Some residents of certain Wisconsin school districts would get a higher return on their taxes if a bill being debated in an Assembly committee passes to temporarily increase the school property tax credit.
The Republican-sponsored bill would increase the tax credit for people living in districts that close for in-person instruction for more than 10 days between January and July of this year.
Opponents of the bill have said it could hurt school districts that are going virtual to protect students, faculty and staff. But on the Assembly’s Education Committee, the bill’s sponsoring state representative, Jeremy Thiesfeldt, R-Fond du Lac, said virtual education had had a detrimental impact on the learning of children.
“Nobody ever pays, ever pays the full cost of a partial service, and yet that’s what taxpayers did,” Thiesfeldt said. “Property taxes serve to ensure that schools are in operation, and when they are not, taxpayers should be reimbursed.”
A CDC study published in March of last year found that changes in the method of teaching in schools “present psychosocial stressors for children and parents that may increase mental health and well-being and could exacerbate disparities in education and health”.
But lawmakers such as state Rep. Gary Hebl, D-Sun Prairie, said the proposal appears punitive to school districts.
“At the point where it says it’s mandatory to keep our kids in school, virtual is no longer an option,” Hebl said. “If you don’t believe it, look at the tax penalties your district is going to suffer as a result of this.”
Hebl expressed some skepticism about the state of the pandemic and how it might affect schools in the future.
“In June or July, we thought we were home free, we were all going to spend the 4th of July with our families,” Hebl said. “All of a sudden we had a variant, and then in November we had another variant.”
Thiesfeldt said the bill encourages districts to stay in person.
“They received thousands of dollars of federal money with the intent that they could use that money to help mitigate what was happening with the virus,” Thiesfeldt said. “I can’t think of a better way to use this money for mitigation than to use it so you can actually stay open, so your kids can learn the best way to do it.”
State Representative LaKeshia Myers, D-Milwaukee, raised concerns about the bill’s provisions applying to incidents unrelated to COVID-19.
“All kinds of things happen every spring that cause schools to close,” Myers said. “They now have the ability to go virtual, the students could still be in class, but the school itself could be impacted with, you know, rain, water, etc.”
Thiesfeldt said he would be open to thoughts on amending the bill.
“I’m 100% confident that the district would work hard to make sure those schools or those students would get back to business as quickly as possible,” Thiesfeldt said.
John Jacobson, director of government and member relations at the Wisconsin Property Taxpayers lobby group, said many members of the group support the bill because of their commitment to investing in schools and the services communities receive. .
“I don’t really know how punitive it is to give money back to families who face increasing costs every day, and who school boards then expect them to cover the costs they have already paid through their property taxes,” Jacobson said. “No matter how necessary or noble the maneuver toward virtual education is deemed by local school district officials, their good intentions as they were do not cover the loss of wages or the increase in child care costs. ‘children.’
The League of Women Voters of Wisconsin opposed the bill. In a filing, the group said the legislation did not mention how the credits would be funded or what the rationale for the change would be.
“Local school authorities are best placed to understand local conditions and the effects of the pandemic on their students and staff and their decisions on mode of delivery deserve deference and not an afterthought in the form of school credits. ‘tax,'” the statement read.
The bill allows for a maximum credit of 10 percent of property taxes owed for the first half of the year. Parents and guardians with a dependent in a school district to which the bill applies could receive up to 25% credit.
Currently, no districts would be affected by the credit adjustment. Milwaukee and the Madison School District both used virtual learning for the first few days after winter break, with Milwaukee using 10 days of virtual learning before returning to in-person instruction on Jan. 18.
The additional credit would only apply to filers whose adjusted gross income is $80,000 or less. For married couples filing jointly, that figure increases to $150,000.