Wisconsin Supreme Court Rules Evers Exceeded Authority

By John Forester | March 31, 2021

From WisPolitics.com …

The Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled 4-3 today that Gov. Tony Evers exceeded his authority in issuing multiple public health emergencies over the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Justice Brian Hagedorn, in the majority opinion, wrote that state law on public health emergencies “must be read to forbid the governor from proclaiming repeated states of emergency for the same enabling condition absent legislative approval.”

Hagedorn added the guv’s power “to act unilaterally on an emergency basis is limited by both a 60-day limit and by the legislature’s power to terminate the emergency declaration.”

Hagedorn was joined by fellow conservatives Rebecca Bradley, Pat Roggensack and Annette Ziegler in his decision.

State law gives governors the power to declare a public health emergency that lasts for up to 60 days unless the Legislature approves an extension. Evers issued his first public health declaration March 12, 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic took hold in the state. He subsequently issued a stay-at-home order. Once that was about to expire, his Department of Health Services secretary issued a second directive that the state Supreme Court later overturned, ruling she had exceeded her authority under state law.

Evers then issued a new public health emergency on July 30 that served as the foundation for his first statewide mask mandate. He has followed that up with additional emergency declarations and mask mandates. That includes one issued in February immediately after the Legislature voted to overturn one of the declarations.

Hagedorn wrote in today’s decision Evers exceeded his authority in doing so and declared the action unlawful.

Read the decision here.

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JFC Hearings: Who Plans to Testify?

By John Forester | March 29, 2021

As you know, beginning on Friday, April 9, the Joint Finance Committee plans to hold 4 public hearings on the Governor’s 2021-23 State Budget.  The first three hearings listed are in-person hearings.  The final one will be a virtual hearing.  We will forward additional information about these hearings as it becomes available.

We have been told by Capitol sources that it is extremely important for administrators, board members and parents to show up at these hearings to advocate strongly on behalf of the children we serve.  Those SAA members interested in testifying at one of these four hearings should let me know so I can help to coordinate the arrangements for your testimony.

We need a strong showing at the JFC budget hearings.  If you have questions about testifying please call me at 608-242-1370.

Thank you.

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State Budget Alert: Joint Finance Committee

By John Forester | March 29, 2021

With the Legislative Fiscal Bureau’s (LFB) summary of Governor Evers’ State Budget proposal having been released, the 2021-23 State Budget process has begun to pick up speed.  At this point, we believe the Joint Finance Committee (JFC) will conduct state agency briefings April 6th and 7th and hold a total of four public hearings (three in-person and one virtual) on the budget bill beginning on April 9th and concluding on April 28th (see March 10 post).  We will follow up with a separate post on coordinating SAA member testimony at the JFC budget hearings.

I would like to thank all those SAA members that have already begun conversations with their legislators regarding the Governor’s budget recommendations.  For those that have yet to communicate with their legislators, it’s time to do so.  To be successful on this state budget, SAA members in every school district must contact their legislators repeatedly throughout the long budget process.

I suggest that each district leadership team, behind the leadership of the superintendent and business manager, develop your district message and craft your plan for influencing your parents, your staff, your community, your media and your lawmakers — and then coordinate the delivery of that message.  This budget is vitally important for your school district and the children you serve.   It is critically important for you to reach out to your legislators and your community.

In your communications, please cover the following:

