GOP lawmakers advance plan to add $639 million to Wisconsin schools

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MADISON -- Wisconsin Republicans advanced a plan on Monday, August 28th to add $639 million in new spending to state schools, though Democrats said the proposal isn't enough to make up for previous cuts.

The Legislature's Joint Finance Committee voted 12-4, along party lines, to advance the proposal. Republican leaders want to take up the plan, which is part of the state's long-delayed state budget, next month in the Assembly and Senate.

State Sen. Lena Taylor

"Don't be fooled people!" said State Sen. Lena Taylor, D-Milwaukee. "If someone does something so they can say they did it, but they didn't put enough in it to really address the need, that's called pulling the wool over your eyes, baby."

State Sen. Alberta Darling

State Sen. Alberta Darling, one of the committee's Republican co-chairs, said she was troubled by Taylor's comments.

"I think sometimes your message is taken seriously by some people because we don't step up and say, 'That's not right!' And I'm tired of it," said Darling, R-River Hills.

The education vote marks a key step forward in approving the budget, which was due July 1st. Republicans said they hope to unveil a compromise plan to fund the state's road construction needs next week.

The $639 million of new spending for K-12 schools is slightly less than what Gov. Scott Walker proposed in February. It includes $200 more in per-pupil aid this school year, and $204 per student the year after.

"We are very pleased that Wisconsin is making a historic investment in education," Darling told reporters before the vote.

Republicans say it should provide confidence to school districts that have been hiring substitute teachers instead of full-time teachers because of uncertainty surrounding the unfinished budget.

Their plan also provides $9.2 million per year so schools can buy laptops or tablets for each ninth grade student. The funding is available for public, private and charter schools.

State Rep. Katrina Shankland

Democrats said the overall $639 million in new funding isn't enough to make up for cuts Republicans made earlier this decade.

"This legislature under Republicans has not given our public schools the priority they deserve," said State Rep. Katrina Shankland, D -Stevens Point.

After the vote, Walker thanked lawmakers for largely approving the increases he proposed.

"Once signed, this budget will include more actual dollars for K-12 education than ever before in our history," Walker said.

The proposal makes a number of policy changes. It includes a restriction on the available dates that Wisconsin school districts could go to referendum to ask taxpayers for funding.

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