55 School Funding Referendums Approved
Across the state local voters support record level of new resources for schools.
This year, voters in Wisconsin voluntarily raised property taxes on themselves by a record amount to pay for additional investments in local schools. The increase could signal a growing frustration with the strict limits on school district budgets that have been imposed by state lawmakers.
The state limits the average amount each school district may spend to educate students, but voters in a district can override the spending limit by approving a referendum lifting the spending caps and raising their property taxes. Voters also determine via referendum whether to allow a school district to issue debt for big capital projects, such as building a new school.
Given the budget constraints imposed by the state, school districts have been increasingly likely to ask voters to approve new resources – and voters are increasingly likely to approve them. On Tuesday, voters approved 55 of the 67 school funding referendums on the ballot (82%), and over the course of 2016 they have approved a record level of new resources for education, including:
- $317 million in increases in per-student spending that expire after a certain number of years;
- $51 million in increases in per-student spending that continue indefinitely; and
- $1.4 billion in new borrowing for building and facilities construction or improvements.
These totals represent a significant increase from past years. For example, the amount approved in 2016 for increases in revenue limits that continue indefinitely was more than the amount approved in 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015 – combined. And the amount of new borrowing that voters approved this year is more than the amount approved in 2013, 2014, and 2015, all combined. (The increase in the dollar amount for non-recurring referendums was less dramatic.)
Last session, some lawmakers tried to limit the opportunities voters had to approve new resources for schools. Their efforts weren’t successful, but it’s possible the proposal may come up for consideration again in next year’s legislative session. The record levels of new resources approved by voters in 2016 show that making it more difficult for school districts to go to referendum would have the effect of thwarting the will of Wisconsin voters.