Saturday, May 28, 2016

WisGOP school cuts = over $600 million in added property taxes

The cost of cutting funding for K-12 education in Wisconsin continues to pile up. One of the consequences of this has been the increasing number of school referenda that have been voted on in order to go above state-mandated property tax limits. State Rep. Gordon Hintz got the state’s Legislative Fiscal Bureau to tally up the costs of these votes, and the amount might surprise you.

Hintz specifically asked for the referenda that have happened since the “dropping of the bomb” of Act 10, followed by the first Walker WisGOP budget in 2011 and its resulting cuts in K-12 school aids. Further, this was limited to operating referenda, which are used to keep the lights on and the school rooms open as opposed to building a new school or facilty. These referenda for operating costs are split up into one-time bumps (usually for an odd one-year blip with enrollment or some other odd reason) and recurring increases (which stay at that elevated level for the years following, usually because of ongoing costs).

Dollar amount of Wisconsin K-12 school referenda 2011-17
Nonrecurring referenda $472.7 million
Recurring referenda $132.1 million
TOTAL $604.8 million

And not only has the dollar amount of approved referenda increased, but the rate of approval has also gone up in the last two years, indicating that voters recognize that there are needs beyond what the current revenue limits allow.

Passage rate of Wisconsin K-12 school referenda
2011-12 school year 69.2%
2014-15 school year 74.7%
2015-16 school year 82.6%

Also worth noting is that the number of referenda tripled between 2011 and 2015, with 2016 still at a level nearly twice that of 2011, and the number of recurring referenda has also tripled in the same time period, from 4 in 2011 to 13 in 2015, and 12 in 2016. This indicates that districts have come to the conclusion that they cannot survive under the current Fitzwalkerstani school funding formula, and have no choice but to ask for property taxes to stay higher for several years in the future.

Hintz used the LFB analysis to complain about how Wisconsin Republicans have pushed the responsibility for funding schools off of the state, and it reflects in higher property tax bills in winter.
This year alone 46 school districts had non-building operating referendums on the ballot. And since 2011 when Republicans started cutting public school funding, approval rates of referendums have jumped to over 80 percent, showing that Wisconsinites recognize the deep harm to public schools if nothing is done.

“The Governor and state legislators have a constitutional obligation to adequately fund equal opportunity public education,” said Rep. Hintz. “It’s time for state government to make public schools a priority in Wisconsin. It is not fair to continue to push the cost of public school funding on to local property taxpayers.”
And there are two obvious places to start when it comes to restoring the state’s investment in K-12 public schools.

1.Repealing Walker-era giveaways like the Manufacturers and Agriculture tax cut, which has failed miserably in adding jobs for the state, and is set to cost $279 million in revenue in the fiscal year that starts on July 1. Given that those types of businesses benefit from a strong K-12 educational system through better-talented workers that emerge, shouldn’t they be asked to contribute toward keeping that talent pipeline moving?

2. Shutting off the funnel to the GOP’s allies in the school voucher and charter school lobby, which is set to receive over $271 million from taxpayers in the 2016-17 school year. , This figure includes $48 million directly taken away from Wisconsin public school districts statewide in the 2015-17 budget, from any district outside of Milwaukee and Racine that has a student attend a voucher school under the program.

If even a fraction of these kickbacks to GOP campaign contributors were taken away, it would become much more likely that school districts would not need to go to referendum, and that Wisconsinites wouldn’t have to raise their property taxes to keep their public schools open. That seems like a much better system than we have today, especially with rural counties in Wisconsin losing population and economic opportunities by the day under Walker’s reign of error. The last thing we should be doing is making it even harder to stay in certain Wisconsin communities by cutting off aid to one of the few things that unite and add value to those places- good public schools.

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