School funding needs evaluation to ensure fairness
Iím a professor and father of three, so itís no surprise to most folks that I believe education is a critical responsibility for Wisconsin. Ensuring that our children receive a good education is the foundation for our economy, our democracy, indeed our future as a society.
Recently, Wisconsin enacted the 2009-11 state budget, which is a primary source of funding for schools across the Badger State. Along with my colleagues, I fought to protect public education while tackling a record $6.6 billion deficit brought on by the national economic downturn and the reckless speculation of Wall Street profiteers.
State legislators were faced with difficult decisions. While every aspect of state government received significant cuts, I fought hard to ensure that we limited cuts to education because it is so vital to guarantee effective public instruction for our children. Most state agency budgets received 5.13 percent cuts, but K-12 education funding was cut only 3.1 percent.
Now some of my friends on the other side of the aisle are trying to rewrite the history of the last 14 years. In the early 1990s, revenue limits were adopted to determine the amount schools could levy from local property taxes. These limits locked school-based funding at 1993 levels and allowed school boards to increase property taxes from that base number a certain amount annually.
The School Funding Formula was also established to account for differences in school districtsí abilities to raise money from local property taxes. The formula is primarily influenced by factors the Legislature does not control, including student enrollment and property values. Generally, this means districts with lower property values receive increased state aid, while districts with higher property values receive less aid. Similarly, districts with declining enrollment receive less aid, while districts with increasing enrollment receive more. The formula also maintained the statutory 15 percent limit in cuts that any individual district could sustain.
Many folks I talk to express concerns regarding how these cuts will affect the quality of education and about whether school boards will raise their property taxes during the tough economy to make up for lost revenue.
I have faith that our school boards will be able to work out their budgets like they always do and make responsible decisions based on their resources. Moreover, any increases in spending above state-approved levels must be approved by our community through referendum.
My colleagues and I have worked very hard to protect schools from larger cuts. I believe whatís needed in this situation is reform of the current funding formula so districts can better predict their year-to-year funding.
This wonít be an easy task and will require extensive dialogue before any resolution. As a member of the Assembly Education Committee, I will work closely with members of both parties to ensure fair reform.
Rep. Kim Hixson, D-Whitewater, represents Wisconsinís 43rd Assembly District. He can be reached by phone at (608) 266-9650, by regular mail at P.O. Box 8952, Madison, WI 53708, or via e-mail at Rep.Hixson@legis.wi.gov.
Aid to districts
According to the Department of Public Instruction, these are the latest figures regarding how the formula will affect the general aid available to school districts in the 43rd Assembly District:
--Beloit Turner: 4.5 percent increase.
--Edgerton: 10 percent decrease.
--Milton: 2.3 percent decrease
--Parkview: 4.5 percent decrease.
--Whitewater: 6.9 percent decrease.