cycles. The first budget under Gov. Scott Walker saw cuts to K-12 spending. The last budget held spending mostly steady.

Walker, as well as state Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, have said K-12 spending will be priority in this budget cycle.

“We are reviewing the request and appreciate Dr. Evers’ proposal,” Walker spokesman Tom Evenson said via email Wednesday. “Governor Walker is committed to investing more to help every child succeed.”

Evers said Walker’s comments make him “hopeful” his department will have meaningful conversations with the governor and state Legislature as the budget process unfolds.

“I believe we’re at a really good cusp, where we have people supporting our public schools, we have legislators and the governor saying they want to prioritize it,” Evers said. “That’s the secret sauce. I think we can make something happen.”

In addition to more than $500 million in additional funds for general school aid, Evers’ budget requests about $200 million for other programs, including mental health initiatives, grants for rural school teachers and expanded summer school offerings.

The mental health initiatives include funding for social workers in schools, grants for school-community collaborations to provide mental health services and training sessions for teachers and staff on things like Mental Health First-Aid.

“We need to ratchet it up,” Evers said of mental health funding. “There’s ongoing concern expressed by superintendents and teachers across the state that this is a high priority.”

The rural school initiatives include a grant program intended to attract and retain teachers at rural schools.

Evers said additional spending could also help rural schools shoulder declining enrollment and increasing transportation costs.

The request also proposes increasing state funding for summer school programs, which Evers called “low-hanging fruit.”

“There’s lots of research that talks about the summer slide, where kids kind of fall back in the summer,” he said. “School is school, whether it’s in the summer or not, and our school districts want the opportunity to expand that arena.”

The governor will present his budget proposal to the state Legislature in mid-February.