Monday, February 6, 2017

K-12 school aid bump is nice- but watch the shell game

Well, this was a somewhat surprising headline to see over the weekend: [Governor] Walker wants $649 million boost to K-12 education. Sure, that figure includes some of the differences in sparsity aid for small rural schools that was announced last week (I discussed that plan here), but it’s quite a change of course for a guy who’s consistently cut and hampered K-12 public schools throughout his 6 years in office (someone’s been reading poll data!).

This weekend’s article by Michelle Stocker in the Capital Times explained how the largest chunk of this increase would work.
Walker’s proposal almost meets the full amount state Superintendent Tony Evers had included in his budget request, though it would divvy up the money differently.

Evers called for putting an additional $514.2 million into the general school aid formula, which distributes state dollars based on a district’s property tax base. Poorer districts benefit more than wealthy ones under that approach.

Walker is calling for $509.2 million to be pumped into a categorical aid that was created to give districts a flat per-pupil aid payment that is not based on a district’s wealth.

The current budget included a $250 per-pupil payment in 2016-17, which amounted to $210.7 million, according to the guv’s office (note, this is a bit misleading as 2016-17 actually is a “double-payment” of per-pupil aids for 2015-16 and 2016-17 being made after July 1, 2016, in order to make the 2015-16 budget balance. The actual per-pupil aid designated for the 2016-17 is around $126 million).

Walker is calling for an increase of $200 per student in the first year of the budget and an additional $204 in 2018-19. That would mean the per-pupil payment would hit $654 in the second year of the budget.
So let’s talk about how per-pupil aid works, going from the Legislative Fiscal Bureau’s Informational Paper on K-12 public school aids.
A sum sufficient per pupil aid appropriation was established in 2013 Act 20. Each school district receives a statutorily-specified, flat per pupil aid payment, outside of revenue limits, from this appropriation. Under [the 2015-17 state budget], each district receives a $250 per pupil payment in 2016-17 and each year thereafter. A district's current three-year rolling average pupil count under revenue limits is used to calculate the aid payment.
The fact that this is outside of revenue limits is helpful, because it means this increase in per-pupil aid can be invested in the classroom, into teacher salaries, or into any other needs the school deems necessary. That means that the extra money can do more than merely serve as a lowering of property taxes, with nothing going into the schools (as other “increases” to public education have been in the Age of Fitzwalkerstan).

However, if you’re in a district with stagnant or declining enrollment, this doesn’t help you as much, because if enrollment falls, you don’t see as much of a benefit to the per-pupil aid increase. And if your district is property-poor, then the lack of increase in general school aids leaves your community further behind as well. Combine that with the fact that any school with more than 1,000 enrollees gets no help from the bump in sparsity aid, and it becomes certain that some schools will lose ground in funding compared to others in Walker’s 2017-19 budget. It’s even possible that they still may be in worse shape in 2 years, even with the per-pupil increase.

Then there’s this double-whammy. If you’re a mid-to-large size school and you start losing students to the voucher program (which will undoubtably be expanded in this budget), then not only are you not gaining general aids, but you will lose a portion of that aid for every kid that heads off to a voucher school.

So yes, more money for public schools is nice, and a welcome change from recent years. But it’s a cynical pre-election move that doesn’t come close to fixing the damage that was caused by Walker/WisGOP policies in the 6 years before, and the flaws in the current funding flow. It also seems probable that there will still be districts that will end up worse off in 2 years than the already-declining state that they are in now, and I’m thinking Walker and the WisGOPs won’t be able to sell a line of “we’re investing in public schools” in 2018 in those places.

And the last thing I’ll add is that adding this amount of money to K-12 over the next 2 years would eat up a large amount of the cushion that was provided by the last month’s upwardly revised revenue estimates from the LFB – revenues that I am very skeptical will ever be reached. In addition, many other state agencies submitted “zero-increase” budgets that won’t come close to keeping up with inflation and/or added needs over the next 2 years, so do those areas get neglected?

Then add in the $880-$900 million deficit in the Transportation Fund (which ISN’T covered by those higher General Fund revenues), and it indicates to me that there are going to be some serious shell games and “hoped-for” savings thrown into Governor Walker’s budget when it’s released on Wednesday. Let’s keep our eyes peeled for them.

1 comment:

  1. No worries, Jake. The Trump Boom will cover all our needs.

    Maybe Tony Evers can take a hundred million or so and invest in silver? Under $18 an ounce today . . .

    Wait for the Trump Dump and cash out around $50?

    It's about the only way I see Wisconsin Public schools getting anything close to $500 million.