Friday’s Budget Amendments Compound the Problems for School Districts
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 new 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.
This expansion of charter schools exacerbates the budget problems for public schools caused by the committee’s previous actions, which create a mechanism to siphon funding away from public schools to finance the expansion of private school vouchers. The same type of funding shift would finance the new charter schools, which can potentially be operated by for-profit entities.
A May 28 memo from the Legislative Fiscal Bureau (LFB) provides a rough estimate of the budget consequences to public schools of the funding transfer for greatly expanding school vouchers. As a Journal Sentinel article by Erin Richards and Andrew Hahn reported this morning:
Sending thousands more students to private, religious schools under an expansion of Wisconsin’s statewide voucher program could shift $600 million to $800 million out of public schools over the next decade, according to an analysis from the Legislative Fiscal Bureau.
That LFB memo is worrisome enough, but it does not include the additional cost to school districts of using the same type of funding shift for the new charter schools.
In a related development today, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos released a short LFB memo that provides additional perspective on the size of the shift for the voucher program. Based on that memo, Vos said in a press release that the transferred funding “equals less than 1 percent of K-12 education spending over the next decade.” Speaker Vos makes a legitimate point, and the LFB memo he requested is a useful addition to the policy debate. However, I think the more relevant point is that the funding shift is very large relative to meager growth in revenue for public schools.
We explained in a May 21 blog post that frozen revenue caps for school districts and the shifts to voucher schools will mean that public schools will be able to spend less than one-fourth of the $208 million increase for K-12 education in the biennial budget bill. Today’s vote to create ways for circumventing school board approval of charter schools could make the problem even worse than we thought a week ago.