Capitol Update

August 12, 2015Like us on Facebook

This summarizes the final disposition of the 2015-17 biennial budget as affected by Governor Scott Walker's signing and partial vetoes on July 13, 2015.  The summary is limited to issues of greatest interest to the WCC and Catholic groups.  For the most part, it describes the final outcome and does not address how particular budget items or programs evolved through the process.  It also is limited to noting where changes have occurred and generally does not report on programs that remain unchanged from the previous biennium.  Finally this summary does not take into account further statutory changes that may have been enacted through other legislation or may be enacted in the near future.
Governor Walker's 2015-17 budget calls for total expenditures of over $72 billion over the biennium.  Of this amount, just under half ($33 billion) is paid for with general purpose tax revenue.  Another $21 billion, or 29 percent of the spending, is financed with federal dollars.  Most of the remaining quarter ($18 billion) is paid for with segregated fees or program revenues collected in other fees and charges.
Child Survivors of Sex Trafficking.  The budget provides $2 million in additional FY 2016-17 funding to expand treatment services to sex-trafficked children.  The Department of Children and Families (DCF) must ensure that such services are available to children in all geographic areas.
Survivors of Domestic Abuse.  The budget adds $5 million in FY 2016-17 to expand services to survivors of domestic abuse and their families.
Fostering Futures.  The budget provides $360,300 in additional FY 2016-17 funding for the Fostering Futures:  Connections Count program, which has respected members of the community interact with families of children up to age five in an effort to connect those families with community supports. 
Foster Care.  The budget provides additional funding for the ongoing implementation of expanded eligibility, up to age 21, for out-of-home care support for fostered youth who have individualized education programs (IEP) and are enrolled in school.  The budget also requires the DCF to promulgate rules regarding subsidized guardianship payments, kinship care payments, and adoption assistance to any person 18 years of age or older.
The budget also ensures that beginning in FY 2016-17, parents will receive an electronic benefits card with which to pay childcare providers.
Wisconsin Shares.  The budget increases funding to pay the full costs of a Wisconsin Shares (child care) provider rate increase that went into effect on November 9, 2014.  The budget also allows the DCF to make Wisconsin Shares eligibility designations or designate a county or tribal agency to make these determinations.
Child Care Licensure.  The budget exempts certified child care providers from completing a background information form, with certain exceptions, when applying to continue or renew a license, certification, or contract.
Child Support.  The budget increases the administration of child support activities by $6.7 million over the biennium.  In addition, the budget:  (1) exempts filing fees in voluntary paternity acknowledgement cases, (2) expands state tax intercept authority to cases not receiving county child support services, (3) requires Wisconsin banks to directly honor other states' child support enforcement liens, and (4) includes state income continuation benefits and duty disability as benefits that may be assigned for child support purposes.
Volunteer Host Families.  The budget requires the DCF to create a plan to attract and utilize nonprofit programs to provide temporary host families for children whose parent or legal guardian has legally and voluntarily agreed to participate in such a program as an alternative to foster care.
Post Adoption Resource Centers.  The budget provides an additional $225,000 in FY 2016-17 to support grants to post adoption resource centers.
School Aids.  The budget retains the per pupil aid amount for FY 2015-16 and provides a per pupil aid increase of $100 in FY 2016-17.
Rural School Aid.  The budget provides $4.2 million annually in sparsity aid, which fully funds the $300 per student statutory reimbursement rate for small districts with at least 20 percent of pupils eligible for free and reduced-price lunches and less than 10 pupils per square mile within the district.  The budget also increases high-cost pupil transportation aid by $2.5 million annually. 
Parental Choice Program Expansion and Reform.  The budget removes the cap on the number of parental choice program (choice) participants, but limits participation in the statewide program to no more than 1 percent of any public school district's prior year student enrollment.  Beginning in the 2017-18 academic year, the cap will expand one percent per year until the enrollment limit reaches 10 percent.  The limit will end the year after the 10 percent threshold is reached.
