Commentary on Wisconsin K-12 School Tax & Spending Referendums

Margaret Cannon:

According to Wisconsin Policy Forum report, voters approved referendum questions totaling $783 million. Total borrowing requests on school district ballots statewide reached $1.2 billion, with voters turning down some of the largest individual ballot items.

Voters approved 45 of the 60 questions on this year’s ballot.

The Wisconsin Policy Forum report shows a 15 percent drop in approval ratings compared to last year when voters said yes to 90% of referendums on the ballot. Even so, 2019 ranked as the third-highest approval year since revenue caps were created in the 1993-94 school year.

“To get large numbers like these, you probably need a lot of things to happen at once,” said Jason Stein, research director at the Wisconsin Policy Forum.

Factors such as the economy and interest rates often indicate how the public will vote on school spending. A recent Marquette University Law School survey showed that voters felt it was more important to spend on schools than to lower property taxes.

Much of the support was found in increases for basic district operations, such as teacher salaries, school maintenance, transportation and classroom spending. Districts have said that state-imposed spending caps and Wisconsin’s school funding formula have caused them to turn to local voters to approve higher spending.