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Davis proposes education funding reform
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MONROE - For 14 years, the state has funded schools with the same formula.

Rep. Brett Davis, R-Oregon, believes it's time for reform. Davis, chairman of the Assembly Education Committee, announced today a comprehensive K-12 education improvement plan.

Davis said it is designed to reduce property taxes, make the school finance system more sensible and direct more resources to classroom instruction.

Davis, who is running for re-election in November, has worked on the legislation for about a year and a half. He was working hard on it last session, but the virtual school debate put addressing the funding formula on hold, he said.

"I think it's important to have a discussion during the campaign to get people thinking about this," Davis said. "We want to make sure education reform is part of what people are talking about.

"People may need to agree to some compromises to long-held positions to develop and pass a plan like this, but it's time to work together on a serious reform effort."

Davis' plan includes:

• Reforming the school finance system by addressing the gap between revenue limits and the Qualified Economic Offer (QEO) provisions under current law by bringing the two into alignment. Davis said he's "comfortable" with the QEO - the minimum annual increase in pay and benefits a district is allowed to give its teachers - remaining at 3.8 percent. But he said how the two state mandates are aligned would be up for negotiation.

• Reducing reliance on property taxes by changing the way schools are funded. Voters would decide on specific reforms by approving them in referendums.

"The key point I will not bend on is the referendum piece," Davis said. "Voters will have to approve something."

Davis said one way to shift funding sources would be to allow individual districts or regional CESAs (Cooperative Educational Service Agencies) to vote on replacing some property taxes for schools with a sales tax. Davis said his preference leans toward having regional votes rather than individual districts.

• Improving student testing by eliminating the current Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Exam and replacing it with modern tests that get results to students quickly so parents and teachers can work on improving areas of weakness before students fall too far behind.

• Putting more money into the classroom by saving money on health care and administrative costs, seeking competitive bids for services such as health insurance and consolidating administrative functions to produce savings. Savings would be redirected to core education functions such as teacher salaries and classroom instruction.

Davis believes efficiency planning is going to be the biggest point of contention. He said with 426 school districts in the state doing many of the same things, including where they purchase supplies, processes can be streamlined.

"Whenever you look at efficiencies," Davis said, special interests seem to speak against that.

Davis said finding efficiencies in health care costs "would have to be tied to" allowing regions or districts to go to referendums. "That's the big money one."

Davis relied on opinions from trusted members of his 80th Assembly District in creating the plan. He didn't "run the plan past special interest groups" to make sure the plan was OK by them.

"I've listened for a long time, and I've put together what I believe is the best solution," Davis said. "I'm putting some new ideas out there, and I know I'm taking a risk in doing that."