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Education activist groups react to proposed state education budget

Posted at 4:20 PM, Jun 22, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-22 21:52:03-04

GREEN BAY (NBC 26) — Education activist groups are demanding state representatives increase public education funding in the 2021-23 proposed state budget even though the federal government is set to pump billions in coronavirus relief aid into Wisconsin districts.

The Green Bay Advocates 4 Public Education is among groups that encouraged people to contact state representatives Monday to oppose the budget as part of a "Statewide Day of Education Action."

The State Legislature's Joint Finance Committee finished the proposal last week. The budget allocates $128 million to K-12 schools over the next two years - significantly less than the $1.6 billion proposed by Governor Evers.

One of the activist group's main concerns is the funding allocated for special education. The budget gives 30% reimbursement for special education. John Jahnke, who serves on the Governor’s Council on Autism and the State Superintendent’s Parents Advisory Council, says that amount isn't enough.

"In this state in particular but in society in general we underfund special education," Jahnke said. "The long-term impact of underfunding special education is that a child with a disability becomes an adult with a disability who's underprepared."

He says the State Legislature should invest more into special education.

"It's like in any business. If you invest on the front end you save on the back end," Jahnke said. "If we invest in children while they're young and give them the tools they need to succeed they're going to be more independent and active in the economy."

Rep. Mark Born, co-chairman of the finance committee, said in a statement Monday the committee took the fact that schools will be receiving federal pandemic relief aid into account when drawing up the proposal.

Heidi Fagre, a member of the Green Bay Advocates 4 Public Education, says the federal aid is more of a temporary fix than a substitute for state funding.

"Our legislatures think that our school funding can be completely taken care of by COVID relief funds," Fagre said. "The COVID funds should be used to take care of COVID issues and our education system should be fully funded based on the needs of students."

Rep. Born's office released this statement regarding the proposed budget:

"As we have said over and over, when crafting the K-12 budget we took into consideration the massive $2.4 billion in federal funding coming to our school districts. This equates to an average of $2,898 per student. On top of that, we still increased funding by nearly $100 million to our schools for student mental health and special education. Under our plan, schools that have been largely in-person over the last year are guaranteed to receive a minimum of $781 per student, more than the per-student increase in the last budget, which Governor Evers signed.”

The Senate and Assembly will likely vote on the budget the last week of June. Once passed by the Legislature, it then heads to Governor Evers who has broad line-item veto authority.