Last week the legislature’s budget committee made many changes that will shake up K-12 education in ways that reduce control by elected school boards and siphon funding away from public school districts. We thought that part of the budget was done, but today the committee’s “omnibus motion” on the UW System compounds the problems for some of the school districts in the state by creating mechanisms for the creation of independent charter schools without the approval of school boards.
As Molly Beck of the WI State Journal reported this evening:
“If approved, the UW System would be required to create a new office within four months to authorize independent charter schools in school districts with more than 25,000 students — Madison and Milwaukee — without local school board approval.”
Although the Milwaukee and Madison districts have the most at stake, the new changes don’t stop there. The omnibus motion, approved this evening on a party-line vote, would also allow independent charter schools to be approved in several other ways: a) in Waukesha County by the County Executive; b) by the Gateway Technical College District Board in Kenosha, Racine and Walworth counties or an adjacent county; and c) by an accredited tribal college in the county it is located in or in an adjacent county. Read more
The budget package passed this week by the budget committee of the Wisconsin legislature includes new money for education in Wisconsin, but a closer look shows that most of that money will wind up in other places than public schools.
In recent weeks, lawmakers have emphasized that they were committed to avoiding the worst of the education budget cuts proposed by Governor Walker’s budget cuts. Lawmakers did restore some school funding that Governor Walker recommended cutting, but they also followed the Governor’s lead on diverting some of the money set aside for public schools and sending it instead to property owners or private schools.
Lawmakers allotted $208 million in new public education funding over the next two years, compared to the previous budget. But only about $50 million of that amount – less than a quarter of the total new funding – will actually get delivered to public schools in a way that allows districts to put that money to work educating public school students. Read more
Wisconsin voters approved ballot initiatives in 43 school districts on Tuesday, voluntarily raising property taxes in order to fund academics or improve infrastructure in their districts.
Measures approved by voters included:
- Approving $41 million in borrowing that will allow the Madison Metropolitan School District to expand five overcrowded schools and renovate other school buildings to improve accessibility. More than 80% of voters approved Madison’s referendum.
- Allowing the Manitowoc School District to exceed revenue limits by a total of $6 million over the next three years. School officials said that without a successful referendum, the district might have to close an elementary school, eliminate the fifth and sixth grade band programs, and make other cuts to academics.
- Borrowing $17 million to renovate athletic facilities at several schools in the Kenosha School District.
- Allowing the Hilbert School District to exceed revenue limits by $1.2 million over the next three years to avoid making cuts to classroom academics and teaching staff.
The Governor and some proponents of the budget bill have understated the size of the proposed cuts to the University of Wisconsin System.
Why haven’t the property tax cuts included in Governor Walker’s budget proposal gotten much attention from the media or community advocates? One reason might be because of the way he has structured the tax cuts, which are mingled with state support for public schools. A new budget summary from the Wisconsin Budget Project includes information about the tax cuts and other parts of the Governor’s budget that affect taxes and state revenue.
Unlike income taxes or sales taxes, property taxes are levied by local governments, including counties, cities, school districts, and technical college districts. So when state lawmakers want to cut property taxes, they can’t do it directly. Instead, they increase the amount of aid to local governments while simultaneously prohibiting those governments from increasing their budgets. The result is that local governments must then cut property taxes.
In the state budget, this method of cutting property taxes shows up as an increase in state spending in aid for local governments. Read more
A new website demonstrates the magnitude of proposed cuts to education for individual school districts, and can serve as a resource for parents and other advocates for public education who want to show how the cuts will affect schools in their communities.
The website is run by School Funding Reform for Wisconsin, a group that believes that public schools are critical to the health and vitality of Wisconsin communities. The website includes estimates of dollar amounts in per-pupil aid that would be lost to individual school districts next year if the Governor’s budget is approved without changes. The website also has pie charts, like the one below, available for individuals to download and use in their own advocacy. Read more
Resources for Corrections Would Outstrip State Support for University System, under Governor’s Proposal
Wisconsin would spend significantly more on prisons and corrections than on helping students pursue their educations at the University of Wisconsin System, if Governor Walker’s budget is passed without changes.
Governor Walker has called on lawmakers to dramatically reduce the amount of support the state provides for the University System. About 180,000 students attend the University of Wisconsin System, at 13 four-year universities and an equal number of two-year institutions. Each year, the UW system awards about 36,000 degrees. Those degrees help graduating students become part of the well-educated workforce Wisconsin needs to compete in the global economy. Read more
Governor Walker has proposed an education budget that cuts resources for children attending public schools, devotes additional public money to private schools, and cuts property taxes. A new budget summary released today by the Wisconsin Budget Project describes these and other aspects of the Governor’s education plan.
The new summary describes:
- How the proposed cuts to education would come on top of dramatic reductions in resources for public schools that have already occurred;
- How the Governor proposes to deliver a property tax cut by requiring most school districts to reduce the amount of money they taken in from property taxes; and
- How an expansion of the school voucher program would increase the state budget line for tuition at private schools by $17 million, in addition to shifting funds from public schools to voucher schools.
Now that the Governor’s budget bill has been introduced, we can begin to see the painful consequences of policy choices that state lawmakers made last session, such as enacting large tax cuts on the basis of overly optimistic revenue projections. But the deep cuts in areas such as the UW System budget aren’t inevitable if the state reconsiders the rejection of federal Medicaid funds, stops digging the budget hole deeper by passing more tax cuts, and closes tax loopholes.
It will take quite a while to carefully dissect and analyze the Governor’s budget bill, but here are some initial comments relating to major items in his plan – to the best of my abilities in the very brief time I’ve had to study the Dept. of Administration (DOA) documents. [NOTE: After reviewing the bill more carefully, I’ve added an update in the portion about school funding, because the blow to public schools is much greater than I initially thought.] Read more
Wisconsin voters approved ballot initiatives in 27 school districts on Tuesday, voluntarily raising property taxes in order to fund services or improve infrastructure in their districts.
Measures approved by voters included:
- Allowing the Glendale-River Hills School District to exceed revenue limits by a total of $4.9 million over the next five years. District officials said schools would be forced to cut academic offerings and extracurricular activities without the additional revenue.
- Allowing the Racine Unified School District to exceed revenue limits by a total of $127.5 million over the next 15 years. The additional revenue will be used to address maintenance issues on aging buildings. The district plans to rebuild two elementary schools and add on to a middle school.
- The issuance of $23 million debt that will allow the Altoona School District to build a new elementary school, and make maintenance, safety, and health-related improvements on existing buildings.
- Allowing the Gilman School District to exceed revenue limits by a total of $1.6 million over the next four years.