Giving Resources to Schools with One Hand, and Taking Away with the Other
6/2/15: This post has been revised. The original post stated that most of the new money set aside for public education would not go to public schools, and identified the dollar amounts of the new funding that would go towards property tax cuts, voucher and charter schools, and public schools.
Since the original post, further analysis of the budget proposal has shown that the complexities of the school funding system make it difficult to pinpoint the exact share of the new resources that would actually go to public schools. The revised post below demonstrates, as previously posted, that much of the new money would get delivered to public schools in a way that would not allow districts to put that money to work educating public school students. However, the revised version of the post does not identify the exact dollar amount that would be available to school districts.
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 would 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.
New resources for education included in the package passed by the legislature’s budget committee – but that won’t necessarily help educate students in public schools – include:
- A $108 million increase in general aid to public K-12 schools, which the state is requiring school districts to mostly use to lower property tax bills. The proposed budget freezes revenue limits for school districts, capping the amount of money districts can take in through the combination of general state aid and property taxes combined. Because general state aid went up and school districts for the most part are not allowed to increase their budgets, school districts will have to pass most of the increase in general aid through to property tax payers. Some will be shifted to voucher and charter schools.
- An $84 million increase in per-pupil aid, which will mostly go to public schools. A small portion will go to private voucher schools.
- An $8 million increase for public school districts in rural areas, which have been hit particularly hard by declining enrollment and cuts in state aid.
- A $5 million increase for educating students who need high-cost special education.
The expansion of the voucher program would reduce state funding for public schools by $48 million over two years, and increase support for private schools by the same amount.
In recent years, Wisconsin has dramatically reduced the amount of state support for public schools. Wisconsin cut state support for investment in schools by 15% per student between 2008 and 2015, a deeper cut than all but four other states. That 15% cut (in inflation-adjusted spending) means the state is spending $1,014 less on each student now than compared to 2008. The small increase in resources for public schools included in this proposed budget would not do much to restore state support lost in past years.
Although the legislature and the Governor can still make changes to the budget before it is finalized, any changes made to the education budget after this point in the process will likely be minor. That means that Wisconsin may be left with a budget that fails to keep up with the academic needs of Wisconsin children in public schools, and instead prioritizes property owners and private schools.