  1. Consider inviting your legislators to your school(s).  Use the opportunity to show them some of the great educational opportunities afforded to the children in your district.  Show them what learning looks like today in your district.
  2. Discuss your district’s 2020-21 spending on COVID safety, technology, additional staffing, etc., and how you used your initial federal aid for these purposes.  Also, share your plans for using additional one-time federal aid on your district’s student recovery efforts.  Finally, make sure to explain that one-time federal aid is designed for COVID relief and recovery.  Resources to support continuing educational opportunities for your students must come from the state budget process.  Keep in mind that some legislators have openly expressed the opinion that, because of this one-time federal aid, public schools in Wisconsin don’t need ongoing support in the 2021-23 state budget.
  3. Express your strong support for the Governor’s proposal to increase the level of special education aid to reimburse 50 percent of aidable costs by the end of the 2021-23 biennium.  First and foremost, this proposal will help us meet the ongoing needs of our most vulnerable students.  Also, Wisconsin school districts collectively transfer about $1.15 billion annually from district general funds to cover the funding gap between required special education costs and current state funding.  Explain your district’s “general fund to special education fund” annual transfer and how significant increases in special education aid can help meet the needs of all students in your district.
  4. Express your strong support for at least a $200 per pupil general revenue increase in each year of the biennium.  Explain the importance of these increases in per pupil revenues in both fiscal and human terms.  In particular, emphasize the impact on educational opportunities for the kids you serve.
  5. Express your strong support for comprehensive pupil count mitigation including: 1) Allowing districts to use the greater of the 2019-20 or 2020-21 pupil count for revenue limit calculations; 2) Increasing special adjustment aid from 85 percent to 90 percent of prior year general aid in each year of the biennium; and 3) Treating the non-recurring declining enrollment exemption and base revenue hold harmless as recurring adjustments for one year only.  Be sure to explain your district’s projected fiscal impact of the pupil count decline and what that could mean for educational opportunities for the kids you serve.
  6. Express your strong support for the Governor’s $46.5 million proposed expansion of the School Mental Health Categorical Aid program to provide financial support for services provided by school psychologists, nurses, counselors and social workers.
  7. Express your strong support for setting the low revenue ceiling (LRC) at 90 percent of the statewide average maximum revenue limit per student.  The current LRC amount of $10,000 is 87.3 percent of the current state average revenue limit of $11,450. A steadily improving LRC policy is an important part of ensuring equitable resources for all children no matter where they live.
  8. Express your strong support for the Governor’s $204 million proposal to expand access to affordable, reliable, high-speed Internet and attack the “homework gap”.  While the bulk of this proposal is directed at much-needed broadband expansion, it would also allocate $20 million annually to fund broadband subscriptions for low-income families.
  9. Tell your district’s story.  Your legislators need to hear it.
  10. Encourage your legislators to stand up for the children you serve.
  11. Thank them for listening and for serving the citizens of Wisconsin.

Please forward your communications using the information discussed above (and the SAA Legislative Agenda) to the members of the Joint Finance Committee and your legislators as soon as possible.  Many SAA members prefer sending letters or emails to their legislators.  Some members have found that their legislators prefer phone conversations.  Several members have said they plan to produce a video to advocate for the needs of their students. All these methods work great.  All I ask is that you copy your written or video communications to the SAA so we can post them as examples for your colleagues.

I know many of you have already discussed these issues with your legislators, and I thank you.  I also ask that you contact them again.  For your convenience, I have provided links to the Senate Directory, the Assembly Directory and Who Are My Legislators.

Make no mistake about it.  We have to fight hard for funding increases for public school children.  Many legislators are pushing back against the governor’s proposed increases to K-12 education.  In particular, some legislators point to the one-time federal aid received by schools and contend that schools don’t need additional financial support in the state budget.

So, let’s stand up and fight for the needs of Wisconsin school children.

Thanks for your attention, and for all your efforts on behalf of the children you serve.

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Governor Signs OE Bills, Vetoes SB 39

By John Forester | March 29, 2021

On Friday, March 26th, Governor Evers took action on three education-related bills detailed below.  He signed two bills related to open enrollment, Senate Bills 109 and 110.  The SAA took no position on these bills.  The SAA rarely takes positions on open enrollment bills because they tend to affect districts differently.  Governor Evers also vetoed Senate Bill 39.  The SAA opposed SB 39.  The Governor’s veto message is linked below.

