On August 28, 2017, the Wisconsin State Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee met and voted on the 2017-2019 State Budget. This was not the final step towards passage; the budget will next be reviewed by the full State Senate, State Assembly, and then signed by Governor Walker.
We are pleased that the public education advocacy work by Support Our Schools (SOS Wauwatosa) and similar advocacy groups across Wisconsin is paying off and making a difference. After six years of cuts, flat budgets and minimal increases, we were relieved when the Governor proposed an increase in per pupil funding of $200 for 2017-2018 and $204 for the following year. We saw this as a bare minimum and hoped for more, but recognized that it was an improvement. Fortunately, the Joint Finance Committee voted in support of that increase.
Other changes are being proposed in this budget, and we think it’s a good time to review the three main things SOS Wauwatosa has been advocating for over the past two years:
- Increase the state imposed revenue cap so districts can make decisions locally about how much money they want to spend and the types of programs they want to offer in their district.
- Increase state aid by $300 per pupil, per year, and stop efforts at the state level to place more of the costs for funding public schools onto local property taxpayers.
- Pause the statewide voucher school expansion until these schools are held to the same accountability measures as our public schools so taxpayers can be assured of their performance.
Unfortunately, this budget falls short on all three items:
- Although the low revenue adjustment under revenue limits was increased for a small number of districts, the state imposed revenue cap for most districts was not increased. It is our understanding that Senator Luther Olson and Representative Joel Kitchens are convening a committee in the coming year to review and simplify the state funding formula, increase transparency, and reduce the use of “categorical aids”; we will be following their efforts closely and will hope for significant improvements.
- Public education advocacy groups all across Wisconsin were asking for a state aid increase of $300 per pupil, per year, because we are concerned about public education. Many schools are struggling to make ends meet, and polls consistently show that the vast majority of Wisconsinites value their public schools and want to see their funding increase. According to the Wisconsin Taxpayers’ Alliance, our state recently dropped below the national average in per pupil funding; we believe this trend needs to stop.
- Instead of a pause in the statewide voucher school expansion, the Joint Finance Committee voted to increase the number of families statewide who will qualify for taxpayer-funded vouchers to send their children to private schools. Some changes were made to accountability measures (e.g. for the first time, the Department of Public Instruction will have the authority to demand background checks for staff in voucher schools), but they are still not held to the same standards as public schools. The bottom line is that we continue to be very concerned about the increasing diversion of public funds to private schools.
Moms, dads, grandparents and citizens all across Wisconsin are proud of our long tradition of quality public schools. As we’ve said before, we believe that public schools are the heart of our communities and the key to a prosperous future for our state. If ultimately passed as currently proposed, this year’s budget is a small step in the right direction, but our advocacy efforts will continue in earnest. We believe our kids deserve better.