Schools participating in the Milwaukee and Racine choice programs can also now participate in the statewide program.  Starting in the 2016-17 academic year, participation in the statewide program will be limited by eligibility rules that currently apply to those participating in the Racine program, namely it will be limited to students who:
  • were enrolled in public school in the prior year;
  • were not enrolled in school in the prior year;
  • attended a private school through a choice program in the prior year; or
  • are entering kindergarten (for four-year-olds or five-year-olds), first grade, or ninth grade.
For the next two academic years in the statewide program, the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) will conduct a random drawing to select applicants for the program and maintain the waiting lists of applicants.  Selection preference may be given to the following students:
  • returning choice students;
  • siblings of returning choice students;
  • pupils who attended another choice school;
  • siblings of pupils who attended another choice school; and
  • siblings of students new to the choice program who have already enrolled at a school.
Parents must notify the DPI by a provided form if their student is a current participant in the statewide choice program and the year the student entered the program.
Choice Payment Amounts.  The budget retains the voucher payment for parental choice program kindergarten through eighth grade students and high school students, but each year voucher payments will increase by the percent attributable to per pupil aid adjustments to public school districts, if positive. 
For those new to the statewide and Racine choice programs in the 2015-16 academic year, the DPI will withhold from the student's resident public school district aid payments in the amount that would be attributable to the student's choice payment amount.  Those funds will be distributed back for use by the student's family at a participating private school.  If state aid to the public school district does not cover the voucher amount, the state will add in general purpose revenue funds to cover the difference.  The choice students will be included in their local public school district's pupil count.
Choice Schools.  The budget permits choice schools to retain applications and other correspondence electronically and for a minimum of five years.  Schools must employ teachers with a requisite bachelor's degree or DPI licensure.  A school's intent to participate form for any of the choice programs will now be due January 10.  For the statewide program, choice school will no longer be required to produce occupancy permits and starting in 2017-18, new schools may participate in the program. 
Also, the budget eliminates the financial information report (FIR) and replaces it with a Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) audit beginning next summer, and the audit will now be due October 15.  Schools will no longer be required to keep the lesser of the voucher payment amount or the school's operating and debt service cost per pupil.  Instead unused funds may be placed and tracked in a reserve account.  Should a school close, those unused funds will be returned to the state.  The definition of "eligible education expenses" has also been expanded.
Milwaukee Parental Choice Independent Research.  Thebudget directs the DPI to provide a qualified independent researcher access to Milwaukee Parental Choice Program data.
School Accountability.  The budget changes the school and school district accountability report by requiring the use of a star rating system, as well as weighting school performance to account for student poverty, English language proficiency, disability, race or ethnicity, gap closure, graduation rates, and the length of time a school has had to influence a student's academic progress.  Growth in reading and mathematics will be tracked using a value-added methodology.  The performance of pupils, except for ninth graders, who have been enrolled in the school for less than one year are not included in the accountability assessment. 
Private schools participating in the parental choice programs will be included in the annual school accountability report published for the 2015-16 school year.  The report for these schools must specify the percentage of pupils that are attending the school under the parental choice programs.  The accountability report must assign a performance category based on data derived from just those pupils attending under the choice programs.  A school may opt to submit whole school data and receive a whole school rating as well.
Rating and Options Notice.  The budget requires that schools participating in the parental choice programs provide a copy of the school's accountability report to the parent or guardian of each pupil enrolled in or attending the school.  The school must also simultaneously provide a list of the educational options available to children who reside in the pupil's resident school district.
Special Needs Scholarship.  The budget creates the Special Needs Scholarship Program, which starting in 2016-17 will allow any family of a student with an individualized education plan (IEP), who attended a public school the entire year prior, and has been denied enrollment at a public school through open enrollment for the upcoming academic year, to apply for a scholarship that will provide the family with up to $12,000 to attend an eligible public or private school (with possible increased funding in future years).  Private schools may apply to participate in this program, but must comply with certain financial reporting, health and safety, seclusion and restraint, and other requirements, including the provision that if the school receives $50,000 or more in scholarship funds, it must acquire a surety bond or demonstrate other surety for the choice payments amounts received.  The private school will also be required to make regular reports to parents and the board of the school district where the student resides.
