Both the Associated Press (AP) and the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) today highlight the relationship between reductions in school aids across the state and the way school choice and charter programs are funded. The AP story notes “$110 million [was] taken from public schools to pay for an expansion of voucher and charter schools in Milwaukee and Racine.” Unfortunately the story fails to mention that the statewide aid reductions to pay for the charter program and the aid reductions in Milwaukee and Racine to pay for choice do not translate into less funding for school districts.
Why? Neither the charter nor choice aid reductions impact revenue limits. Districts can and do make up for the reduction with property taxes. In English, this means the Milwaukee Public Schools, Racine Unified, and the majority of school districts in the state that set their education levy at the highest permitted amount do not lose actual dollars because of these programs, they simply receive them from a different source.
School spending in Wisconsin, traditionally among the nation’s highest, was falling even before changes in the current state budget and may already be no more than the U.S. average.
The conservative-leaning Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance reported last week that, while operational spending per pupil remained 5.5 percent above the national average in 2009, when debt and maintenance are figured in, overall spending was 1.6 percent below the U.S. average.
WISTAX estimated that, had the new state revenue limits been in place for 2009, instructional spending also would have been reduced to near the national average.
WISTAX researchers compared 2009 U.S. census data on school spending and revenues by state and also looked ahead to how recent state law and budget changes might affect Wisconsin’s ranking. (A PDF of the analysis accompanies this story.)