This Fall, Wisconsin Students Are Heading Back to Crowded Classrooms

Thursday, August 28, 2014 at 10:37 AM by

Classroom sizes in Wisconsin have increased substantially in recent years, according to a new analysis from the Wisconsin Budget Project.   

Wisconsin still has fewer students per teacher than the national average, but our rank has been dropping. In 2004-05, Wisconsin ranked 18th among the states in the number of students per teacher. By 2011-12, Wisconsin’s ranking had dropped to 30th.

student teacher ratio                     

Wisconsin had 1.2 more students per teacher in 2011-12 than in 2004-05; nationally, schools averaged an increase of just 0.2 students per teacher of this period. Only three states  – California, Arizona, and Nevada – had larger increases in student-teacher ratios than Wisconsin over this period, according to the analysis.

One of the things making Wisconsin’s class size trend worrisome is that poverty has increased very substantially in our state over the last decade. Low-income children often need more help from their teachers, and schools can’t adequately respond to that increased need when ratio of students to teachers is growing.  Read more

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To Reduce Income Inequality and Boost Economic Growth, Make sure every Student has an Opportunity to Attend College

Wednesday, August 13, 2014 at 1:15 PM by

Rising levels of income inequality are acting as a drag on the U.S. economy, but we can counter the economic harm by expanding opportunities to attend college, according to a new report from Standard & Poor’s, a financial services company.

Here’s the crux of the report, in a sentence:

Our review of the data, as well as a wealth of research on this matter, leads us to conclude that the current level of income inequality in the U.S. is dampening GDP growth, at a time when the world’s biggest economy is struggling to recover from the Great Recession and the government is in need of funds to support an aging population.

Pretty clear, right? Prominent policymakers, including President Obama, have warned time and again that high levels of income inequality are slowing economic growth. This report adds something new to the conversation in that it represents the viewpoint of a private sector company, and could be an indication that the business community is starting to view income inequality as a problem. Read more

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Governor’s Guidance Gives Hints of What’s to come in Next Budget

Thursday, July 31, 2014 at 10:09 AM by

Governor Walker has given state agencies guidance on how to develop their proposals for Wisconsin’s next budget, giving some glimpses into what the state’s 2015-17 budget might bring. 

Wisconsin has a two-year budget. The budget process starts in the summer of even numbered years – like now — when the Governor instructs agencies in how to develop budget requests. Agencies submit their requests to the executive branch by September 15, and the Governor takes the requests into consideration when developing his own budget proposal to submit to the Legislature. The Governor is expected to release his budget proposal in the early part of 2015. For more about the Wisconsin state budget cycle, check the Wisconsin Budget Project’s Budget Toolkit.

For the upcoming budget, Governor Walker recently instructed agencies to assume there will be zero growth in General Purpose Revenue (GPR) appropriations in each fiscal year. In other words, he wants agencies to submit budget requests that are not any higher their budgets were two years ago, even though inflation and other factors have pushed costs up.  Read more

Falling Behind: Support for Wisconsin’s Schools Not Keeping up with Inflation

Tuesday, July 8, 2014 at 11:02 AM by

Most school districts will receive less state support next school year than they did this school year, when the rising cost of living is taken into account. Fifty-nine percent of Wisconsin districts will either receive less general aid next year or receive an increase that is smaller than the projected 2015 rate of inflation, according to new figures released last week.

State lawmakers increased the amount of general aid to districts by 2% between this year and next year. The state’s Department of Public Instruction uses a complex formula to distribute that aid among the school districts. Based on this formula, there can be a significant amount of variation in the amount of general aid an individual district receives from one year to the next. Six percent of school districts will receive a boost of 10% or more in the amount of general aid they receive next year, and 19% will have their general aid drop by at least 10%. Read more

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A Decade in the Wrong Direction: Wisconsin Student Poverty Rate Increases for the 10th Consecutive Year

Wednesday, June 4, 2014 at 2:52 PM by

A recent release from the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction reports upsetting news concerning the state’s student poverty rate. The percentage of Wisconsin children representing low-income families has increased for yet another year.

In the 2013-14 school year 43.3 percent of students were eligible for free or reduced-price school lunches. Although this is only an increase of one-tenth of a percentage from the previous academic year, it is important to note that this pattern of seemingly small increases over the past decade has led to a near 14 percentage increase in the number of Wisconsin’s children who are from low-income families and thus, eligible for free or reduced-price lunch.

