Things have taken an interesting turn in the State Capitol over the last
couple of weeks. In a public airing of differences, Governor Walker,
Senate Republicans, and Assembly Republicans have been speaking out
about how the 2017-19 budget should be written. While some see this
disagreement as a crack in the foundational relationship between the
legislative and executive branches, I know that this is a passing storm
and the dialogue and eventual compromise will lead to a better final
product for Wisconsin.
The budget committee known officially as the Joint Committee on Finance
(JFC), has been meeting since May 1st crafting the 2017-19
state budget; however, the committee has hit on impasse. JFC hasn’t yet
taken action on various boards, commissions and agencies including the
Department of Transportation (DOT) and Department of Public Instruction
Transportation and education are big issues that take up a good portion
of Wisconsin’s budget every biennium.
Earlier this year, I shed light on how transportation funding worked in
Let’s take a look at how we fund education in Wisconsin.
There are 368 K-12 school districts, 44 K-8 school districts, and 10
union high school districts – 422 school districts in total. They vary
in size from Norris School District with 39 students to the Milwaukee
Public School District with 78,173 students.
Funding for all school districts come from four major sources: state
aid, federal aid, local funding, and property tax funding. State aid and
property tax funding are the big funding mechanisms totaling 85 percent
(data from most current year available 2014-15).
The biggest portion of school funding comes
from state aid (during the 2014-15 school year, 46% of total
K-12 funding was from state aid, 43% from local property taxes, 7.5%
from federal aid, and 4.1% from local funding) and is based on an
equalization formula that provides each public school district with a
guaranteed tax base. The concept behind “equalization aid” is that
school districts that spend the same amount per pupil should have the
same tax rate, regardless of property wealth.
The state also partially funds specific programs such as special
education and pupil transportation through categorical aids. Categorical
aids are paid to districts on either a formula basis or through grants.
Federal aid comes to Wisconsin public schools through three different
channels. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, No Child Left
Behind Act, and by other sources directed towards a variety of programs.
Local funding sources are any non-property tax revenue a school district
generates. Examples of local funding sources are fees collected by a
school district, interest earned on money invested or saved, or the
money collected by charging a fee to get into a football game.
The final source of funding for Wisconsin public school districts are
property taxes. To keep property taxes down, the 1993-94 state lawmakers
passed revenue limits, also known as revenue caps on the amount of money
school districts can receive through a combination of state aid,
property taxes, and other aid. In other words, the higher a school
districts property tax rate, the lower the state aid payment. Revenue
limits were designed to control increases in the school portion of
Our property tax rates are also kept steady by the freeze passed into
law by Legislative Republicans and Governor Walker in the 2011-13 state
budget that freezes property taxes and only allows rates to increase by
the value of any new construction/growth. To increase property taxes by
more than this rate of growth, a school district must get permission from
their taxpayers by way of a referendum.
So what does all this mean? Well, take a look at the information below
about school funding from 2008-09 through the most current year
To see individual school districts results click here, scroll to a
click on the staffing finance tab, and select finance.
As you see by the data I compiled from DPI, state aid to schools is
increasing while the number of students is decreasing and total property
tax funding levels are held steady.
DPI hasn’t released a complete financial breakdown for 2015-16 or
2016-17, yet we know that in the 2015-17 State Budget over the two years we invested $13.3
billion in K-12 funding.
The Governor’s proposed 2017-19 state budget increases funding for K-12
schools to its highest level ever by funding the single largest increase
in over a decade. The proposed $648.2 million increase over the
biennium includes a $200 per student increase for the 2017-18 school
year and a $204 per student increase for 2018-19 school year.
The July 1st deadline is quickly approaching and I’m working
with my colleagues on a plan that both houses of the legislature and the
Governor can get behind. I remain committed to the Governor’s plan for
funding K-12 education. Remembering everyone wants what’s best for
Wisconsin and its citizens gives me hope that the best 2017-19 state
budget possible will be the product of everyone’s hard work.
As always, please let me know if you have any ideas on how to make our