A budget is a reflection of priorities. Money can be spent in a lot of ways, for a lot of things, but choices have to be made. Priorities have to be set.
In the next state budget, public education has to be a higher priority.
Gov. Scott Walker's budget plan increases state aid to K-12 schools by $129 million during the two-year budget, but he doesn't raise schools' revenue limits - the amount of money they can raise. So schools aren't getting an extra $129 million. It's just $129 million less that schools have to levy in property taxes.
Walker also proposed $64 million in bonuses to schools rated high in the state's new report-card system, schools that have improved and schools that are struggling.
But some legislators, including a number of Walker's fellow Republicans, say they want to devote more to K-12 public education, given its importance to 850,000 kids and their families - and given the cuts school districts absorbed in the current budget.
Two Republican state senators - Mike Ellis of Neenah and Luther Olsen of Ripon - announced a plan to do just that. It makes a lot of sense.
Their plan would allow public school districts to raise an extra $382.5 million during two years, with the state kicking in 60 percent - $229.5 million - and property taxpayers kicking in 40 percent - $153 million.
Now, we understand that a $153 million property tax increase might sound like a lot of money, but it's not. On a $150,000 home, it's an extra $16.50 in the first year and an extra $15 in the second year. Even Walker said that he'd consider more K-12 funding if property owners aren't "seeing a dramatic increase."
Ellis and Olsen come up with the state's $229.5 million share by using Walker's $129 million increase, with the rest coming from other education budget items in Walker's plan.
The per-pupil increase each year would be $150. So for Appleton, with 15,000 students, it would mean an extra $2.25 million in the 2013-14 school year.
This may not be the ending point to an education funding plan, but it's a great starting point. If the public education cuts in the last budget were needed to put the state on a more solid financial footing, schools need at least enough money to maintain their programs. Otherwise, the whole state - not just K-12 schools and their students - will suffer.
It's a matter of priority - and this plan sets the right one.
- Appleton Post-Crescent