FRL-increases3

Students who are in families with an annual income that is less than 130% of the federal poverty level quality for free school meals, while students in families earning more than the 130% but less than 185% of the federal poverty level are eligible to receive reduced-price lunches. Read more

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Oversize Student Loan Debt Acts as Drag on the Economy

Wednesday, May 21, 2014 at 2:55 PM by

Many college students graduating this month have heavy loads of student loan debt, a burden that may be weighing down the entire economy. Students who must commit a large part of their incomes to student loan repayments are holding off on making big purchases, reducing the overall level  of economic activity.

More than three-quarter of a million Wisconsin residents have federal student loan debt, according to the U.S. Federal Reserve System. The average debt level for Wisconsin residents is about $22,000.

Student loan payments represent a great deal of money that new graduates are devoting towards paying down debt, rather than making consumer purchases that can boost the economy. More than one in three Wisconsin residents with 4-year or advanced degrees has student debt, according to a web survey of 2,600 individuals, undertaken by One Wisconsin Now. The loan repayments can take a big bite out of graduates’ incomes: the average monthly student loan bill was $350 for Wisconsin residents with a 4-year degree, and $448 for those with advanced degrees, according to OWN. Read more

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Teacher Appreciation Week: Number of Teachers in Wisconsin has Declined

Friday, May 9, 2014 at 2:10 PM by

Today wraps up Teacher Appreciation Week, when the National Parent-Teacher Association (PTA) suggests we make a special effort to let teachers know that their hard work in schools and classrooms makes a difference to children in our communities. In Wisconsin, there are fewer teachers to appreciate than there used to be.

The number of teachers in public schools in Wisconsin has dropped by about 5% over the last five years, as Wisconsin lost about 2,900 teachers.  Student enrollment in Wisconsin public schools stayed virtually flat over that same period, resulting in more crowded classrooms.

Number of Teachers in Wisconsin has Declined                       

It’s not altogether clear why the number of teachers in Wisconsin has decreased over the last few years. The decline in Wisconsin isn’t part of a larger trend – the number of teachers nationally actually increased slightly over this timeframe. And the decline clearly starts before 2011, when state lawmakers limited union rights and reduced teacher compensation by requiring public employees to pay a larger share of their benefit costs. Read more

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To Boost the Economy, Support the UW System and its Students

Thursday, May 1, 2014 at 8:00 AM by

higher ed tuition increase2Tuition at Wisconsin public colleges and universities has increased by 21% since 2008, according to a new report from a national policy organization. Rising tuition levels make it harder for students to afford to go to college and harder for Wisconsin to develop the skilled workforces we need to attract businesses and compete for the jobs of the future.

The increase in tuition means Wisconsin students at public colleges and universities paid $1,530 more for one year of tuition in 2014 than they would have in 2008, even after adjusting for the rising cost of living. If we multiply that amount by four, then we find that tuition costs for a four-year degree rose by $6,120 between 2008 and 2014.

Tuition is going up because Wisconsin has reduced its investment in higher education. Since 2008, Wisconsin has decreased support for public higher education by 22% per student – a cut that works out to $1,401 per student. Read more

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Voters in 25 School Districts Raise Taxes on Themselves

Wednesday, April 2, 2014 at 2:49 PM by

Wisconsin voters approved ballot initiatives in 25 districts yesterday, voluntarily raising property taxes in order to fund services or improved infrastructure in their districts.

Referenda approved at the ballot box include:

  • The issuance of $20 million in debt by the Green Bay Area School District to replace heating, ventilation, and cooling systems, and to make other repairs.
  • The issuance of $18.9 million debt by the Johnson Creek School District to build a new building for students in grades 5 through 12.
  • Allowing the Oshkosh Area School District to exceed revenue limits by a total of $28 million over the next seven years. Approval of the referendum means that the district will be able to avoid taking several steps that would harm students, including closing a middle school; reducing art, music, and physical education time by half for elementary students; and doubling athletic participation fees at some schools.
  • Allowing the Fort Atkinson School District to avoid drastic cuts in programs for students by exceeding revenue limits by a total of $5.3 million over the next three years.
  • Read more

Don’t Be Kansas: Impact of Massive Tax Cuts on Kansas Offers a Warning to Wisconsin

Thursday, March 27, 2014 at 8:53 AM by

Wisconsin lawmakers advocating for more tax cuts should consider the example of Kansas, a state that has pushed through enormous tax cuts and that has been held up by tax-cut proponents as a model worth replicating.

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