Wisconsin Public Schools Limited to Access Funding
Wisconsin state legislators are looking to limit school district in how often they could ask voters to pay for building project or operational expenses and would no longer be allowed to exceed revenue limits to pay for energy efficient projects under 2015 Senate Bill 355 and Assembly Bill 481. Under the proposed law, school districts would be prohibited from sending a referendum to local voters for a period of two years after a failed referendum, and would be limited to posting referendums to regularly scheduled elections. This prohibition would apply even if the proposed referendum had no connection to the failed referendum.
In the early 1990’s, Governor Tommy Thompson implemented revenue caps on Wisconsin public schools limiting how much school districts could collect in state aid and property taxes, the two main sources of school revenue. Revenue caps increased each year generally keeping with inflation, until 2009, where the cap slipped under inflation. In July, 2011, Governor Walker and the Republican legislator drastically cut revenue caps: “the budget that year cut the revenue cap by $529 per student” (Borsuk), resulting in a $834 million cut in state K-12 education spending (Hetzner and Richards). Since then, school have struggled to maintain programs, and rural schools, facing revenue caps and declining enrollments, have been impacted the most.
In response to limited school funding, many schools have turned to local voters. In 2014 alone, there were 206 referenda, a ten-year high (Beck). Since 2011, district residents have voted in referenda 380 times, approving two-thirds of them (Wisconsin Budget Project).
Bill supporters cite high Wisconsin property taxes as a reason for the bill and argue that referenda proposers should not use off-cycle election dates to promote interests.
Bill opponents respond that this bill is unnecessary as local voters have control to approve or decline referenda, and that further limits on school fundraising could be disastrous.
Implications for Wisconsin Public Schools:
An analysis by the Wisconsin Budget Project asserts forcing “districts to wait two years after a failed referendum would have reduced or delayed new resources for school children in 31 districts by nearly $200 million since 2011” (Journal Sentinel). According to Pat Greco, superintendent in Menomonee Falls, “We would be totally out of cash reserves by November…We couldn’t make payroll” (Journal Sentinel).
Research and Connection for English Language Arts/ NCTE:
When schools are faced with short resources, school district leaders are faced with impossible choices. With less money to hire teachers, class size inevitably goes up. Nationally, “Today public schools employ 250,000 fewer people than before the recession of 2008–09, while enrollment has increased by 800,000, and class sizes in many schools are at record highs” (NCTE Position: Why Class Size Matters. 2014). In 2004-05, Wisconsin ranked 18th among the states in the number of students per teacher. By 2011-12, Wisconsin’s ranking had dropped to 30th (Wisconsin Budget Project, “Fewer Teachers”), and that was before Governor Walker’s drastic cuts. Without adequate funding and without means to go over state-mandated revenues, class sizes will increase. In addition, vital funds for professional development, supported by NCTE Position: Principles of Professional Development 2006, will be curtailed. School districts are increasingly curtailing professional development as a cost-saving measure.
Beck, Molly. “GOP proposals would limit Wisconsin school district’s ability to raise revenue.” Capital Times. 27 October 2015
<http://host.madison.com/wsj/news/local/govt-and-politics/gop-proposals-would-limit-wisconsin-school-districts-ability-to-raise/article_01dfd1b8-e594-50d8-83b7-5b1d840ef632.html> Accessed 1.2.2016.
Borsuk, Alan. “The state of revenue caps and why schools are worried.” Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. 1 August 2015. <http://m.jsonline.com/news/education/the-state-of-revenue-caps-and-why-schools-are-worried-b99548250z1-320379611.html> Accessed 1.2.2016.
“Fewer Teachers, More Poverty Make Challenges for Wisconsin Schools.” Schools. Wisconsin Budget Project.” 27 August 2014. <http://www.wisconsinbudgetproject.org/fewer-teachers-more-poverty-mean-challenges-for-wisconsin-schools-2> Accessed 1.2.2016.
Hetzner, Amy and Richards, Erin. “Budget cuts $834 Million from Schools.” Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. 1 March 2011. <http://www.jsonline.com/news/statepolitics/117192683.html>. Accessed 1.2.2016.
Johnson, Annysa. “GOP bills would limit how school districts ask voters for tax increases.” Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. 1 November 2015. <http://www.jsonline.com/news/statepolitics/gop-bills-would-limit-how-school-districts-ask-voters-for-tax-increases-b99606803z1-339178381.html> Accessed 1.2.2016.
“Proposed Limits Would Make it More Difficult for Voters to Approve New Resources for Schools. Wisconsin Budget Project.” 27 October 2015. <http://www.wisconsinbudgetproject.org/proposed-limits-would-make-it-more-difficult-for-voters-to-approve-new-resources-for-schools> Accessed 1.2.2016.
Richards, Erin. “Walker budget puts Wisconsin spending per-pupil spending below national average.” Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. 15 May 2015. <http://www.jsonline.com/news/education/budget-puts-wisconsin-per-pupil-spending-below-national-average-b99500713z1-303897251.html> Accessed 1.2.2016.
“Superintendent Blasts Plan to Limit School District Referendums.” Wisconsin Public Radio. 27October 2015. <http://www.wpr.org/superintendent-blasts-plan-limit-school-district-referendums> Accessed 1.2.2016.