Bad News for Northern Wisconsin

Last week I was able to share some good news with the announcement that federal funds are coming home for a key airport in our region.  Unfortunately, the news from Madison this week is bad.  The Department of Public Instruction released estimates of general aid for school districts for the upcoming school year, and it isn’t good news for students and parents in Northern Wisconsin. 

The estimates released yesterday show that schools statewide will receive less state aid in the coming school year.  Wisconsin’s complicated school funding formula results in winners and losers, but overall, state aid for schools will decrease by just over $100,000.  However, the 40 school districts in our area will be receiving $400,000 less than they did in the recently completed ’14-’15 school year. 

This is 2 ½ times more than the total reduction across the state.  Several districts in our area will be among the hardest hit in Wisconsin if the budget passes as currently written.  Spooner, for example, would lose nearly 30% of its state aid in one year, the steepest loss for any school district in the state. 

At the same time our schools are being cut, more and more taxpayer money is being funneled to unaccountable voucher schools in other parts of the state.  Voucher schools in southern Wisconsin communities would continue to see astronomical increases in taxpayer funding, while our schools have to make due with less.  The DPI estimates didn’t even take into account additional cuts that will be made due to the increased funding going to voucher schools.  The bad news could get even worse.

I will continue to fight to restore overall support for public schools that have borne the brunt of budget cuts.  We need to change the funding formula and stop punishing rural and Northern schools.  Last session I co-authored a proposal from Superintendent Tony Evers that would dramatically improve school funding, especially for our communities.  The Superintendent’s Fair Funding plan would have increased state support for schools in our communities by 13%. 

School Districts in Northern Wisconsin are doing a great job in difficult circumstances.  A big part of the problem is that the taxes you pay are not coming back to you in the form of state investments.  The money you send to Madison is spent elsewhere.  It’s time for these our tax dollars to come back for more than just one airport.  That money should be invested in our schools, our roads, our communities and our families.

I remain hopeful that we can get the state back on the right track.  One bright spot in this week’s budget news: the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee adopted a much needed fix for the consolidated Chequamegon School District.  I want to thank Sen. Jerry Petrowski in particular for his work to ensure that we treat all consolidated school districts fairly.  As always, I welcome your input. I can be reached via phone toll-free at 1-800-469-6562 or by email at sen.bewley@legis.wi.gov.