SB-109 Open Enrollment (Ballweg, Joan) Full-time open enrollment to attend a fully virtual program offered by a nonresident school district during the 2021-22 school year. Signed (Act 18)

SB-110 Open Enrollment (Ballweg, Joan) Applications for full-time open enrollment. Signed (Act 19)

SB-039 Extracurricular Activities (Stroebel, Duey) Participation in interscholastic athletics and extracurricular activities and school district membership in an interscholastic athletic association in the 2021-22 school year. Vetoed (Link)

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DPI: ESSER II In-Person Hours Data Collection

By John Forester | March 29, 2021

From the Department of Public Instruction . . .

Friday, March 26, 2021

On February 10, the Joint Finance Committee adopted Motion #16 to approve the Department of Public Instruction’s (DPI’s) allocation plan for ESSER II funds under the CRRSA Act with one modification. Under that modification, $65,537,642 is allocated among 174 local education agencies (LEAs) that would otherwise receive less than $395 per pupil under the Title I-A formula and $100,000 LEA minimum, in proportion to each LEA’s share of the total number of in-person instructional hours provided in the 2020-21 school year.

DPI requested clarifications from the Joint Finance co-chairs on the definition of in-person instruction and how data would be collected. Based on those clarifications, we have developed a plan for this data collection under a method similar to the PI-1804 Summer School Report. Eligible LEAs will be provided a workbook to compile their hours of in-person instruction by class, using an average daily in-person attendance. Each LEA will compile and report a single total number of in-person hours to DPI. A list of the affected LEAs is available in the Excel workbook on ESSER II allocations.

For this collection, in-person instructional hours are defined as hours in which pupils are together in the same physical location, being taught by a licensed teacher who is in the same location. Hours of virtual or other remote instruction may not be counted under any circumstance, including but not limited to:

The SFS Team is developing an Excel workbook, FAQ, and other guidance on this data collection. More information, including a timeframe for the data collection itself, will be released as soon as it is available.

For questions about this information, contact Daniel Bush (608) 266-6968, Roger Kordus (608) 267-3752

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Study: Wisconsin Schools Could Save With ETF-Style Health Plan

By John Forester | March 25, 2021

From WisPolitics…

Wisconsin’s school districts could save up to $5,000 a year per employee by pooling health care resources, a new think tank study says.

Study author and former Deputy Insurance Commissioner J.P. Wieske, now with Horizon Government Affairs, said if schools teamed up on health resources in a model similar to the state’s Employee Trust Funds health plan, districts could save more than $500 million in the aggregate.

He noted most schools developed their current health plans based on regulations from 2011 Wisconsin Act 10 meant to expand insurance options. And while language in the law did benefit some districts, according to Wieske, costs also have huge differences between districts in ways that can’t be attributed to the health plans themselves.

“Even though many school districts were able to take advantage of the flexibility of Act 10, we found that what school districts paid for health insurance varied widely,” Wieske said, noting costs ranged from $450 per month all the way to $1,400 for single coverage. “The savings aren’t magic.”

The study argues the larger risk pool through an ETF-like program would help lower costs by spreading risk and cutting back on administration.

According to the report, school districts on average spend over $21,000 a year on family health policies, with 21 districts having family policy deductibles $10,000 or higher. It said the high costs in part factor in because school employees tend to be older on average than private-sector employees.

A spokesperson for the Wisconsin Education Association Council, the state’s leading teacher’s union, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

See the plan here.

See the release here.

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LFB Memo on Evers’ Major School Finance Proposals

By John Forester | March 25, 2021

The Legislative Fiscal Bureau (LFB) has produced a memo estimating the effects on school districts of the major K-12 school finance provisions of Governor Evers’ proposed 2021-23 state budget.

This information is extremely important to our ongoing advocacy efforts on the 2021-23 State Budget.

