Why is accountability so important? Because the state budget currently gets a failing grade instead of meeting Wisconsin kids’ needs. Learn more about Wisconsin’s school funding system and how to hold leaders accountable for doing right by students and public schools!
Wisconsin students deserve thriving public schools that are fully and fairly funded. Our state constitution requires us to provide an education that is as “uniform as practicable” in every public school. This means equitably matching our funding to our students’ needs, something the state has failed to deliver.
We know we are not providing adequate funding to meet the needs of all of our students. While both needs and costs have increased greatly, when adjusted for inflation, state funding for public schools remains below 2009 levels of spending. We also know that we are dramatically under-funding the areas where student needs are greatest: in addressing student mental health, and providing funding for students with disabilities, students in poverty, and students who are English language learners.
The good news is: we can fix this. There’s even a plan already on the table. In 2017, the Republican-led, bipartisan Blue Ribbon Commission on School Funding traveled the state to gather concerns and clearly outlined the urgent needs of Wisconsin public schools. Six years after this commission was formed, even the most basic of their common-sense recommendations have yet to be implemented.
We know what Wisconsin kids need, and we know we can afford to meet those needs. The question is: why aren’t we doing it?
Funding Fairness & Revenue Limits in Wisconsin:
Wisconsin kids deserve a fair playing field, but they don’t have one under our current funding system.
Click here to see revenue limits in your school district (DPI).
In Wisconsin, school districts are restricted by unequal spending caps that they cannot exceed, creating a system of haves and have-nots across the state. These caps are called “revenue limits.” Revenue limits determined by the state restrict the total amount of money public school districts can spend on students from state aid and local property taxes.
To make things even more confusing, districts were arbitrarily locked into different starting points in 1993, creating an unfair system that fails to consider students’ real needs and limits all districts’ ability to meet those needs. Some districts in Wisconsin are allowed to spend nearly twice as much per student as others! That’s just not fair.
Wisconsin’s preK-12 funding system has underfunded schools relative to inflation for 14 years. Because inflation goes up every year, each year of underfunding compounds the underfunding problem.
In essence, every year off of the pace puts schools that much further behind. The effect is cumulative.
Record numbers of school districts are resorting to operating referenda to increase their spending authority, but that does not fix the system that created these inequities.
The state of Wisconsin currently reimburses school districts’ special education costs at a rate of 33.3%, leaving local districts to cover the gap of the unreimbursed 66.7%. What does that gap mean for local students and public schools?
- $343 and 50% (Legislative Fiscal Bureau 2022 – shows how much aid each district would get under 50% special ed reimbursement)
- Education Law Center 2022: Wisconsin’s Special Education Funding Crunch: How State Underfunding Disproportionately Harms Students In High-Poverty Districts
WANT TO LEARN MORE?
Learn more about revenue limits and the unequal school funding system facing our schools by browsing the resources below and by checking out some of our school funding presentations. See the archive of those events here.
- K-12 on the Ballot: Using Referenda to Fund Public Schools (Forward Analytics November 2023)
- School District Revenue Limits and Referenda (Legislative Fiscal Bureau 2021, Informational Paper 26)
- State Aid to School Districts (Informational Paper 27)
- Open Enrollment Program (Informational Paper 29)
- Statutory Requirements for School Districts (Informational Paper 31)
- School District Reorganization (Informational Paper 32)
Voucher schools that use public funds for private education are not subject to the same assessment standards, teaching standards, or reporting standards as public schools; they are not overseen by publicly-elected school boards, required to hold public meetings, or subject to public records laws; they are not necessarily governed by nondiscrimination laws and are not legally required to serve students with disabilities.
These schools are also funded “off the top” of the total pot of money designated for schools. This means the more money we give to vouchers, the more we take away from the vast majority of children, who attend public schools. Nearly 80% of students participating in the statewide Wisconsin Parental Choice Program never attended a public school.
GET INFORMED & TAKE ACTION:
1. Check out our VOUCHER TRANSPARENCY TOOLKIT to learn about how school voucher programs hurt students and what you can do about it.
2. Write a letter to the editor. Examples: Three LTEs about the voucher program and its effect on local public schools from Dr. Mike Lindsay, UW-Eau Claire Professor Emeritus.
3. Form a local team of people who care about this issue. Want to see the impact of private voucher spending on your local school district? Contact your regional Team Public organizer.
4. Advocate for voucher transparency.
– Learn more about local property tax inserts in municipalities & school districts in Wisconsin: Milwaukee Public Schools, City of Racine, School District of South Milwaukee.
– See example school board resolutions from the Wisconsin Association of School Boards here.
5. Follow important bills & contact your lawmakers.
6. Participate in statewide actions: join our mailing list, attend our events & meetings, & stay tuned for more action opportunities.
LATEST VOUCHER NEWS:
Independent Charters in Wisconsin:
Independent charters are publicly-funded charter schools that operate outside of school districts. There are a number of independent charter authorizers in Wisconsin. These schools are not held to the same accountability standards as traditional public schools as they operate without the oversight of locally-elected school boards, outside the parameters of the local community, and without equal requirements for administrators or teachers.
These schools are distinct from public instrumentality charter schools, which operate within a school district and are subject to oversight, authorization, and accountability at the hands of publicly- and locally-elected school boards.
Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction Independent Charter Resources:
- “What is an Independent Charter School?” (comprehensive list of authorizers and schools)
- 2022-23 Funding Comparison for “WI Choice Programs”
- Track the financial impact of NEW independent charter schools in your district here.
Please see below for video recording and resources from Dr. Kevin Lawrence Henry, Jr.’s Accountability in Action Workshop on Charter Schools.