Wisconsin Network Proposes New Funding Plan

Last Updated: April 01, 2009

This article appeared in the March 2009 Rural Policy Matters.

The School Finance Network, a coalition of nine education organizations, has been presenting its plan to overhaul Wisconsin’s school finance system in a series of events across the state. The state Assembly and Senate will hear the plan as well. Among the Network’s members are the School Administrator’s Alliance, the Wisconsin Association of School Boards, Wisconsin Education Association Council, and the Wisconsin Parent Teacher Association.
The plan, which took two years to develop, proposes to increase the state’s responsibility for education funding over five years, with the goal of 69% state share. Current state share is around 50%.
Because of state funding shortfalls, Wisconsin districts have regularly passed local levy referenda and cut programs. However, the state imposes revenue caps, which have prevented many districts from keeping up with rising costs. And, many districts have held referenda to exceed the revenue caps. Further, districts in property-rich resort areas, especially in rural northern Wisconsin where year-round residents are not wealthy, have received less state support.
Under the Network’s plan, the state would increase funding for English Language Learners, students living in poverty, special needs students, and rural districts. The plan also protects the funding of districts with declining enrollment and ties state funding levels to personal income growth, not inflation.
The plan looks to the Vincent v. Voight school funding decision for its mandates. In that ruling, the court explicitly said the state must take into account districts with disproportionate numbers of disabled students, economically disadvantaged students, and students with limited English language skills. The plan calls on revenue-side revisions as well, asking legislators to close tax loopholes and to stop some exemptions.
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Read more from the March 2009 Rural Policy Matters.