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State school funding commission holds hearing in De Pere

Tom Hedge speaks at the Blue Ribbon Commission on School Funding's public hearing held at Foth in De Pere on March 26, 2018. (Photo credit: WLUK)

DE PERE (WLUK) -- The state commission evaluating the way public school districts receive taxpayer money was in our area Monday afternoon.

Holding its third of six public hearings across the state, the Blue Ribbon Commission is looking to change the way public schools are funded.

“Hopefully we will rewrite the funding formula or at least make some major changes in it,” said State Rep. Joel Kitchens (R-Sturgeon Bay) and co-chair of the Blue Ribbon Commission. “I think there is pretty good consensus that there are some faults.”

Right now, the funding formula relies heavily on the number of students and property values in each school district. It was created in the 70s and hasn’t been revised since the mid-90s.

“It's pretty impossible to explain it,” said Kitchens. “It's very, very complicated. Then you have schools going to referendum and such and it’s really hard to explain it to the taxpayers what they’re paying for. It’s a very complex thing. We’d like to make it a little simpler.”

Area business leaders were invited as special speakers for Monday’s public hearing. Schreiber Foods, Wisconsin Public Service, and Foth, the engineering consultant hosting the hearing, were among the businesses represented.

“When we think about our future employees, they're in K-12 today,” said Tom Hedge of Foth.

The commission is made up of members from both the Republican and Democratic sides of the state legislature, as well as K-12 and university levels of education. Members of the business community asked to speak say their voice is missing from the panel.

“We think that there is a business side of this story that is critical, not only to the regions, not only to our current employee and customer groups, but critical to the state of Wisconsin as well,” said Hedge.

Among the factors business leaders and educators urged the commission to consider were changing demographics and that some student groups cost more to educate.

“Funding for English learners is consistently decreasing, while the number of English learners in our district and across the state of Wisconsin is consistently increasing,” said Julie Seefeldt, Director of English Learner Programs for the Green Bay Area Public School District.

The Blue Ribbon Commission hopes to make a recommendation later this year to be part of the next two-year budget, which is supposed to take effect July 2019.

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