Common Core Standards.  The budget prohibits the DPI from taking further action to implement any academic standards developed by the Common Core State Standards Initiative.
Assessments.  The budget prohibits participation in the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium and the use of assessments adopted or developed by the Consortium as an approved state test.  The budget directs the DPI to request a waiver from the U.S. Department of Education that permits the State Superintendent to approve between three and five examinations, selected by the University of Wisconsin-Madison Value-Added Research Center (VARC) for administration to pupils as required by state and federal law.  The DPI will then choose a summative state assessment for grades three through eight for use starting the 2015-2016 school year. 
The budget allows public school districts, charter, and choice schools to select a VARC-approved alternative to the state-approved assessment during the first full school year after the alternative tests are announced, but the school will cover any costs beyond those that would have been incurred had the state-approved test been utilized and must submit the test scores to VARC for statistical correlation to other schools' results.  Choice schools with less than twenty choice students are not required to adhere to state testing requirements.  The budget also eliminates the fall testing requirement for ninth graders.  By January 31 of each school year, a school must publish on any existent website information about the assessments utilized at the school.  Public school districts must also publish information on their website about state examinations administered to pupils in the district.
Civics Test Graduation Requirement.  The budget requires that students at public, charter, and choice schools, or individuals seeking high school equivalency, pass a civics test to earn a diploma or equivalency certificate.  The individual must get 60 of 100 questions correct on a test identical to the U.S. citizenship test, but may take the test as many times as necessary to receive a passing score.  Schools will determine the testing format, the timeline for administration, and will cover the cost of administration.  Limited English proficient learners may take the test in their native language and students with IEPs are not required to complete the assessment prior to graduation.
Charter Schools.  The budget expands the various entities that can authorize a Charter School and provides opportunities for certain successful Charter schools to expand operations.
Interscholastic and Extracurricular Participation.  The budget directs school boards to permit students enrolled in a home-based education program to participate in interscholastic and extracurricular activities in the same manner it permits other district students to participate.  The district may charge participation fees, but those too must be charged in the same manner as with other students.  Schools may participate in athletic associations that do not observe this policy.
Educator Licensure.  The budget creates a broader path to both teacher and administrator licensure and creates a Montessori licensure.
TEACH Expansion.  The budget expands the Technology for Educational Achievement (TEACH) program, which offers broadband access to public schools and libraries at discounted rates.  The expansion will be funded with up to $25 million of the federal E-rate cash balance.
UW-Extension's Wisconsin Media Lab.  The budget eliminates $1.1 million in state funding for University of Wisconsin-Extension's Wisconsin Media Lab, which provides free online programs for schools.
Educator Expense Tax Deduction.  The budget establishes a personal state income tax deduction for elementary and secondary school teacher expenses tied to the federal credit for the cost of purchasing education supplies beginning in the 2015 tax year.  Expenses cannot exceed $250 and must be paid or incurred in connection with books, supplies (other than nonathletic supplies for courses of instruction in health or physical education), computer equipment (including related software and services) and other equipment, and supplementary materials used by the educator in the classroom.
Drug Testing of Public Benefits Recipients.  The budget requires that applicants for certain public benefit programs, such as unemployment insurance benefits and certain Wisconsin Works (W-2) benefits earned through programs such as the Transform Milwaukee, Transitional Jobs, Children First, and Trial Employment Match, complete a questionnaire about controlled substance abuse.  If the Department of Workforce Development (DWD) or DCF determines that there is a reasonable suspicion that an individual is abusing a controlled substance, the person must submit to a drug test.  Those who test positive will be directed to drug treatment.  These individuals will continue to be eligible for benefits during treatment, but after two subsequent drug test failures, the individual will no longer be eligible for the program.
The budget devotes $250,000 per fiscal year for drug screening, testing, and treatment costs for W-2 programs, with the option of the DCF applying to receive more funds.
