Evers, Republicans talking K-12 education funding

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MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Democratic Gov. Tony Evers met Wednesday with Republican legislative leaders to talk about K-12 education funding, as advocates for public schools rallied behind the governor's proposed 10 percent increase amid GOP skepticism.

Republican senators were meeting privately Wednesday to discuss what they could support and Assembly Republicans planned an afternoon news conference to announce their position. The Legislature's budget-writing Joint Finance Committee planned to vote Thursday on how much money to give to schools.

Education funding is the single largest item of state spending in the budget, currently taking up about a third of all money allocated. Evers' $83.5 billion state budget included fulfilling his campaign promise to increase state aid for K-12 schools by $1.4 billion, or 10%. That includes $606 million for special education.

But Republicans who control the Legislature have talked about spending much less, closer to the $639 million schools got in the last budget passed under Republican Gov. Scott Walker.

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, on his way into the meeting with Evers at his Capitol office, said senators were still talking and had not yet agreed on a funding level. Fitzgerald said Tuesday they were discussing providing $200 per-pupil in each of the next two years, an increase of $505 million.

When asked what his message would be for the governor as he walked into the meeting, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said, "Eh."

Evers and Republican legislative leaders have only met a couple of times. Evers on Monday suggested Republicans don't want to negotiate with his chief of staff because she is a woman. He called on Vos and Fitzgerald to explain why they won't work with women who lead his office.

Vos and Fitzgerald have repeatedly rejected the accusation they won't negotiate with women in Evers' office, but Vos has said he will only deal directly with Evers because they are the elected officials, not staff.

Evers' education proposal, in addition to $606 million for special education, includes $611 million in general aid. That money is funneled through the state aid formula that takes into account property wealth of a district, resulting in poorer districts receiving more funding.

Sending money to schools on a per-pupil basis, as Senate Republicans are discussing, spreads it out equally across the state, regardless of how wealthy or poor a district is.

Democratic Assembly Minority Leader Gordon Hintz, in a Wednesday statement, called on Republicans to live up to their campaign promises to increase education funding.

"Now, with Governor Evers proposing historic investments in K-12 public education, we will see whether Republicans are ready to live up to the promises they made to the people they serve," Hintz said.


Follow Scott Bauer on Twitter: https://twitter.com/sbauerAP

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