Commentary on Wisconsin taxpayer redistributed K-12 spending practices and promises

Matthew DeFour:

Not all districts have the same revenue level. DPI spokesman Tom McCarthy highlighted some differences:

The Beloit School District, with higher poverty and lower property values, can receive $9,626 per student, about 83 percent of which comes from state aid. So when revenue limits increase, the district typically uses all of the extra funding without having to raise property taxes much.

The more rural Plum City School District in northern Wisconsin can collect $10,271 per student, about half of which comes from aid and half from property taxes, so when limits increase the district has to engage with its community about whether to raise property taxes.

The Nicolet Union High School District in a higher property value district Milwaukee suburb receives $15,344 per student, only 5 percent of which comes from state aid, so in order to raise funding levels the district must raise property taxes.

McCarthy added, “per pupil aid subverts all of these considerations.”

In the last budget Walker proposed more money for schools than Evers, even with the high price tag of the Evers funding formula change, but most of the increase went to per-pupil aid and property tax credits. Kitchens said the Legislature didn’t use the funding increase to back Evers’ plan because “politically there wasn’t a will to come back and change it.”

He also acknowledged that continuing to pump money into per-pupil aid is problematic.

“If we keep doing that, we’re defeating the purpose of the formula,” Kitchens said. “I know politically there may be advantages to giving everybody something so everybody’s happy, but that does defeat the purpose.”

The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, long lead by Mr. Evers, has aborted our one attempt to improve teacher content knowledge requirements, as Massachusetts has done (via MTEL), in an effort to address our disastrous reading results.

Madison spends far more than most taxpayer funded K-12 school districts, nearly 20,000 per student.

Yet, Madison has long tolerated disastrous reading results, and recently promoted improved graduation rates despite declining academic results.