State Sen. Kathleen Vinehout
Op Ed

New Approach to Funding Schools Needed

Blue Ribbon Commission studying the many problems with current approach.

By - Dec 18th, 2017 03:14 pm
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Rufus King. Photo by Christopher Hillard.

Rufus King. Photo by Christopher Hillard.

“It’s important, every so many years, we take a good look at how we fund schools,” said Senator Luther Olsen (R-Ripon). “How do we … make sure our schools have what they need for the next 20 to 50 years.”

Co-chairs Senator Olsen and Representative Joel Kitchens (R-Sturgeon Bay) recently convened a Blue Ribbon Commission on School Funding. I serve as the only Senate Democrat on the new Commission.

Wisconsin has seen studies to change the way our schools are funded come and go throughout the years. The co-chairs emphasized they did not want the work of the Commission to sit “on a shelf and collect dust.” The impression that the Commission existed only as an election-year “talking point” was clearly on the minds of some members.

As I mentioned in the hearing, I’ve long been an advocate for changing Wisconsin’s approach to funding schools. We pay for schools, largely, with a combination of property tax and state aid. Schools are paid on a per-pupil basis.

Many school funding problems come from demographic changes happening in our state. Shifting patterns in our population affect schools. For example, Wisconsin has more children living in poverty today, than ten years ago. Rural areas have seen a decline in students.

Not all students have the same needs. Different school districts have different costs. These needs are not adequately reflected in the funding formula.

To add to problems, the fallout from Act 10 and the criticizing of public school teachers had a profound effect on our schools. Teachers left or retired. Fewer college students are going into education. School districts have trouble filling vacancies. Standards for teachers were lowered. Morale is low. Student opportunities were diminished. Cuts in state aid forced taxpayers to pass referenda and raise property taxes just to keep their schools running.

Of the two major problems with our school funding, the first is the level of state aid.
Despite increases in the recently-passed budget, schools haven’t recovered from the massive cuts to state aid in 2011. In real dollars, public schools will be getting less in the next two years than a decade ago.

The second problem with how we pay for schools, is the state aid formula itself.

At the heart of the problem is the economic disconnect between district revenues and district costs. Revenues assume education is a constant cost activity. In other words, you get so many dollars for every student.

Education, however, is not a constant cost activity. Schools have high fixed costs and low marginal costs. Fixed costs are those bills that are the same regardless of how many students attend the school. For example, keeping the building heated or the lights on are costs that don’t change much even as the number of students change. As time passes, this disconnect between the way the state pays for schools and the way the schools incur costs, causes a lot of problems. Difficulties are particularly acute for districts with declining enrollments.

We need to move toward an “adequacy formula” that takes into account fixed costs, recognizes that some students cost more to educate than others, and recognizes that school districts in different situations face different costs.

We also need to reduce our reliance on the property tax to fund schools. The cornerstone of school funding should be state aid.

We must address today’s school funding problems. But we must also plan for how we educate our children of tomorrow.

For too long, rules, regulations and testing requirements stifled the creativity, excitement and challenge of teaching. Our state spends so much time and money on testing and evaluating, that teachers don’t have the time to teach or the resources and energy to try innovative approaches. We need a different plan to meet the needs of tomorrow.

Our children and our schools are our future. A lost opportunity for a child is often forever lost.

Since the formula was first enacted, our demographics have changed and our economy has changed. Tinkering around edges is not enough.

State Sen. Kathleen Vinehout, D-Alma, is a member of the Wisconsin state Senate.

Categories: Education, Op-Ed, Politics

9 thoughts on “Op Ed: New Approach to Funding Schools Needed”

  1. Terry says:

    Hey Walker and Republicans! Why not listen to what the people actually want for once? What a novel idea!

    A strong bipartisan majority in the state believe we should legalize, tax and regulate the thriving billion dollar a year cannabis market in Wisconsin. Shut down the drug cartels operating with impunity in the state. Allocate the 60-90 million in new annual reoccuring tax revenue to funding education and infrastructure. Problem solved. But to do so, first we need to Dump Walker and all republicans in 2018! Then we shall legalize cannabis and fix our roads and schools!