The budget requires the Department of Health Services (DHS) to develop and implement a drug screening, testing, and treatment policy for able-bodied adults without dependent children receiving FoodShare Employment Training (FSET).  The DHS will test those individuals who are abusing controlled substances.  If an individual tests positive, he or she must undergo treatment, but after two subsequent drug test failures, the individual will no longer be eligible for the program.  No funds were dedicated to substance abuse treatment costs under this provision.  The budget directs the DHS to seek a waiver from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to approve these program changes.
The budget institutes similar testing requirements for non-disabled, childless adults receiving Medicaid benefits (see HEALTH below).
Transportation Aid Funding.  The budget increases funding by $438,000 over the biennium for transportation services for senior citizens and people with disabilities and renames the program "Seniors and Individuals with Disabilities Specialized Transportation Aids Appropriation."
Emergency/Energy Assistance.  The budget reduces emergency assistance to families with needy children and low-income energy or weatherization assistance programs by $100,000 in FY 2015-16 and $200,000 in FY 2016-17.  It also requires the state to collect any overpayment amounts from the agencies that disburse the emergency assistance.
Civil Legal Services Grants.  The budget provides $500,000 in each fiscal year for distribution to programs that provide civil legal services to low-income families.
Lifetime Wisconsin Works Time Limit.  The budget reduces the Wisconsin Works (W-2) lifetime time limits from 60 months to 48 months.  The budget allows a W-2 agency to extend the time limits if it determines that the individual is experiencing hardship or someone within the individual's family has been battered or subjected to extreme cruelty.
W-2 Changes.  The budget modifies when behaviors of a program participant constitute refusal to participate.
Expansion of Transitional Jobs Funding and Transform Milwaukee.  The budget provides an additional $1 million in FY 2015-16 and $2 million in FY 2016-17 for the DCF to establish jobs programs similar to the Transitional Jobs Demonstration Project and Transform Milwaukee outside of the City of Milwaukee.  The DCF must give priority to areas with relatively high rates of unemployment and childhood poverty, or other areas with special needs. 
FoodShare Employment and Training.  The budget budget provides over $7 million in FY 2015-16 and over $30 million in FY 2016-17 for the FSET program, which assists able-bodied adults without dependent children who receive FoodShare to build job skills and find work.  It also requires the state to enforce federal time limits on nutrition assistance benefits for able-bodied adults without dependent children who are not enrolled in a DHS, DCF, or DWD employment program.
Day of Rest Exemption.  The budget permits an employee to state in writing that he or she voluntarily chooses to work without at least 24 consecutive hours of rest in seven consecutive days.
Medicaid.  The budget allocates over $650 million in additional Medicaid funding over the biennium, mostly to cover the costs of continuing current programs and services.  The budget also recommends expanding Medicaid coverage to include services provided by a licensed midwife.
Family Care.  The budget requires that the DHS submit to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (U.S. HHS) a request to expand statewide the Family Care program, a community-based, long-term care program for low-income elderly and individuals with disabilities.  The DHS must also request changes to the Family Care and IRIS (Include, Respect, I Self-Direct) programs, requiring that long-term, primary, and acute care services be provided to participants from integrated health authorities (IHAs) in multiple regions throughout the state.  The IHAs will be required to provide an option that operates as an alternative to IRIS.  The DHS will also establish an open enrollment period for the programs.
The budget also includes new provider audit provisions, requires two public hearings on the waiver request, and new reporting requirements.  It also alters determinations regarding countable assets when determining financial eligibility for long-term care programs.
Support Accounts for Those with Disabilities.  The budget creates support accounts for individuals with disabilities akin to a qualified ABLE account under federal law (26 U.S.C. 529A), which will allow a person to hold funds used to pay "qualified disability expenses."  These assets will not be countable for the purposes of determining eligibility for Wisconsin's long-term care programs.
