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May 10, 2007

Fixing school funding is more than just "more"

Patrick McIlheran:

It's funny that everybody hates the way Wisconsin reckons school aid. The formula's doing what it was supposed to do.

The aim was that if a poor school district and a rich one imposed the same property tax rate, state aid would make their schools equally funded. The system does that, admirably. As Allan Odden, who studied the formula on the state's behalf last fall, found, it's local tax rates, not wealth, that determines revenue. Some places just want to tax themselves less.

He suggests changing it.

Districts say they're squeezed by two numbers: Their revenue shouldn't rise more than an inflation-linked number, about $260 a student this year, while their labor costs can rise by more, 3.8%.

Of course, school spending has risen faster than inflation or Wisconsinites' income over the past decade or so, especially thanks to referendums letting districts blow the caps. Still, the difference is why districts constantly say they're cutting even while Wisconsin taxpayers spend 5% more a year on average on schools.

Wisconsin's not underspending. We're already 12th-highest in per-pupil spending, 11% above the national average.

For which we're getting . . . OK results. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce last winter graded states on schools. Wisconsin got a C on its return on investment: Our high per-pupil spending produces middling achievement. Virginia got results on the National Assessment of Educational Progress similar to ours but for $1,800 less per pupil. Massachusetts spent more and got great scores. Minnesota did both, massively outscoring us for 10% less per child. "Some states are not getting what they're paying for," chamber spokeswoman Karen Elzey put it.

Minnesota's NAEP scores are higher than Wisconsin's, yet they spend over $1000 per student less than we do.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at May 10, 2007 10:29 AM
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