  2. WashCoRepub says:

    I’m glad Terry posts here on nearly every story. It makes a stronger argument for what addictive ‘drug obsession’ does to your brain & your life than I ever could.

  3. Terry says:

    @WashCoRepub… said the anonymous alcoholic pill popping hypocrite! Keep chugging that beer and killing your brain cells genius!
    The fact IS, ending prohibition has proven to be a very viable funding source for schools and roads in many states. Do you care to comment on that or just hurl specious insults? BTW, I can assure you I have been far more successful than you in life and I have a higher IQ AND I am better looking! So there! How’s that for insipid ad hominem attacks?
    The reality is, from being an “addict” I am actually a lifelong athlete, marathon runner, former Cat 1 cyclist and I just finished Nordic skiing 30k up north, where poverty, hopelessness, prescription drug addiction, alcoholism, obesity and morons like you abound. Why do I post? Because I am sick and tired of drooling half-wits like you running things in this state and equally as sick of you and your ignorant hate filled republican brethren ruining millions of good, loving, caring people’s lives over this beautiful healing herb. That’s why. Deal with it or take a hike.

    DUMP WALKER 2018!! LEGALIZE CANNABIS!!

  4. Mike says:

    More state aid less property tax to fund schools is the right place to initiate the change. Use tax on the sale of alcohol, tobacco, firearms and legalized marijuana and legalized gambling to increase the state aid to schools
    Enact a statewide teacher’s staring pay of $45,000/year. Give teachers a 50% reduction in their student loan debt if they attended college in the state of Wisconsin. Enact energy efficiency policies for all districts. Use a needs added approach for the formula to districts with a high percentage of children in poverty and special needs.
    Learning should drive testing. It has become testing driving learning. Forget Choice and voucher schools.
    Establish a flat rate for property tax that applies to individuals and corporations.

  5. Terry says:

    Great comment Mike! Unlike WashCoRepug, who, like most republicans have no constructive comments, no ideas, no solutions, nothing to offer at all except baseless personal attacks and insults. What’s your solution to school funding WashCoRepub? Besides defunding and shutting them all down of course. Anything, anything, Bueller, Bueller… Nothing. Oh well, I guess the republicans are saying reefer makes you “obsessive” now, not “apathetic” anymore huh? But that was your go to lie for decades y’all! Maybe you should flush those pills, pour out that rot gut liquor and burn one for inspiration?

  6. Terry says:

    I am glad you post here too WaCoRepub. It shows the whole world you and other republicans have have nothing to offer to the conversation except baseless ad hominem attacks and anonymous insults. Do yiu have a better solution to school funding? Beside gutting their funding like Walker of course. Crickets, crickets…typical republican.

    Dump Walker 2018!!

  7. Wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    Nothing ever changers. Educrats want more money fro salaries, bennies and nothing changes.
    Since 1970 we have increased spending on schools tenfold, for far fewer kids and the results are worse. So, speaking for the voters in this state; “put up or Shut up”.
    Here is our proposition.
    Fix the schools, teach kids to read, make things better, then we give you more money.
    You already have the most in the world.
    Our problem is not money it is quality and leadership.
    When only 15% of the third graders at MPS can read you need to show us results first
    Bust Up MPS and fix the other 12 districts. Show us you can do something, stop whining.

  8. MKE Kid says:

    I have friends and family who live in rural areas of WI. The public schools are increasingly underfunded by WI, which results in schools getting closed, kids having to quit sports and other extracurricular activities, and longer commutes to schools not within their communities. Local communities are unable to fund their schools. It’s not just MPS.

    WCD says “fix the schools.” How?

  9. Terry says:

    MKE Kid, yes sadly that is 100% true. Honestly the only people holding up the economy in Northern WI is rich liberal Democrats from Minneapolis, Chicago or Madison who vacation here. The schools are a total shambles, sold out by Walker and the Republicans. Don’t bother asking lying WCD, WashCoRepug or any other Republican for actual solutions. They have no ideas, no solutions. All they know how to do is cry, whine, complain and blame others and when that fails they start insulting, name calling and making ad hominem attacks.

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