Saturday, February 11, 2017

Walker K-12 increase leaves smaller, poorer districts further behind

While the headlines try to give plaudits to Governor Walker's pre- 2018 election call for $649 million in additional K-12 funding from the state in the 2017-19 budget, once you dig into and digest the details behind the increase, you realize it's not all it's cracked up to be. A couple of good articles this week from public school advocates in the state showcased the flaws in Walker's proposal, and ways that we can make it better.

State Senator Kathleen Vinehout noted this week that Walker's plan to use per-pupil aid instead of general K-12 aids as the source of the increase is a tactic that gives an advantage to places that already have plenty of advantages.
Since 1973, governors have supported sending money for schools through the equalized aid formula. The policy of both parties was to see that every Wisconsin child had the same benefit of equal opportunity for a sound education.

[Eau Claire School] Board President [Chris] Hambuch-Boyle expressed concerns that the Governor’s plan “Makes the inequity worse. Under the guise of ‘here’s some more money’ he extends the inequity.”

Consequently, children in property-rich schools have a better opportunity than children living in a property-poor district. School districts across state would be better served if the additional dollars recommended by the Governor were distributed through an improved equalized aid formula. Children would be better served if school leaders knew they could count on a steady partnership from the state.
The good people at the Wisconsin Budget Project make a similar point, and have put numbers behind Vinehout's and Hambuch-Boyle's observations. As you can see, it's the districts in Wisconsin with the least amount of low-income students that will do better under Walker's K-12 funding plan than the districts that are filled with children that most are in need of help from a high-quality K-12 education provides.

Now throw in the fact that Walker's property tax relief plans also are slated to give bigger benefits to richer homeowners than poorer ones, and that it'll be paid for by state subsidies that have no extra tax dollars paying for them, which will squeeze resources for added investments in future years. That tells me there's a lot that is in need of repair when it comes to schools and property taxes in this 2017-19 budget, and that needs to be mentioned constantly over the next 4-5 months.

So sure, Gov Walker's call for more K-12 funding is a nice starting point, and it beats the cuts we've seen in prior years. But it can and should be improved on by targeting the aid to the districts and parts of the state that really need the additional help, which are the mid-size, small-city districts that aren't eligible for the boost in either sparsity aid, and aren't having their school enrollments grow enough to get a sizable increase from the added per-pupil funding (the kids taught by my friend in Mauston comes immediately to mind). Instead, Walker's plan gives more money to the already-rich districts in the GOP burbs around Milwaukee and Green Bay (perhaps as a way to offset the anger from aid losses due to new voucher schools in the area?), and makes the gap between haves and have-nots grow ever larger in Wisconsin, which is the last thing we should be doing when it comes to public education in this state.

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