Act 10 savings torpedoed: Federal regulations force school districts to spend that money or face funding cuts

Dan Benson & Julie Grace:

Savings that Wisconsin taxpayers could have realized through implementation of Act 10 in 2011 — sometimes hundreds of thousands of dollars in a single district — were lost because federal regulations penalize school districts that find ways to spend less money.

The Oostburg School District in Sheboygan County, for example, experienced a “huge reduction in expenses for the special education fund” following the passage of Act 10, says Kristin DeBruine, the district’s business manager.

Special education programs, however, are funded with federal as well as local tax dollars — and full, ongoing federal funding continues only if local and state funding remains constant or increases from year to year.

In order to avoid a federal funding cut, the Oostburg district spent the Act 10 savings in other ways, including almost $60,000 to install an elevator in its middle school. At the time, and to this day, the school does not have any students who use wheelchairs. So the elevator sits largely unused, DeBruine says.

While installing the elevator also helped the district meet federal disability compliance rules, “We would not have put it in without the required use of the money, as it is only used for after-school activities, and the cost would not have allowed us to do it otherwise,” DeBruine says. “That simply just doesn’t make sense at all.”