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July 23, 2013

Madison's Planned $pending & Property Tax Increase: Does it Include $75/Student "Unrestricted" State Budget Increase (Outside of Revenue Caps)?

Wisconsin Association of School Boards, via a kind reader's email:

The 2013-15 state budget act provides for state categorical aid payments to each district of $75 per pupil in the first year and $150 per pupil in 2014-15 (reflecting $75 from the first year + an additional $75) and each year thereafter. ("Categorical aid" in this case simply means that it is received outside the revenue cap (as distinguished from general aid, which is under the revenue cap).

This per-pupil aid may be spent irrespective of the district's revenue limit and can be used for any purpose. (Unlike most other categorical aid, it is not tied to any specific student population or program.) This aid will be received by all districts and is likely to be welcomed by high per-pupil property wealth districts that receive little general aid.

In addition, the 2013-15 state budget act provides for a $75 per-pupil increase in the revenue limit in each year. These increases add on top of one another (so $75 gets added to the base in the first year and another $75 on top gets added of that in the second year--for a total of $130 million in new revenue limit authority statewide). Note: The budget act makes no provision for a revenue limit adjustment in 2015-16 or thereafter.

Together, it is argued that the revenue limit adjustment and the per-pupil categorical aid will provide districts with an additional $150 per pupil in each year of the biennium. (While this $150 figure doesn't equate to the inflationary adjustment contemplated by the WASB resolutions, it compares quite favorably with the $0 per-pupil "budget freeze" proposed in the budget as originally introduced.) Half of this increase ($75 per pupil) comes from an increase in revenue limits, while the remainder ($75 in the first year, and that $75 plus an additional $75 in the second year) comes from the new categorical aid that will benefit all school districts.

(Technically, the increase in spendable resources for most districts is actually $100 per pupil in the first year because the $50 per-pupil payment received by districts that levied to the max in 2012-13 was one-time money and goes away. For the 27 or so districts that didn't qualify for the state matching money, the increase in additional resources over 2012-13 resources actually IS $150 per pupil. See Legislative Fiscal Bureau memo on this subject.)

Significantly, the per-pupil categorical aid that is provided to every district is permanent and will continue in 2014-15 and each school year thereafter. It is funded through a sum sufficient GPR appropriation, making it the first sum sufficient appropriation for public school districts since the state abandoned the statutory commitment to two-thirds funding in the 2003-05 state budget bill. Because this is a sum sufficient appropriation, the payments to individual school districts won't be affected (e.g., pro-rated) by changes in statewide membership. The per-pupil amount is, in effect, guaranteed.) And unlike the $50 per-pupil categorical aid that was provided in 2012-13 to 397 school districts, there is no requirement that a district levy a certain amount in order to qualify for this categorical aid.

The calculation is also straightforward--each district aid is determined by using its three-year rolling average membership to calculate the number of pupils in each district times $75 per pupil. Thus, the $75 per student categorical aid payment in the coming year will be calculated on a current-year basis (using the current year membership count plus the two previous years). As a result, the DPI will have to wait until each district has completed its third Friday in September count in order to complete the calculation. School boards and school administrators who have to hold their annual meeting and get the levy approved by district electors by Oct. 31 should be able to calculate their district's allotment.

Finally, the $75 per-pupil payment won't be made by the state until the fourth Monday in March, so it isn't likely to solve districts' biggest cash flow issues, but will provide a needed boost.

Much more on the Madison School District's planned spending & property tax increases via the 2013-2014 budget, here.

Related: Analysis: Madison School District has resources to close achievement gap.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at July 23, 2013 4:30 PM
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