2019 Legislative Report Cards

It’s time to hold lawmakers accountable for their education votes.

The rubric for budget vote assessments is based on the priority budget needs of Wisconsin public schools, and was made public prior to the Assembly and Senate budget votes during the 60-mile March to Madison in June 2019.

Lawmakers Held Accountable for Votes on Education with Report Cards

As districts statewide receive state-mandated report cards, public education advocates demand an assessment of lawmakers who set budgets that determine schools’ ability to succeed

View this release online here.

As the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction issues its annual school and district report cards today, the nonpartisan Wisconsin Public Education Network is doing the same for state legislators. 

The organization’s Legislative Report Cards provide much-needed political context for understanding how the DPI assesses school and district performance. They assess state lawmakers across five categories: K-12 budget overall, special education, bilingual/bicultural needs, mental health and public funding of private schools. The report cards are available to the public at http://www.WisconsinNetwork.org/blog/report-cards

The DPI’s school and district report cards fulfill a state mandate to hold all schools “accountable” to taxpayers. That mandate was put forward in 2011, the same year Wisconsin saw the largest cuts to education funding in state history.

In conjunction with its Legislative Report Cards, the Wisconsin Public Education Network has issued the following statement:

“In Wisconsin, our lawmakers use report cards to hold our children and their schools accountable for circumstances and state-level policy decisions that are beyond their control. How well a school does on a report card is often closely connected to factors like revenue limits, the number of students living in poverty, the number of English-language learners and the resources available for serving students with disabilities. 

What the report cards do not reveal is the fact that Wisconsin is last in the nation in state support for students with disabilities, and last in the nation in state support for English language learners. The state does not live up to its commitment to support student mental needs and we lack a coherent state policy to support children challenged by poverty. We can trace these failures back to the statehouse, not the classroom.

 It only makes sense that we hold lawmakers accountable for their education votes.

Parents and communities are told that school report cards represent a single ‘snapshot’ of student performance, but that snapshot becomes a frozen image impacting property values and undermining the successes that cannot be accounted for using test scores and other data points. Research shows that test scores often measure little more than economic status. Holding our schools accountable for student needs while failing to provide sufficient resources to ensure student success is unfair and unethical.

Senator Luther Olsen has often said the state report cards should be used as a ‘flashlight’ and ‘not a hammer’ to demonstrate where we can best meet the needs of our students and schools.

We present these legislative report cards in the same spirit. They reflect a single snapshot: a picture of the budget votes of the elected officials who determine how much state aid is provided to our public schools. 

In 2019, Wisconsin legislators approved a budget that cut nearly $1 billion from the governor’s proposed public education budget, withholding much-needed aids for special education, mental health and English language learners, while failing to meet the much-touted goal of providing two-thirds of school funding.

Given the state’s continued refusal to provide the funding needed to close Wisconsin’s opportunity gaps, we are holding lawmakers accountable for their education votes.

The 2019 Legislative Report Cards reflect a failure to meet the expectations that were outlined clearly by the Blue Ribbon Commission on School Funding, at the budget hearings of the Joint Committee on Finance and by parents, board members, educators and school leaders statewide.

Public education should not be a partisan issue. Support for schools should not fall along party lines. We strongly encourage all who care about great public schools to take time to provide targeted support and encourage improvement from those legislators who fail to meet Wisconsin’s high expectations for supporting student success. Every child attending public school in Wisconsin deserves an equal opportunity to succeed, and our lawmakers, just as our schools, must be held accountable for making that opportunity equally accessible to all.”

About Wisconsin Public Education Network (WPEN)

Wisconsin Public Education Network is a nonpartisan grassroots coalition supporting strong public schools that provide equal opportunity for all students to thrive. The Network is a project of the Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools (WAES), a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. Contributions can be sent to: P.O. Box 6592, Monona, WI 53716. Learn more at http://www.WisconsinNetwork.org.

Contact: Heather DuBois Bourenane, Executive Director, Wisconsin Public Education Network(608) 572-1696, hdb@WisconsinNetwork.org; Dr. Julie Underwood, President of the Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools board of directors, julie.madison.wisconsin@gmail.com, (608) 469-2287



To see a large version of each report card, click on the image in the PDF files above or visit our Facebook page to view albums with Senate and Assembly Legislative Report Cards) .

How to take action:

Whether your lawmaker “failed to meet” or “exceeded” expectations, it’s your job to hold them accountable for ensuring the state meets its obligation to its children in the future.

Resources on 2019-2021 Budget Impacts:

  • Public Record of 2019-2021 Budget Votes: Senate / Assembly
  • 2019-2020 funding summary (for all schools public/private). Click here for chart showing percent increase/decrease by district. 59% of public school districts received an increase in state aid; 40% received less aid in 2019 than 2019 (Department of Public Instruction).
  • August 2019 Budget Summary from the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau. This summary reveals that that even after the Governor’s vetoes adding additional schools aids, the budget that passed into law did not meet the 2/3 funding mark or surpass inflation (this would have required a $214 per pupil increase; the final budget increased per pupil spending by $200):  
    “the Governor’s vetoes increase the net amount of funding for categorical aids by $43,104,700 GPR in 2019-20 and $22,384,500 GPR in 2020-21 compared to the enrolled bill as passed by the Legislature. Using the traditional definition, state support under Act 9 is estimated to be 65.3% in 2019-20 and 65.5% in 2020-21.”
  • Jan 2019 Legislative Fiscal Bureau memo that shows trends in state aid do not keep pace with inflation.
  • Interactive maps showing how much aid each district would receive if the special education reimbursement was restored to 60% [final budget increased reimbursement to 26% in year one, 30% in 2020, lifting a ten-year freeze on special education spending; during that decade, special education costs have increased by over 60%]. A graphic showing how much special education aid was cut from the proposed budget (by senate district) is available here.
  • Special Education Funding in Wisconsin (2019 report from nonpartisan Wisconsin Policy Forum)
  • Education Commission of the States: comparison showing Wisconsin’s funding formula (which is based on property values rather than weighted for student needs) is so out of sync with effective funding structures used in other states that is one of two states categorized as “other”.
  • National Council of State Legislatures: No Time to Lose Report
  • Blue Ribbon Commission on School Funding recommendations (2019). Despite bipartisan agreement and significant overlap with the education budget proposed by Governor Evers, the majority of “blue ribbon” recommendations that were included in the budget were removed by the Joint Finance Committee in May 2019 and not included in the passage of the final budget. Several of those recommendations have been put forward as stand alone legislation this fall, and while they passed out of committee, are not scheduled for votes into passage.

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