Medicaid Childless Adults.  The budget requires DHS to seek a federal waiver requesting the authority to impose monthly premiums on non-disabled, childless adult Medicaid recipients.  It will also institute drug and health risk screenings and a 48-month enrollment limit on these recipients.  The budget repeals current law requiring that recipients with incomes over 133 percent of federal poverty level pay premiums of between three and nine percent of household income.
BadgerCare Waiting Period.  The budget eliminates a three-month waiting period for enrollment in BadgerCare Plus for certain low-income individuals, their families, children (including an unborn child) and pregnant women.
Mental Health and Substance Abuse Programs.  The budget expands Medicaid coverage to residential-based substance abuse treatment services provided on or after July 1, 2016 (or the date the U.S. HHS approves coverage of these surfaces, if later).
Mental Health Funding into Community Aids.  The budget consolidates certain mental health funds into the community aids program and directs the DHS to ensure that these are used for mental health services.
Comprehensive Community Services Mental Health Benefit.  The budget provides an additional $26 million to fully fund the costs of providing the comprehensive community services mental health benefit.
Emergency Detention.  The budget requires all counties to provide community-based crisis assessment by a mental health professional prior to an emergency detention and dedicates $1.5 million in FY 2016-17 for implementation.
Personal Care Services.  The budget changes the assessment process for personal care services, which allow individuals to perform activities related to daily living (ADLs), such as eating, bathing, etc.  The assessment cannot be performed by an entity that oversees, manages, or provides the services.
ADRCs.  The budget requires further study on the operations of aging and disability resource centers (ADRCs) statewide.
Dementia Care Specialists.  The budget provides one-time funding of over $1 million in FY 2016-17 for the placement of dementia care specialists in selected ADRCs.
Healthy Aging Grants.  The budget provides $200,000 in each year of the biennium for a grant to a private, non-profit entity that promotes healthy aging.
Children's Community Options Program.  The budget creates a Children's Community Options Program (CCOP) effective January 1, 2016.  The budget directs the DHS to allocate funds to county or nonprofit agencies to provide long-term community support services to eligible children who have a disability.  "Child" is defined as a person who is under 22 years of age and not eligible to receive services through an adult long-term care program.  Disability is defined as a severe physical, developmental, or emotional impairment which is diagnosed medically, behaviorally, or psychologically, and likely to result in substantial limitation on the ability to function in at least two of five identified areas.
Juvenile Corrections.  The budget bill transfers from the DOC to DCF the responsibility for overseeing community-based juvenile corrections, including the Youth Aids funding for counties.  The DOC will continue to oversee detained juveniles.
Public Defenders.  The budget provides 35 new public defender positions and more than $1.4 million annually for private defense attorneys to represent indigent clients in criminal cases.
Officer Involved Death Investigations.  The budget provides $635,000 over the biennium for the Department of Justice (DOJ) to investigate officer-involved deaths and nonfatal incidents.  The budget also requires that before releasing an investigative report on an officer-involved death to the public, the investigators who conducted the investigation must delete any information from the public report that would not be subject to disclosure pursuant to the balancing test under the state's open records laws.
Municipal and County Recycling Grants.  The budget cuts $4 million in funding from the program in FY 2015-16 and maintains current funding levels ($19 million) for the program in FY 2016-17. 
Licensing Activities.  The budget consolidates all food safety, recreational facility, lodging, and food protection activities from the DHS into the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP), including the licensing and inspection of all restaurants, vending machines, food commissaries, licensed campgrounds, recreational camps, swimming pools, and rooming houses.
Religious Waiver for Dwelling Code.  The budget requires that the Department of Safety and Professional Services (DSPS) develop a waiver for use by each political subdivision that issues building permits, allowing a person to indicate that the established tenets or teachings of the religious sect of which the person is a member conflict with dwelling construction standards and to request noncompliance for his or her residence.
Prevailing Wage.  The budget repeals the prevailing wage law for local public works projects.
Payday Lending.  The Governor vetoed provisions to expand payday lending.

Capitol Update is a periodic e-mail on legislative issues from the Wisconsin Catholic Conference.


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