Monday, October 7, 2019

4K bill goes beyond good outcomes. It accomodates Wisconsin's low-birth/growth demographics

Last week, there was a rare joint hearing of the Education Committees for both the State Senate and the State Assembly. The topic? Making it much easier for school districts to offer 4K for young children. Not only in letting more kids get in, but also in giving schools more funding to do so.
A bill proposed at the state capitol would change how students enrolled in 4K are counted by a school district for purposes of state aid and revenue limits.

Currently, state law counts a 4K student as a 0.5 pupil, unless the program provides at least 87.5 additional hours of outreach materials. Under the bill, if a program requires full-day attendance for five days a week, a student in the program is counted as a full pupil.

Another bill would also change the age in which a child could attend 4K. Currently children can attend if the child is a four-year-old on Sept. 1 of the year they would enter school. The bill would allow children to enter 4K if they are of age on Sept 1 or will be four-years-old on Dec. 31 in the school year they would enter school.
Lot to unpack with this one.

First of all, allowing schools to fully count 4K students would mean more students would be “enrolled” in school districts. The Department of Public Instruction says this would likely raise the amount of total money that a school could use, either with property taxes or state aids, which factors into the combined revenue limit for a district.
With respect to a school district’s revenue limit, counting 4K pupils enrolled in a full-day/full-week program as 1.0 FTE would increase the district’s revenue limit membership compared to current law; each 4K pupil would count for 0.4 to 0.5 FTE more, under the bill, compared to current law. Additional revenue limit membership generally results in a higher revenue limit for a school district, as revenue limit membership is a major driver of each districts’ revenue limit. However, the revenue limit calculation utilizes a three-year rolling average (3YRA) for membership; thus, the impact of this bill for districts already operating a full-day/full-week 4k program would first be fully realized in the third year of implementation, the 2022-23 school year.
But the amount of aid from the state would still be dependent on how much is budgeted, so theoretically keeping the amount of aid the same while enrollment increases would drop the amount of state aid per student.

A sidelight is that demographics may blunt any decline per student or need to increase K-12 funding to handle more kids in 4K, as Wisconsin is having the lowest number of births in more 40 years. So fewer kids in those age ranges will be coming along in the next few years.

In addition, the WisContext site notes that we are already seeing a decline in K-12 public school enrollment, so the lower birth rate should mean the decline. Ironically, the only thing not making the decline worse is that many Wisconsin districts have added 4K in its present, half-day form over the last decade-plus.
Over the past 13 years, the enrollment decline in grades 4K-12 was 2%, while grades K-12 dropped by 5%. Elementary and middle school enrollment has fallen by 2%, while the greatest decline has occurred at the high school level, with more than a 10% decline in grades 9-12. The only group to see an enrollment increase since 2006 was grade 4K, which grew by 113%.

The following chart shows the percent change in statewide public school enrollment by grade grouping (4K, K-5, 6-8 and 9-12) since the 2006-07 school year.

If you look at these charts that the WisContext site put together using information from the UW Applied Population Lab, you can look toward the bottom where the proportion of people under 20 in the state significantly shrunk between 2000, 2010 and 2020.

So there is an incentive for schools to put more kids into 4K and to have them go all day, as it will make it easier for them maintain funding in a time when school enrollments keep going down. Also, a lot of Wisconsin parents will probably appreciate having an opportunity to place their kids in a school and pay a whole lot less than they might in a formal child care program (for example, Madison’s current half-day 4K costs parents a total of $40 for materials).

Of course, the flip side is that expanding 4K will endanger private child care providers, particularly in less-populated areas that likely need all of the attendance for these programs that they can to stay afloat. You’d have to think there is some kind of ripple effect that hits those businesses, especially if there is no expansion of aids that make child care more cost-effective for parents to use.

Interestingly, Governor Evers proposed a new tax credit for child care expenses in his first budget that would have resulted in a tax cut for parents of nearly $10 million. But Republicans on Joint Finance removed it. Interestingly, the Republicans had no problem keeping a write-off for private school tuition that Evers wanted to get rid of, which is more than twice as expensive. Take from that what you will.

So what's a relatively straightforward bill to expand 4K is something that would lead to a number of effects. And given the less-than-favorable demographics for Wisconsin, it's something that not only is seems to work well from an outcome standpoint, but also is coming at a time when state government can likely most afford the expansion of such a program.

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