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The proposed budget cuts have prompted the Racine Unified administrators to outline several concerns around funding, and they are now seeking answers from state Legislators at a public meeting, scheduled for Monday.
“Vouchers should be paid for through a standalone funding system, not at the expense of public school districts,” according to a press release by the school district. “Additionally, the proposed budget maintains that families in Racine who are at 300 percent of the poverty level may still receive a voucher. Why is Racine any different than other districts where families must be at 185 percent of the poverty level? The historic intent of vouchers is to provide opportunities for low income families to attend private schools.”
The district is also taking issue with charter and voucher schools receiving taxpayer funds not having the same accountability standards as public schools. While the district believes all taxpayer-funded schools should be accountable, districts should have “have latitude” in how those schools are addressed. District officials also believe they should be able to apply for waivers on certain rules as they implement different strategies to improve schools like charter schools do, according to officials.
Other areas of concern include the district not seeing increases in general school aid, and the phase out desegregation aid, which would phase out $8.8 million in funding causing property owners to foot the bill. The desegregation aid provides state funding to districts to “voluntarily improve racial balance within and between school district” according to Marc Duff, chief financial officer for Racine Unified.
Duff explained that Walker’s budget would phase out the desegregation aid, which allowed between 5,240 and 5,725 Racine Unified School District students to transfer schools by shouldering the cost of bussing students in the 2014-2015 school year.
“As aid is reduced, the state incentive to voluntarily improve racial balance would be reduced and eventually eliminated,” Duff said in an email. “Many districts experience additional busing costs to transport students as part of integration efforts. Districts may evaluate their current policies and change their programs that improve racial balance. It is unclear what the actual impact may be.”
If the desegregation aid is eliminated, school property taxes would increase by more than 10 percent, Duff said.
“Since the governor’s proposal phases out the aid program, I estimate RUSD would lose at least $1.6 million in aid,” Duff said. “This alone could cause a 2 percent property tax increase with continuing increases as the aid is phased out. State school finance laws allow reduced aid to be made up by property taxes.”
The Racine Unified School District Board of Education will meet with area legislators to talk about the state budget and legislation from 4 to 6 p.m. Monday at the Racine Unified School District Administrative Service Campus, 3109 Mt. Pleasant St. in building #1.
Representatives Peter Barca, Cory Mason, Robin Vos, Tom Weatherston, and Senators Robert Wirch and Van Wanggaard will answer questions from the board and state their positions on the issues.
The public is invited to attend to learn more about how Governor Scott Walker’s proposed budget and other legislation will impact public schools.