School funding takes center stage at JFC budget hearing in Ellsw - WQOW TV: Eau Claire, WI NEWS18 News, Weather, and Sports

School funding takes center stage at JFC budget hearing in Ellsworth

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Ellsworth (WQOW) - While Gov. Scott Walker's budget remains up for debate, the Joint Committee on Finance is traveling the state to listen to constituents.

On Wednesday, the legislators were in Ellsworth, where the public weighed in on a number of issues, including the DNR and retirement benefits, but one topic stole the show.

“We've made difficult budget reductions at UW-Eau Claire, while doing our up most to try and protect the student experience,” said UW-Eau Claire Chancellor James Schmidt.

Schmidt was one of dozens of education leaders who made a plea to legislators to keep education a top priority in the state budget.

“There is no doubt that the three UW system campuses, including the three universities in this part of the state, Eau Claire, River Falls and Stout, are key to the future success of the State of Wisconsin,” Schmidt said.

Local superintendents in attendance had mixed feelings on the governor's plans for education. They said a proposed $648 million in state aid is a start, but they also have other needs.

“Please support the funding for mental health help, social worker help,” said Altoona Superintendent Connie Biedron. “Our school districts deal with students with many needs, and so we really need and appreciate that funding.”

Eau Claire Superintendent Mary Ann Hardebeck told News 18 she would like to see even more funding for schools, as much as $200 per student.

“You know, we are the eight largest school district in Wisconsin, and we rank 242 in spending out of 444 school districts, so yes we are well below the state average for spending per pupil,” Hardebeck said.

Legislators on both sides of the aisle agree that increased spending for schools is a plus but disagree on how long that will last.

“After six years of cuts, they appreciate the one-time money, but it is not going to be any good if it is not there in the future,” said Rep. Gordon Hintz (D-Oshkosh).

“It is the largest part of our budget, and it has been traditionally and we will all work to maintain that,” said Rep. Warren Petryk (R-Eleva).

Wednesday's session was the fifth of six listening sessions held by the JFC. The final session will be Friday in Marinette.

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