Falling Support for Schools Threatens Wisconsin’s Economic Future
Massive reductions in state and local support for education could inflict severe damage to Wisconsin’s public schools, according to a new report from the Wisconsin Budget Project. Wisconsin’s well-educated workforce has long been a foundation of the state’s economy. This blow to Wisconsin’s educational system threatens to undermine that key driver of economic development.
Nearly $2 billion in cuts over the next two years will leave students with fewer courses in math, science, and other core subjects, along with dwindling opportunities for career and technical studies. Class sizes have increased, and teachers and support staff have been laid off, not only hurting students but also adding to the state’s already elevated unemployment rate.
Wisconsin’s cuts to education spending were bigger than those in most other states. On a dollars-per-student basis, Wisconsin’s cuts were the second largest in the country. The report also notes that the poorest school districts have been hit the hardest by cuts in state funding for education. Districts with more than 60 percent of students eligible for free or reduced lunch saw their general state aid decrease by almost twice as many dollars per student as the state’s more affluent districts, as shown in the chart below.
In addition to the large cuts to state spending on education, the Legislature imposed stricter constraints on property taxes, severely limiting districts’ ability to compensate for the loss of state dollars with local funds.
At the same time as state support for public schools has plummeted, support for private schools has increased. The Legislature spent $27 million over two years to expand the voucher system that allows parents to use tax dollars to send their children to private schools. The Legislature paid for that expansion by docking public schools an extra $11 million.
To be competitive in the 21st century economy, Wisconsin must continue to invest in the education of our future workforce. The cuts we’re seeing in school districts all over the state represent a thread to our state’s economic vitality.