2019 aid numbers expose continued funding disparities for Wisconsin

DPI released fall aid numbers for 2019-2020 this week​, confirming what we already knew: the 2019-2021 budget was an investment in widening our gaps​.

Despite the Governor’s last-minute use of his veto authority to make the budget better for kids, Wisconsin students went back to school with a status quo budget. 

While the slight bump in school aid meant 59% of public school districts will receive more state funds this year, a full 40% will receive less, while the expansion of the taxpayer funded private school voucher program explodes.

The aid numbers also confirm what we were told would never happen: private school districts are starting to take advantage of a state law that allows full reimbursement of special education costs for students receiving one of the controversial “Special Needs Vouchers​” (opposed by disability rights advocacy groups statewide). “For the first time, three schools taking part in the Special Needs Scholarship Program have asked DPI to reimburse them for the actual cost of educating four of their students — a total of about $69,549.” While the current budget bumped the reimbursement for public schools’ special education costs up to 26% (up one percent from last year), students receiving a Special Needs Voucher to attend a private school are eligible for a 90% reimbursement (of costs beyond the initial voucher payment), per state statute. Next year, the state will increase the public schools’ reimbursement rate to 30%, still barely making a dent in the $1 billion annual funding gap for public schools, which make up the difference with monies from their general funds. The disparity is unconscionable, as is the state’s refusal to meet the budgetary needs of our schools to serve students with disabilities, students who are English language learners, and students in poverty. 

When the Joint Finance Committee voted to gut nearly a billion dollars from the proposed public instruction budget, and lawmakers accepted those cuts with their final budget votes, they chose to continue down a path that widens Wisconsin’s gaps and deepens divides between public and private, have and have nots.​

Meanwhile, education funding is at the heart of the debate over a new controversy​ as majority leaders in the statehouse are fast-tracking a plan to prevent the use of veto authority to increase aid in future budgets​.It’s time to hold lawmakers accountable for their education votes. It’s time to hold lawmakers accountable for delivering on budgets that work for the 860,000 children attending Wisconsin’s public schools.

​It’s time to make sure every single child in every public school has equal opportunity to thrive.

We’re already working hard on our plan to make an impact on the NEXT biennial budget, and to put an end to the partisanship that perpetuates a status quo that fails our kids. We’ve simply got to hold elected officials to a higher moral standard when it comes to doing what’s best for students. We’re going to need statewide support to make that happen, and you can help by getting involved, taking local action, building relationships with local and state decision-makers.

We invite you to stay connected, join us in person when you can for meetings and events, and seriously consider financial support that will allow us to increase our capacity, amplify our message, and invest in supporting local action that has statewide impact. 

Please click here to make your contribution to this important work​. Your one-time or monthly contribution is essential to our hopes for seeing real change for our children. It’s going to take the village, friends, and we’ve got a lot of work to do. 860,000 kids are counting on us.

Thank you for all you do to support local students and their public schools!

About the author: Wisconsin Public Education Network

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