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State Rep. John Nygren promises more money for schools

May 9, 2013
 

Public school spending will be allowed to increase over the next two years, even though Gov. Scott Walker wanted to keep it frozen, one of the Republican co-chairs of the Legislature’s budget-writing committee said Wednesday.

Details of how much money would be available, and exactly how it would be allocated, remains under discussion, said Rep. John Nygren, of Marinette. Nygren is the latest legislative leader, in addition to Walker, to commit to putting more money for schools in the budget.

While Walker has called for more school aid, he hasn’t said whether he’d be willing to reverse course and allow school spending to increase. His budget calls for a two-year freeze, which would help keep property tax increases down. Walker’s spokesman Tom Evenson issued a statement that didn’t directly comment on Nygren’s commitment to allowing school spending to go up.

“We will work with legislators to ensure educating our children remains a top priority in this budget,” Evenson said.

Nygren’s call for more public school funding comes after school supporters, and even some other Republican legislative leaders, have lobbied for an increase in the revenue limit. Thirteen Republican state representatives sent Nygren a letter on Tuesday urging additional money for schools.

Raising the levy limit would allow schools to spend more but it would also open the door to property taxes increasing, something both Walker and Republicans want to avoid. Freezing spending while increasing aid would help lower property taxes but not give schools more money for books, supplies or pay raises.

“We want to be able to give them more resources in the classroom,” Nygren said at a news conference with Assembly Speaker Robin Vos.

Wisconsin Association of School Boards lobbyist Dan Rossmiller said Nygren’s commitment to giving more money for schools to increase spending was “welcome news.”

“Until we know more about the details I can’t say very much,” Rossmiller said. “I think they are headed in the right direction.”

Republican Senate leaders have called for a $150 per-student spending increase in each of the next two years. Nygren said he didn’t know if it would reach that amount, which would cost about $289 million, or also include a mixture of targeted state aid and other credits.

Republican Senate President Mike Ellis said he was gratified with Nygren supporting a school spending increase.

“Giving them an increase in the next two years is going to assist school administrations,” Ellis said. “It’s going to show that we value our public school system.”

Ellis said he’s now calling for a $200 per-student increase, which he said would only result in property taxes going up 1 percent the first year of the budget and 1.4 percent in the second.

How much additional money may be available for K-12 schools depends on a variety of factors. Walker has called for diverting some of the $181 million he originally earmarked for the University of Wisconsin, saying UW didn’t need it after news broke of its roughly $650 million in reserves.

A new estimate of how much in taxes the state is projected to collect over the next two years is expected to be released this week. That is widely expected to show the state is in a better financial position than when Walker released his two-year budget in February, freeing up even more money for other spending or tax cuts.

Walker and Republican leaders have said they want to make deeper tax cuts. Vos said Wednesday that Republicans wanted any additional money that becomes available to first go toward tax relief.

The centerpiece of Walker’s budget is a $343 million income tax cut, which would save the average taxpayer $83 a year.

Nygren said there was no plan in place yet, but one would be brought forward to the Joint Finance Committee soon. The committee’s other co-chair, Republican Sen. Alberta Darling, did not immediately return a message seeking comment.

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