MADISON, Wis. (AP) - The Republican president of the state Senate and the chairman of the Education Committee said Friday they are proposing an alternative plan to GOP Gov. Scott Walker's budget that would allow public school spending to increase $150 more per student in each of the next two years.
The plan Sens. Mike Ellis and Luther Olsen discussed with The Associated Press would cost $382 million.
Walker allowed for no public schools spending increase in his budget, a proposal that has drawn widespread criticism from Republicans like Ellis and Olsen, Democrats and school officials. While Walker added money for school aid, he did not lift revenue limits allowing schools to actually spend the money.
The Republican lawmakers' plan relies on a mixture of existing funding Walker put in his budget and $153 million in additional property tax money over two years. It also would redirect about $100 million in education funding Walker proposed, but Ellis and Olsen declined to say specifically what would change.
Ellis said the property tax increase under the plan would be just 11 cents per $1,000 of value in the first year and 10 cents per $1,000 in the second.
"That's a very meager increase," he said.
Dan Rossmiller, lobbyist for the Wisconsin Association of School Boards, hailed the plan.
"I think it's terrific news," Rossmiller said. "It may not be everything that some school officials would like, but it's a heck of a lot better than having their budgets frozen."
Revenue limits are perhaps the single largest factor affecting school budgets because they determine how much money a district will have to spend. Any changes, either up or down, can have a dramatic effect on a school's bottom line.
Under Walker's first budget released in 2011, the revenue limit was cut 5.5 percent in the first year, or about $550 per student. That marked the first time the revenue limit ever was reduced. It was allowed to go up just $50 in the second year of the budget, which runs through June 30.
Walker cut revenue limits to prevent schools from increasing property taxes to make up for the loss in school aid. Net property taxes levied in 2011 increased just 0.2 percent and they went up 0.9 percent in 2012. That compares with 4.3 percent and 2.6 percent increases the previous two years.
Walker's spokesman, Cullen Werwie, didn't comment specifically on the Republican proposal, but he said the governor was committed to passing a budget that "provides access to a great education for all children while still holding the line on property taxes."
"I would hope this is something legislators could support, particularly given that it looks like it would result in a minor, minor property tax increase on a statewide basis," Rossmiller said.
Olsen said he thought Walker, as well as school superintendents who said they couldn't live with no spending increase, would be supportive of the plan. Olsen originally called for a $200 per student increase, but he said $150 would suffice.
"What it really does show is we do make education a priority," Olsen said.
Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald issued a noncommittal statement about the proposal.
"We're in the opening phase of discussions right now, but there's no doubt we will be able to find common ground on education funding," he said.
Having both Olsen and Ellis behind the plan gives it momentum in the Senate, where the Republican majority is 18-15. Republicans also control the Assembly. Both chambers have to approve the budget before it is sent to Walker for his consideration.
Rep. John Nygren, one of the Republican co-chairs of the Legislature's budget committee, said he wasn't hearing any pressure from Assembly GOP members to raise the revenue limit as the senators are proposing. But he also wouldn't say their idea is dead on arrival.
"I understand the senators' focus but it's too early to commit to anything," Nygren said.