Saturday, April 15, 2017

WisGOPs ignore voters, continue to want to hurt rural schools

After last week saw another slate of school referenda be approved by voters across Wisconsin, where the voters agreed to raise their own property taxes in order to keep their schools operating and improve/maintain their facilities, some Wisconsin GOP state legislators said "This will not do." This group from the "party of local control", led by State Sen. Duey Stroebel (R-Glenn Grothmanland), introduced several bills this week intended to limit the ability of districts to hold school referenda.
Among the provisions included in these bills include limiting when those referenda votes could happen, micro-managing how districts could pay for building projects, and even penalizing a district for having a referendum approved.
•Eliminate so-called recurring referendums for operating expenses — those that raise taxes indefinitely — and cap non-recurring referendums at five years.

•Dock a district's state aid by an amount equal to 20% of whatever it generates in an operating referendum. So, if voters approve, say, $5 million, they lose $1 million in aid.

•And provide a 50% match for district funds placed in a long-term capital improvement trust fund, so-called Fund 46, to encourage cash financing of maintenance and construction projects.
Much of this is ridiculous when applied to the real world. A large reason all of these schools are going to referendum in the first place is because of the $1 billion in cuts that WisGOPs in Madison have imposed on state aid to public K-12 schools since 2011. So WisGOP's solution to this ""problem" is more cuts in state aid to districts whose voters want to invest in their schools...which repeats the problem that led to the need for referenda in the first place (My cynical side says this is a backdoor way to cut more funding from the state, since I bet that money won't be reallocated elsewhere).

The Wisconsin Association of School Boards and other people who actually deal with day-to-day operations in schools pointed out how these restrictions would increase uncertainty and other adverse side-effects.
Public school advocates take issue with the measures. Eliminating recurring operating referendums and capping operating increases to five years, they say, would force districts into endless cycles of referendums to avoid cutting programs. Cutting state aid punishes voters for investing in schools, and funding large construction projects with cash isn't practical, they say.
The "cash requirement" for building projects is equally absurd. How many of you paid for your house in 50% cash? And how much would districts have to cut back in staff and supplies in order to meet that requirement? Stroebel's a millionaire developer in Cedarburg, he should know this concept as well as anyone.

And the people that would see their schools strangled the most by these anti-referendum bills aren't ones in heavily populated cities and suburbs, but are smaller rural districts who have had stagnant or declining enrollments, and need state aid to be able to maintain a fair level of education funding. The Wisconsin Budget Project did a great job of explaining this in a recent posting of theirs, where they illustrated that rural schools get larger benefits from the multi-year recurring revenue amendments.

And as the Budget Project explains, this situation is a bad combination of changing demographics and being on the wrong side of economies of scale.
Rural school districts may be relying on permanent referendums in an effort to address financial hardships caused by declining enrollment. Many communities in Wisconsin have fewer children than they did five or ten years ago, with some of the biggest declines occurring in counties in northern Wisconsin. To a large extent, student enrollment determines the amount of state support a school district receives as well as the amount of money the school district is allowed to raise from property taxes. But many school district costs are fixed and don’t go down when student enrollment goes down. For example, school districts face the same heating bill regardless of how many students occupy a building. Likewise, a school district may have to run the same bus routes, have the same costs for insuring its buildings, and pay the same amount to have its parking lot plowed regardless of the number of students inside the building.

Rural school districts shouldn’t need to go to referendum to avoid making deep cuts to academic programs or to services that help keep students in school. Still, passing a referendum can be an important tool for rural taxpayers who want to ensure that their school district is able to make investments in students. Taking away an important tool for rural schools will make it harder for rural families and communities to thrive.
And this reality exposes the flaw in Governor Walker's plans to send more funding to K-12 public schools. It's based on per-pupil aids, and not the state's general aid distribution forumula. This means that schools who do not grow in population lose out compared to those who do, and with overall revenue limits not changing for public schools, this does little to take care of the problem that causes many of these referenda in public schools in the first place.

This is especially true in medium-sized, smaller-town districts that don't qualify for sparsity aid, and many of the districts that had revenue-limit referenda be defeated last week fell into this category. So instead of listening to dimwits from the 262 BubbleWorld like Duey Stroebel and putting even more constraints on the state's public schools, maybe we should be working to improve Governor Walker's aid increase gimmick by moving that per-pupil money into the general aid and special education categories, which would give more aid to the schools, communities and individuals that are more in need of it.

Then again, as columnist And Milwaukee Public Schools teacher Jay Bullock noted, the ALEC Crew in the Capitol doesn't really want to improve the quality and funding of Wisconsin's public education.


  1. Remember HUAC? Boy, someone needs to put a committee together to investigate un-American activities of ALEC and its membership. These people are truly dangerous.

    1. They are truly evil, and care only about accumulating money and power, and they don't care what happens to everyone else that is outside their little oligarch club.

      If we had a Dem Party with balls, they'd make ALEC the scarlet letters that no legislator would want to be associated with. Instead, Leah Vukmir goes to a trivia night with other GOP legislators the night of the budget hearing in Milwaukee. They call themselves TEAM ALEC, and wear it with pride. Disgusting, and voters have to realize that anyone who works with ALEC doesn't give a crap about them.

  2. Amen. I don't know how we get past the conundrum of the low-information voter... but, as I've said before, I think the death of prep sports will have something to do with it.

  3. BTW I took the sweeping reelection of Tony Evers as a sign that people may be starting to smell a rat. I believe every county except the WOW goose-steppers went for Evers.

    1. Actually, even Stroebel's home area of Ozaukee County voted for Evers. Waukesha and Washington Counties further confirmed themselves as "do NOT spend money here" places.

      And I agree, the jig is up in many of these places, which is why Walker is spending all those taxpayer dollars going around the state to do disgusting photo ops in public schools.