Kids In the Classroom
Means Dollars In the Budget
Last week Friday, September 16,
2016, was the third Friday in September. This was an
important day for school district budgets throughout the
state. It was the day that all public schools in Wisconsin
conducted their pupil enrollment count for submission to the
Department of Public Instruction (DPI). The
Membership Count is the most important variable in determining a
school district’s budget.
Do not be alarmed! You may be experiencing a little déjà
vu. I wrote a similar column about this topic last year. It
is THAT important.
State Senator, I often hear that we should be spending generously
on education. I agree – and we have. (Please read my column about K-12 Funding
here). But I also know that with our current
school funding formula, more spending on education does not
necessarily translate to more money for every school district
School district budgets are determined by the Membership Count
(the number of kids) multiplied by the districts’ per pupil
revenue limit (the amount of taxes and state aid a district has
per student). The per pupil revenue limit is a state-imposed
limit based on historic data and spending. Each district is
evaluated individually, which is why there is a range in per
pupil revenue limits throughout the state. This formula has
been used in Wisconsin for about 20 years.
According to DPI, “Membership” is defined as the average of the
resident full-time equivalent (FTE) students enrolled on the
third Friday of September and second Friday of January (including
part-time attendance by home-based or private school students),
plus the summer school and foster group home FTE.
For example, if a district’s enrollment is 1,200 pupils and its
allowable revenue limit per pupil is $10,000 (approximate state
average for 2015-2016), the district’s budget is
$12,000,000. Using the same allowable revenue limit per
pupil, a district of 700 pupils would have a budget of
If a student body increases, the budget increases. If a
student body decreases, the budget decreases. As a result,
the total dollars dedicated to public education in Wisconsin are
less important than the actual number of students in the
classroom, especially in rural school districts.
I often ask school leaders to consider whether they would prefer
10 more students or $100,000 more in state aids. The answer
is always (or at least it should be) 10 more students. More
state aid does not increase the budget. More students in
the classroom does increase the budget.
This is why you will see some school districts assertively
marketing open enrollment to students in neighboring districts.
More kids in the classroom ultimately translates to more dollars
in the budget. It is one variable that a school district can most
You also see our communities working hard to grow existing businesses,
entice new employers and improve infrastructure to keep families
in rural Wisconsin. Economic development, jobs and quality of
life have a major impact on K-12 education. Economic development
efforts directly impact local school finance.
The Southwest Partners group in Richland County is a great
example of a grassroots, community effort to address these
issues. The group works hard to partner students with local
businesses for work experience and education. Many students have
recognized that there are great jobs rights in Richland County
and with education, ambition and connections, they have a future
in our rural communities. Not only does this benefit the
individual student (and future worker), it is good for the
business, the school districts, the communities, the churches and
small businesses throughout the county. Community innovation!
At this time, the full reporting for enrollment counts is not yet
available from the DPI. But as we begin budget deliberations in
2017, I will be analyzing this data further and ask that you keep
the math in mind: kids in the classroom mean dollars in the