WILL Policy Brief | Biased Questions, Biased Answers

Getting Beyond the Rhetoric and Talking Points on School Financing

August 29, 2016 – Milwaukee, WI – The Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty has released a policy brief, authored by Dr. Will Flanders, that objectively explains the recent debate over K-12 public school funding, spurred by  Legislative Fiscal Bureau memos.

WILL Education Research Director, Dr. Will Flanders, noted, “As the election cycle winds down and the focus turns to Madison and the legislative priorities of politicians, of course it is expected that both sides are going to try to give their positions a patina of legitimacy by referencing nonpartisan state agencies. But because we are dealing with the single largest appropriation – K-12 education – in the state budget, it is imperative to ensure that the questions, context, and consequences of the information provided is, at least, wholly informed. That’s not what happened with the memo released to the public by Democrats in the state legislature. The LFB answered the question they were asked.  Democrats asked a question to get the answer they wanted.”

As is too often the case in the debate over school funding, a recent press release by Senator Jennifer Shilling tries to score political points rather than provide the full story.  Her press release blasts Republican legislators, accusing them of “priortiz[ing] tax breaks for the ultra-wealthy” over local schools and families.

While it is true that a number of districts have lost general aid since the budget prior to the passage of Act 10, there are five major problems with the claim that school districts “have seen their funding cut”:

  1. By asking for the changes in general aid since 2010-11, Senator Shilling guarantees the answers she wants. 2011 was the last year that the state received funding through the federal stimulus package, which allowed the state to put off hard financial choices temporarily.
  2. The LFB memo does not take into account declines in enrollment which affect general aid and have little to do with policy decisions by the legislature. If a district in 2015 has fewer students than in 2010—and many do—it will receive less general aid.
  3. By looking only at general aid, the LFB memo does not account for the entire per-pupil funding for each district, which shows that, on average, the per pupil revenue limit has not decreased substantially.
  4. Senator Shilling ignores the fact that the school districts which lost the most general aid have very high property tax bases. If a district has a high property tax base to student ratio, the funding formula will result in less general aid.
  5. Senator Shilling does not take into account the savings to the district resulting from the reforms in collective bargaining (“Act 10”).

The policy brief explains each problem at length and can be found here.

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