Wisconsin Finance Bill Dies

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Lawmakers in Wisconsin adjourned March 24 without having approved an education budget for the coming fiscal year.

"It was just one of those things where there just wasn't enough time and the session broke down,'' said Robert Hanle, a budget analyst in the department of public instruction.

A catalyst for the discord in the closing hours of the session was a group of legislative proposals designed to ease local property taxes.

Most prominent among the proposals was a plan by Gov. Tommy Thompson--a longtime proponent of local property-tax relief--for a one-year freeze on spending by school districts and municipalities. In three subsequent years, local governments would only be allowed to increase spending at the rate of inflation.

The plan also seeks to overhaul Wisconsin's formula for distributing state aid to schools. Under the proposal, the state's share of the total education costs in school districts would increase from 46.5 percent to 57 percent over two years.

Education groups in the state have criticized the plan, claiming that the spending freeze would "strangle'' some school districts.

Among the education-related measures that were approved was a bill to ban corporal punishment in public schools.

The legislature also passed a number of truancy-prevention measures, ranging from a bill to allow courts to suspend the driver's licenses of chronically truant students to a measure that seeks to fine adults who allow students skipping school to congregate in their homes or businesses.

A controversial proposal that would have allowed some Milwaukee residents to carve out an autonomous, mostly black, school district in that city cleared the Assembly but was not taken up by the Senate. The plan had been promoted by black leaders who said they were dissatisfied with the quality of education in Milwaukee public schools.

Lawmakers also failed to take up Mr. Thompson's plan to allow the parents of Milwaukee's most disadvantaged students to send their children to any Wisconsin public or private school they choose.

The measure, akin to the tuition "voucher'' plan once proposed unsuccessfully by U.S. Secretary of Education William J. Bennett, would have provided parents with state aid to use toward tuition at the public or private school of their choice. The bill did not get out of committee.

To settle such unresolved issues and approve a budget, legislative leaders last week asked their colleagues to reconvene in a special session beginning April 18.--D.V.

Vol. 07, Issue 28

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