The Assembly is currently considering AB900—a bill that would “decouple” public school spending from spending on the voucher and independent charter school programs. While the concept likely sounds quite confusing, it’s actually relatively straightforward, and will benefit public schools, taxpayers, and choice schools as well. We’ll explain how below.
Currently, when a student leaves for the state’s school choice programs and some independent charters, state aid to school districts is reduced to make up for the cost to the state of that student. This loss of state aid is allowed to be made up for with a revenue limit adjustment that raises property taxes in the district. AB900 would change this. School districts would no longer see their aid reduced for the cost of the voucher or charter students, leading to a property tax cut and access to more state aid. Instead, choice and charter schools would be funded by the state. In addition, the bill includes a provision for school districts to recoup 25% of the revenue limit authority they used to receive for voucher students—leading to additional revenue per pupil for the vast majority of districts in the state.
We have included an attachment that shows what the bill would result in for every district. This comes from a memo produced by the Legislative Fiscal Bureau. To help with understanding, consider the example from Green Bay reproduced below:
By no longer having aid reduced for voucher and independent charter students, Green Bay’s revenue limit would be reduced by $12,091,893 (Column F). However, allows the district to keep the same amount of state aid (Column G). No longer counting students in the voucher program as enrolled leaders to a decline in the revenue limit authority of the district (Column H) and the decline in property taxes for the district is $4,903,105 (Column J), matched by an increase in state aid (Column L).
The additional revenue for the district from the 25% increase is $1,225,776 (Column K). The only column that really matters is column N, which shows that the district will net $1,225,776 in additional revenue from the changes in this bill.
Only those districts with no choice or independent charter schools would see no change—and no district would have less total revenue. This change would also provide more stability for school districts as they look towards their budget for the next school year. No longer will they have to wait for voucher and charter enrollment counts from their district to finalize their spending.
Even after allowing school districts the 25% bump in revenue limit authority, this bill would represent a substantial tax cut for most Wisconsin families. In total statewide, property taxes would decrease by nearly $220 million dollars. Districts with larger numbers of choice and charter students would see larger cuts. For instance, Racine with a substantial school choice enrollment would see a property tax reduction of over $16 million.
No other state with a school choice program funds it in the manner that Wisconsin does. This leads to substantial negative attention as public schools complain about the impact of the voucher program on property taxes. Decoupling would allow for a better working relationship between voucher, charter, and public schools as the notion of a competition for resources would be reduced. Moreover, this change would simplify the funding system and lessen the ability for either side to muddy the waters about the impact of choice spending on public schools.
When Governor Evers was Superintendent of Public Instruction, he noted in an interview with PBS Wisconsin that “(vouchers) are a state program. If we’re going to have vouchers, it should be paid for by the state.” We agree with the Governor’s assessment. Decoupling is already being achieved in some sectors. The Milwaukee Parental Choice Program has been decoupling over time for several years, and will be fully decoupled by next year. Some independent charter schools have also already achieved decoupling. There is little reason not to complete the process for other forms of school choice in the state.
Legislative Fiscal Bureau Memo on Decoupling
To learn more, check out this LFB Memo!