Wednesday, May 22, 2019

GOP K-12 plans offer some more money, but more of the same disparities

Now that we've finished discussing what the funding options for K-12, let's talk a little about what the GOP leaders in the gerrymandered Legislature are going to counter with tomorrow in the Joint Finance Committee.

These four paragraphs from Mark Sommerhauser’s article in the Wisconsin State Journal do a good job in summing up the proposal, and its differences with what Gov Evers wants to do with K-12 funding.
Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, told the Wisconsin State Journal on Tuesday districts would get $200 per pupil in 2019-20, then an additional $200 more per pupil in 2020-21.

That approach would mirror the centerpiece of the school-funding increase in the most recent state budget that former Gov. Scott Walker signed in 2017, which translated to about a half-billion increase in state aid to districts.

It contrasts with Democratic Gov. Tony Evers’ proposal for the next budget. Evers wants to pump $611 million into general school aids through a revised state funding formula that would guarantee a basic level of funding for each student, but provide additional funding for low-income students.

The per-pupil funding stream gives districts a flat amount per student, not accounting for a district’s property-tax base.
The GOP plan goes directly against the state’s Blue Ribbon Commission on School Funding, as the Legislative Fiscal Bureau tells us in their summary of K-12 funding methods and revenue limits.
The Blue Ribbon Commission on School Funding was a bipartisan Commission consisting of sixteen members, including legislators, school administrators, and other stakeholders. The Commission developed its recommendations following public hearings and informational hearings held throughout the state. In its final report, which was published in January, 2019, the Commission recommended that the Legislature provide future increases in resources for school districts through increases in the per pupil adjustment under revenue limits rather than per pupil aid, and that any per pupil adjustment provided under revenue limits be annually indexed by inflation. The Commission also recommended that the Legislature provide future increases in state support through the general school aid formula rather than through the school levy tax credit.
The LFB had already calculated that the GOPs' proposed aid increase would be just under $494 million for the next 2 years, based on the projected K-12 student population for the next 2 years.
For example, as shown in the fifth line of Table 4, if the per pupil aid payment were set at $854 per pupil in 2019-20 and $1,058 per pupil in 2020-21 and each year thereafter (thus providing the same increase to per pupil aid as the proposed per pupil adjustments in the bill), estimated general fund expenditures would increase by $163.5 million in 2019-20 and $330.6 million in 2020-21 compared to the base. Relative to the bill, per pupil aid funding would increase by $166.9 million in 2019-20 and $335.9 million in 2020-21.

The per pupil adjustment under revenue limits and the level of per pupil aid funding provided also affect payments under the private school choice programs, the independent charter school program, and the special needs scholarship program, as well as the aid transfer amounts under the open enrollment program. Under current law, the respective per pupil payment under each of these programs in a given year increased by the per pupil revenue limit adjustment for the current year, if positive, plus the change in the amount of statewide categorical aid per pupil between the previous year and the current year, if positive. Under the bill, the change in the per pupil aid payment amount would replace the change in statewide categorical aid in the indexing mechanism. If the Committee modifies the bill with respect to the per pupil adjustment or per pupil aid, the respective payments and aid reductions for these programs would need to be adjusted as well.
Basically, that second paragraph means that WisGOP’s proposed increase in per-pupil aid is a back-door way to increase money to vouchers and charter schools. Win-win for a GOP that gets a lot of assistance from front groups for Betsy DeVos and the Bradley Foundation.

The other question with this increase in per-pupil aid is whether that extra funding will go along with an increase in a school’s revenue limit. Up until the Age of Fitzwalkerstan began in 2011, this was generally how per-pupil “aid” worked – not as money given to districts, but as a way to allow them to allocate more funds without having to go to referendum. But in the last 8 years, that’s generally not happened, and in fact, the increased money to districts hasn’t allowed for the flexibility to do much more with the funding in recent years.

Now it looks like revenue limits will at least be raised by the same amount as the per-pupil increases, if I’m reading this tweet from Wispolitics’ J.R. Ross correctly.

Those numbers match what Evers wanted in his budget, so there is some semblance of compromise in a few places. With higher revenue limits, there’s less of a chance that we’ll repeat the same cycle of “limited funding/ask for referendum” that so many Wisconsin districts have had to deal with in recent years.

On the down side, if I’m reading the reports right, it means that there will be NO increase in General school aids, as all of the increase will be in the form of per-pupil aids. That means our already-large disparities across school districts for resources will be even worse, as growing suburban districts get more of this increase, and declining enrollment districts in rural and urban areas get less of a benefit.

Former State Schools Superintendent Tony Evers was elected not only promising to increase funding to public schools, but to change our current funding system in a state that has some of the worst racial disparities in America, both in schools and other statistics. While the extra funding flexibility is nice, it’s still not close to repairing the damage that has been done to public schools over the last 8 years.

Instead, the GOPs want to continue a two-step where they claim “see, we gave more state aid for schools” while keeping the same failing funding method. Much like with some other topics this budget season, GOPs are trying to seem like they’re compromising and adding some funding, because they’ve lost the policy argument on the issue, but they’re still going to try to Evers’ hands from full effectiveness through other means.

Don’t fall for it, and don’t let your neighbors be tricked either.

1 comment:

  1. After reading into this Journal-Sentinel rundown of the WisGOP plans, I may have overstated the per-pupil increases.

    The article mentions a $500 million TOTAL increase, and if $50 mil of that is special ed, and $20 mil is mental health funding, and some other categorical aids, then it wouldn't even be a $200 per pupil increase. Also, the J-S says some of the $200-$204 revenue limit would be funded via property taxes, so that indicates the per-pupil increase is less than that.

    Then again, it doesnt sound like this thing is finalized between the 2 houses, so lots could change tomorrow.