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Evers Continues Push for Two-Thirds Funding, Comments on Opening Schools

By John Forester | March 2, 2021

From WisPolitics.com …

Gov. Tony Evers said today he will continue to push for two-thirds funding for public schools despite GOP opposition and that he’ll work to close down some adult state prisons in the future.

Evers in a WisPolitics.com virtual luncheon today said he wants the state to return to funding two-thirds of public K-12 school budgets. He also said he wants to continue to decrease state prison populations while improving mental health resources and programs to reduce recidivism.

“All of those things together will dramatically decrease the number of people in our system and close prisons,” said Evers. Asked whether he envisions a day when an adult prison is closed, he said: “Absolutely, yes.”

Evers’ budget doesn’t call for closing any state prisons. Meanwhile, he’s proposing an increase in state funding to the Department of Public Instruction of $1.6 billion in general purpose revenue. That proposed investment is part of a plan that would restore the state’s commitment to funding two-thirds of public education.

The guv said his proposal to increase school funding has received bipartisan support in the past from Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos’ Blue Ribbon Commission on School Funding, adding “apparently he doesn’t know that.”

According to the Legislative Fiscal Bureau, the state is picking up 65.2 percent of K-12 costs in the 2020-21 school year. The state repealed the requirement that it pick up two-thirds of costs in the 2003-05 budget.

Evers also said the state could save some money by improving educational programs to decrease the number of prison inmates who are released and end up back in prison.

“This is something that’s costly to the state of Wisconsin and more importantly it’s unfair,” Evers said, adding “we have to ensure that people that are in prison are there for a very serious reason.”

He said educational programs inside and outside prisons would help reduce the number of people who end up in prison in the first place while decreasing the number of inmates who end up back in prison, reducing the financial burden on taxpayers from the state’s prison system.

Also on education, Evers said Republicans’ proposals to incentivize schools to reopen by offering them more funding is “out of the question.”

The guv said CARES Act money Republicans are saying should be used to incentivize those schools has already been allocated to help increase testing and vaccination efforts at UW System schools. He said using that money for other things just won’t happen and schools need money regardless of where their students are taught.

“No. I mean it costs money to do it virtually, it costs money to do it in person,” adding “It’s out of the question.”

Joint Finance Committee Co-chair Mark Born, R-Beaver Dam, tweeted during today’s luncheon that Evers was mischaracterizing what GOP lawmakers are asking.

“We asked the Governor to direct additional federal funds to schools that are already open. Parents want their kids in the classroom. They want a Governor who does too,” Born tweeted.

Evers said he’s willing to “look at all options” to reopen those public schools safely as soon as possible, even if it means changing laws.

The former state schools superintendent said he would be willing to change a state law that prohibits K-12 schools from starting fall classes earlier than Sept. 1 in order to get kids into classrooms and back up to speed as quickly as possible. He also said schools should be looking at creating “robust” summer school programs.

He added that he is hopeful about the future, but students who weather the pandemic will need more attention to make up for their loss of classroom time.

“It will mean that we’re going to have some real obligations to catch kids up, and whether that’s summer school or making sure that next year we maybe even start early, we have to look at all options, and I know school districts are already considering some of those ideas,” Evers said.

Evers added K-12 teachers in many of those schools don’t necessarily need to be vaccinated in order to safely reopen.

As long as those schools are following social distancing precautions, have adequate ventilation systems, have PPE for students and staff and everyone is wearing masks, Evers said K-12 schools can reopen for in-person classes.

“I know my teacher friends may disagree with me, but CDC says it’s not imperative,” Evers said of vaccinating teachers.

He said even if he could force those schools to open, the decision should be left to local schools rather than the state government because those schools know their districts and resources best.

“I cannot order schools to open; it’s not part of my ability as governor.”

Evers added he will work to help those schools reopen by improving the vaccination effort and getting more PPE for schools. “That’s my job,” he said.

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