Today, the top Democrats in the State Assembly released another memo from the Legislative Fiscal Bureau that shows small school districts have been the ones most affected by the cuts to public education that have been a central part of Scott Walker and the WisGOP Legislature’s budgets since 2011. To do so, the LFB was asked to compare the 2010-11 general aid payments to the ones for 2015-16, and it also compared the changes that hit the 1/3 of Wisconsin districts which receive sparsity aid (which started in 2008-09, and goes to districts with small enrollments and low population density) with the other 2/3rds of districts.
Change in general aids 2010-11 vs 2015-16
All Wisconsin districts -4.3%
Schools w/o sparsity aid -3.7%
Schools with sparsity aid -13.5%
And even if you include the sparsity aid into these figures ($14.95 millon in 2010-11, $17.67 million in 2015-16), this means the sparsity aid districts still have lost 12.0% of their funding from the state- over 3 times the rate of losses of larger school districts.
These huge aid reductions are a double-whammy for these often-remote districts, as many have smaller property tax bases to try to make up the difference for these state aid cuts, and are more likely to lack the resources to compete for talent with districts with more community amenities.
In a rarity for Wisconsin Dems, Rep. Shankland accompanied these facts with solid, concise messaging that nailed the problems caused by the current GOP funding scheme.
“There is no denying that our state’s rural school districts face significant challenges,” said Rep. Shankland. “What isn’t helping our rural communities is the fact that Republicans have had over five years to invest at a reasonable level in rural schools and improve the state’s school funding formula so it will work for our rural communities. Instead, we've seen Republican legislators massively expand the private voucher program, taking hundreds of millions of tax dollars away from our public schools over the next decade.”Even more than urban places, rural communities rely on high-quality public education to maintain their quality of life, and there is little else tying those communities together. This bond has been broken under GOP control of Wisconsin, leading to less state funding, less resources for rural schools, and higher property taxes.
Shankland concluded, “Our rural districts are at a breaking point. They’ve pinched all the pennies they can. Rural school districts cannot continue to rely on band-aid programs that come and go with each state budget as they figure out how they’re going to keep their doors open for the children of their community. It's time to commit to sustainable funding for our public schools and ensure our children have the best opportunities to succeed in life.
In order for Wisconsin’s small towns to avoid becoming Appalachian-style dead-end places in permanent decline, they need to kick out the many GOP legislators that claim to represent “small-town values”, but are actually destroying them through their defunding and disrespect for public schools. The numbers released by the LFB show the damage, and with the current WisGOP crew promising to pursue educational “zones of innovation” in the next budget (aka expanding on the privatization and defunding of public education), the only way to change our direction is to change the legislators.