This year, voters in Wisconsin voluntarily raised property taxes on themselves by a record amount to pay for additional investments in local schools. The increase could signal a growing frustration with the strict limits on school district budgets that have been imposed by state lawmakers.
The state limits the average amount each school district may spend to educate students, but voters in a district can override the spending limit by approving a referendum lifting the spending caps and raising their property taxes. Voters also determine via referendum whether to allow a school district to issue debt for big capital projects, such as building a new school.
Prior to 2011, state lawmakers allowed regular, relatively predictable increases in the amount school districts were allowed to spend on each student. That approach ended in 2011. Since then, lawmakers have allowed either small or no increases in the caps they impose on school district budgets. Read more
On Tuesday, voters in dozens of school districts across the state will determine whether to provide additional resources to children in public schools. The dollar amount school districts are asking voters to approve is far larger than the amounts that were on the ballot for the 2012 or 2008 presidential election.
Next week, school districts will ask voters to approve:
- $1.14 billion in borrowing for new construction and building updates:
- $140 million in increases to school district budgets. These increases boost school district budgets for a set period of time and then expire, at which point school districts revert to their previous budget levels; and
- $59 million in increases to school districts budgets on a recurring basis.
The requested amounts dwarf the amounts on the ballot for the two most recent presidential elections. The amount of borrowing that is on the ballot this November is three times higher than the proposed amount four years ago; the proposed amounts for non-recurring increases in budget caps is six times higher than it was four years ago, and five times higher for referendums to lift the budget caps on a recurring basis. Read more
Most counties in Wisconsin have fewer children than they did five years ago, with some of the biggest declines occurring in counties in northern Wisconsin, according to new population figures released by the Wisconsin Department of Health Services. The decrease in the number of children has led to declining enrollment in many rural school districts, presenting those districts with a host of financial challenges that stem from trying to pay for fixed costs with diminished resources.
Between 2010 and 2015, the number of children in Wisconsin declined by about 42,000, from 1.34 million to 1.30 million, for a decline of 3.2%.
The decline was most severe in the northern part of the state, with virtually every county in the north experiencing a drop in the number of children. The counties with the largest declines in percentage terms between 2010 and 2015 included:
- Adams County, -16.0%;
- Iron County, -15.5%;
- Lincoln County, -14.1%;
- Bayfield County, -13.3%; and
- Rusk County, -11.9%.
Wisconsin provides far less public support per student to the University of Wisconsin System than it did fifteen years ago, according to an analysis of newly-released figures.
In 2016, the state provided $6,800 in General Purpose Revenue (GPR) support to the UW System per full-time equivalent student. That’s down more than a third from the $10,500 that the state provided to the UW System per student in 2001. Dollar amounts are from a Legislative Fiscal Bureau memo and are adjusted for inflation; student FTEs are from the University of Wisconsin website.
The chart shows that steep cuts to the University of Wisconsin System are nothing new – indeed, they date back fifteen years. The difference is that in in the early 2000s, lawmakers allowed tuition to rise substantially at the same time as they cut GPR support. That increase in tuition cushioned the effects of the reductions in state support but also raised the price of a university education, pushing the cost of higher education out of reach for some struggling families. Read more
Public school teachers earn significantly less than comparable workers – and the gap is growing wider, making it more difficult to attract new teachers to the profession.
Nationally, public school teachers earned 17.0% less per week worked than other workers in 2015, according to a new report from the Economic Policy Institute. That wage gap has tripled since 1979, when the wage gap was 5.6% between teachers and other workers. The analysis controls for age, education, race/ethnicity, geographical region, marital status, and gender.
In Wisconsin, the wage gap means that public school teachers earn $229 per week less than other workers with the same level of education. Teachers earn less than other college graduates in every state in the U.S.
Teachers not in a union face a larger wage penalty than teachers in a union, according to the report.
When benefits are included, teachers still earn less than other workers: 11.1% less per week worked. Read more
Summer is almost here, and children will be out of school – but many of them will still have access to free or reduced-price meals through a program that helps students get their nutritional needs met during the summer months.
Students participating in summer school, summer camps, sports or pre-college programs run by colleges or universities, and certain other summer activities can get free or reduced-price school meals thanks to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Summer Food Service Program. During summer 2015, Wisconsin children were served 2.8 million free or reduced-price meals at 872 different locations.
Free and reduced-price school meals are an important way to help make sure that all students have the nourishment they need in order to succeed, regardless of family income. It’s difficult for students to reach their full potential if they have to worry about where their next meal is coming from. Making sure that students get the meals they need during the summer helps facilitate summer learning and also helps make sure that students come back in the fall ready to study. Read more
Tech. College Funding Shift Masks 25 Percent Cut in Higher Ed Support Since 2008
Wisconsin cut state support for higher education by 8.3 percent this year, or $603 per student. As the following graph illustrates, only Arizona cut state funding for higher education by a larger percentage.
In contrast to Wisconsin, most states have been taking advantage of the national economic recovery to increase support for higher education and restore some of the funding cut during the recession. The bar graph from a new report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) shows that Wisconsin was one of just 11 states that cut its support for higher education in the current fiscal year, relative to fiscal year 2015, and almost all of the other cuts were far smaller. Read more
Wisconsin is committing a shrinking share of its resources for education to making sure that students have access to an excellent education regardless of whether they live in a poor community or a wealthy one.
The state funds about 62 cents out of every dollar spent on public education in Wisconsin, with the remaining amount raised from the property tax in each district. The variation in property tax values means that school districts with low property values would need to use higher tax rates to raise the same amount of money for education as wealthier districts with high property values.
To help address that imbalance, the bulk of the money the state provides for K-12 education is distributed through a formula aimed at insuring that school districts with low property values are able to provide students with the same high-quality education as property-rich districts. Outside of the equalization formula, the state provides additional support for school districts that is allocated on a flat per-student basis, and also provides money to school districts to pass through to residents in the form of lowered property taxes. Read more
Data from Sean F. Reardon, Demetra Kalogrides, Andrew Ho, Ben Shear, Kenneth Shores, Erin Fahle. (2016). Stanford Education Data Archive. http://purl.stanford.edu/db586ns4974. Read more
Wisconsin lawmakers cut state funding for the UW System by $125 million per year for the budget period that runs between July 2015 and June 2017, reducing Wisconsin’s investment in keeping higher education accessible and jeopardizing the economic benefit that Wisconsin residents receive from the UW System.
UW officials have released descriptions of planned and ongoing cuts to academics, facilities, and services at each campus that have been made to reduce costs in the wake of the budget cut. Many campuses are reducing the number of classes offered, potentially increasing the amount of time students must spend in school before they can receive credit for courses required for graduation. Other campuses are postponing updates to outdated facilities, cleaning buildings less often, and reducing advising and mentoring services for students. This map shows a selection of the cuts made at each campus, along with each location’s share of the $125 million budget cut. Read more