school funding

Increasing Funding for Voucher and Charter Schools Comes at a Big Cost

Kathleen Vinehout

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

New estimate by LFB shows funding parity price tag is over $100M

ALMA, WI - For many years, voucher and charter school advocates sought funding parity while rural schools struggle to stay open. Senator Kathleen Vinehout (D-Alma) responded to a new analysis done by the Legislative Fiscal Bureau pegging the parity price tag at over $100M.


Senator Kathleen Vinehout commented, “I cannot sit idly by while voucher and charter school advocates ask for more money when my rural public schools can barely afford the basics.”


“Taking $100 million away from 867,000 public school students for 42,000 private voucher and charter school students is foolish,” said Senator Vinehout. “For the last three budgets, Republicans have given handouts to private voucher and charter schools at the expense of public schools. Legislators must not continue this trend with the new budget.”

School Funding: It’s about More than Money

Kathleen Vinehout
Senator Kathleen Vinehout
“Public education in Wisconsin should provide high quality learning for ALL children no matter who they are or where they live,” Eau Claire School Board President Chris Hambuch-Boyle recently told me.
Chris and education leaders across the state read with interest details of the Governor’s plan for our next state budget. Governor Walker gave money to a number of new initiatives and reaped the praise of some education leaders.
The plan picks and chooses among various proposals advanced over the last few years. Some new programs are funded and some existing programs get more money. The plan is a compromise.
However – as with any political compromise – we should know what is not included and what is not being done.

School Budget Proposal Brings Needed Relief

Kathleen Vinehout
Senator Kathleen Vinehout
“Over the past four years, we have seen an increased reliance on referenda to keep the lights on,” State Superintendent Tony Evers announced as he released his school budget proposal.
“Around the state, local communities took the lead on funding reform through the ballot box, but the state has to be a good partner and do our share to help small town schools.”
Indeed. This year, Wisconsinites passed a record number of school referenda.
In the recent election, 82% of school referenda passed. Over the last four years, citizens in more than half of Wisconsin’s school districts voted to raise their property taxes to pay for schools.
Why? Because state spending for public schools this year is less than it was eight years ago, according to the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau. This does not include public spending for the variety of private school options.

Local Referenda Replace the Lack of State Education Funds

Kathleen Vinehout
Senator Kathleen Vinehout
From Arrowhead to West Salem, voters across the state are considering the future of their school districts when they go to the polls. Citizens in 46 districts will be asked to approve referenda.
Some questions relate to the building of new facilities. However, 46% of this year’s referenda are for the on-going expenses of operating local schools.
I received many calls about school funding, property taxes and the problems underlying the questions voters face on the ballot.

Residents Question Public School Money Going to Private Schools

Kathleen Vinehout
Senator Kathleen Vinehout
“I am paying for private schools with my taxes?” the women from Pepin asked following my presentation at a recent Town Hall meeting. “Yes, you are,” I told her.
Residents were surprised at the sharp increase in the state spending on private schools – nearly a doubling in seven years. At the same time, Pepin School District lost nearly half of its state support. With less state money, property taxes made up a larger share of school support.
Wisconsin has funded private schools in Milwaukee by taking money from local public schools for a long time.
With passage of the last state budget, private and independent charter schools in southeast Wisconsin cost state tax coffers $645 million.

School Funding Hits Home

Kathleen Vinehout
School Funding Hits Home
Senator Kathleen Vinehout
What’s wrong with school funding? Explaining this to voters is difficult. Try explaining it to a ninth grader who is losing a favorite teacher. The teacher is not retiring. At 53 and after teaching for 29 years, he lost his job.
Recently I spent a day teaching high school students about school funding and the state budget. Later that day I presented similar material to staff and school board members. I learned much more than the students did during my day as teacher.
Prescott considers itself a suburb of Saint Paul. Only 20 minutes away, folks go to church, shop, and read the newspaper from the Twin Cities. Few hear news from Madison.
However, Wisconsin’s convoluted school funding formula is now the topic of conversation.
Prescott school district lost a referendum in February. Voters will soon decide another – the 27th referenda in just 15 years!

When the going gets tough - Kathy Bernier walks out

Kathy Bernier

While at Monday's Breakfast with our Legislators meeting, Rep. Kathy Bernier was angered by board members who are frustrated with the current funding formula and budget for state schools. She walked out of the meeting after the suggestion was made that Minnesota is doing a better job of this than Wisconsin.

“We’re here to sit around and talk about challenges and suggestions, and I’ve yet to come away with a viable suggestion from those meetings (with Altoona, Chippewa Falls and Eau Claire),” Bernier said.

Fixing School Funding One Step at a Time

“We don’t have the money to do school funding reform,” goes conventional wisdom around the Capitol. It costs money to fix the funding formula and money is in very short supply.


Given the state’s fiscal condition, many considered any reform of school funding impossible. But in our Senate District schools simply can’t wait.


Last spring Representative Chris Danou and I introduced the Rural Schools Initiative. Our initiative bit off a piece of the School Finance Network’s school funding reforms. Our plan focused on addressing needs of rural school districts and those with declining enrollment.


We laid out three steps the Legislature could take: soften the loss of state aid resulting from enrollment decreases by spreading the impact over two years; provide targeted assistance to small but necessary schools through Sparsity Aid and provide additional support for districts transporting students 12 miles or more.


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