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LFB Estimate Finds Wisconsin Governments, Educational Institutions in Line for $8.7 Billion from Latest Stimulus Bill

By John Forester | March 25, 2021

From WisPolitics.com …

Wisconsin’s state and local governments, along with its educational institutions, could receive $8.7 billion from the latest federal COVID-19 stimulus bill, according to an estimate from the Legislative Fiscal Bureau.

A new LFB memo summarized the package’s wide-ranging impact on programs from child abuse prevention grants to aid for the humanities. But it didn’t include a summary of the overall pot of money the state could receive.

LFB put together the $8.7 billion total at the request of WisPolitics.com, though Director Bob Lang stressed it was an estimate and comes with some caveats. For example, the state is in line for $188.7 million from a capital projects fund. But it would first have to apply for the money through a process the U.S. Department of Treasury has nearly two months to set up.

The estimate doesn’t include the stimulus checks that residents received as part of the latest package, nor the $1 billion sweetener the package includes for states like Wisconsin if they expand Medicaid through the Affordable Care Act. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, has already ruled out the move.

The biggest pots of money include: $3.2 billion for the state; $2.3 billion for counties and municipalities; $1.5 billion for public K-12 schools; and $560 million for Wisconsin colleges and universities.

Some of the highlights include:

*Previous estimates had detailed the $2.3 billion that Wisconsin municipalities and counties will receive. That includes $405.7 million for the city of Milwaukee and $183.4 million for the county. The LFB memo notes the COVID bill includes language stating aid states receive directly can’t be used to reduce taxes. But there are no similar restrictions on the money that locals will receive.

The memo includes a breakdown on the aid hundreds of Wisconsin villages, towns and cities will receive.

*The Department of Public Instruction will have to submit to the Joint Finance Committee a plan for the influx of federal aid for K-12 schools. Still, the bulk of that money will be divided up using a federal formula based on poverty, and JFC won’t be able to change that. A similar approach was used for the last round of federal COVID aid, and Milwaukee Public Schools was the biggest recipient of that money.

Of the $686.1 million included in the December package President Trump signed, $617.5 million was distributed to districts and independent charter schools based on the formula that accounts for the number of low-income students in each district.

Milwaukee was to receive $225.2 million of the pot of $686.1 million with JFC using $65 million of the federal funds to reward districts that offer in-person instruction.

*Private K-12 schools are in line for an estimated $67.1 million.

*The American Council on Education has done an estimate on how the $560 million would be divided up among Wisconsin colleges and universities. That includes $275 million for UW System institutions; $170 million for Wisconsin Technical Colleges; and $115 million for private, nonprofit colleges.

That money can be used to defray costs associated with the virus, including lost revenue and technology costs for going to distance learning. Almost half of the money has to go to financial aid grants to students.

Other than a small share of the money, at least half of it has to go to financial aid grants to students.

*The $188.7 million the state could receive from the capital fund is meant to cover projects that “directly enable work, education, and health monitoring, including remote options, in response to the coronavirus pandemic.”

Under the bill, the Treasury Department has to set up a process for states to apply for the money, which would have to be used by Dec. 31, 2024.

The LFB memo notes state law requires capital projects with a cost of more than $1 million to be enumerated by the Legislature, regardless of the funding source. Also, no agency can enter into a contract exceeding $300,000 for a project without approval from the State Building Commission.

See the LFB memo here.

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LFB Summary of Governor Evers Executive Budget Now Available

By John Forester | March 17, 2021

The Legislative Fiscal Bureau summary of Governor Evers 2021-23 budget recommendations is now available.  Check it out here.

See the Public Instruction agency summary here.

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SAA Supports Senate Bill 114

By John Forester | March 17, 2021

The SAA submitted testimony today in support of Senate Bill 114, relating to waiving the Foundations of Reading test licensure requirement during a national health emergency declared in response to COVID-19, for a public hearing on the bill before the Senate Committee on Insurance, Licensing and Forestry.  Please contact the SAA with any questions you may have regarding this testimony.

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