Wisconsin School Finance Reform Climate: 16% Health Care Spending Growth & Local Lobbying

Jason Stein & Patrick Marley:

The state health department is requesting $675 million more from state taxpayers in the next two-year budget to maintain services such as Wisconsin’s health care programs for the poor, elderly and disabled, according to budget estimates released Thursday.
That figure, included in a budget request by the state Department of Health Services, shows how difficult it will be for the next governor to balance a budget that already faces a $2.7 billion projected shortfall over two years.
One of the chief reasons the state faces the steep increase in costs is because federal economic stimulus money for health care programs will dry up before the 2011-’13 budget starts July 1.
That scheduled decrease in funding would come even as high unemployment lingers, driving many families into poverty and keeping enrollment in the programs relatively high. State Health Services Secretary Karen Timberlake said the state needs to find a way to keep health care for those who need it.
“People need this program in a way many of them never expected to,” she said.
But maintaining health programs at existing levels could cost even more than the $675 million increase over two years – a 16% jump – now projected in the budget request, which will be handled by the next governor and Legislature.

Dane County Board Urges State Action on School Reform 194K PDF via a TJ Mertz email:

This evening the Dane County Board of Supervisors enthusiastically approved a resolution urging the Wisconsin Legislature to make comprehensive changes in the way schools are funded. The Board encouraged the Legislature to consider revenue sources other than the local property tax to support the diverse needs of students and school districts.

“I hear over and over again from Dane County residents that investing in education is a priority, said County Board Supervisor Melissa Sargent, District 18, the primary sponsor of the resolution. “However, people tell me they do not like the overreliance on property taxes to fund education – pitting homeowners against children,” she added.

For the last 17 years, the state funding formula has produced annual shortfalls resulting in program cuts to schools. In 2009-2010, cuts in state aid resulted in a net loss of over $14 million in state support for students in Dane County, shifting the cost of education increasingly to property taxpayers. More and more districts are forced to rely on either program cuts or sometimes divisive referenda. In fact, voters rejected school referendums in five districts Tuesday, while just two were approved.

“The future of our children and our community is dependent on the development of an equitable system for funding public education; a system the recognizes the diverse needs of our children and does not put the funding burden on the backs of our taxpayers, said Madison Metropolitan School
Board member Arlene Silvera. “I appreciate the leadership of the County Board in raising awareness of this critical need and in lobbying our state legislators to make this happen,” she said.

Jeffery Ziegler a Member of the Marshall Public School District Board of Education and Jim Cavanaugh, President of the South Central Federation of Labor, both emphasized the need to get the attention of state officials in statements supporting the resolution. Ziegler described how state inaction has forced Board Members to make decisions that harm education.

State legislators can apparently decide to just not make the tough decisions that need to be made. School boards have a responsibility to keep our schools functioning and delivering the best education they can under the circumstances, knowing full well that those decisions will have a negative effect on the education of the children in their community.

Cavanaugh observed that the consensus that reform is needed has not led to action and pointed to the important role local governmental bodies can play in changing this by following the lead of the Dane County Board

“Legislators of all political stripes acknowledge that Wisconsin’s system for funding public schools is broken. Yet, there doesn’t appear to be the political will to address this very complicated issue. Perhaps they need a nudge from the various local units of government.”

In passing this resolution, Dane County is taking the lead on a critical statewide issue. Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools (WAES) board member Thomas J. Mertz said that WAES thanked the Dane County Board and said that WAES will seek similar resolutions from communities around the state in the coming months.

“All around Wisconsin districts are hurting and we’ve been working hard to bring the need for reform to the attention of state officials,” said WAES board member Thomas J. Mertz. “Hearing from local officials might do the trick,” he concluded.

Gubernertorial candidates Tom Barrett (Clusty) and Scott Walker (Clusty) on education.
The current economic climate certainly requires that choices be made.
Perhaps this is part of the problem.
Finally, The Economist on taxes.