Why should we freeze public school aid and increase it for private ones?

Dr. Ann Buechel Haack, District Administrator, Elkhart Lake-Glenbeulah

As a school leader, I try to stay “politically neutral” whenever possible. However, the latest budget proposal Gov. Scott Walker presented needs further explanation. While on the first read, this budget may sound “education friendly,” under closer scrutiny it is not in as far as public education goes, and especially for school districts such as Elkhart Lake- Glenbeulah.

In his budget proposal, the governor calls for boosting taxpayer-funded state payments to private voucher schools by $73 million. Voucher schools serve fewer than 30,000 students. In the governor’s plan, public schools, which serve nearly 870,000 students, would get $129 million more in state general aid. Because the governor has pledged to not increase the revenue limits public school districts can set, the $129 million in state general aids will not go to schools and classrooms themselves, but to nominal property tax relief or as in ELG’s case - none at all. Also as ELG is viewed as a “property-rich” district, we have seen the maximum decrease in our state aids for the past seven school years, so it is safe to predict that this trend will continue and ELG district taxpayers will not see a benefit from this increase at all.

Private voucher schools would see their state revenue rise by 10 percent - more than $600 per pupil at the elementary level and over $1,400 per pupil at the high school level.

On the other hand, public schools such as Elkhart Lake- Glenbeulah would be allowed no increase in their revenue limits.

To put this in perspective, ELG currently receives a total in state aids per student of approximately $1,600 - almost the amount of the increase the governor is proposing to give to private voucher school students.

In a study conducted by the non-partisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau, it was shown the per-pupil allotment from general aids for voucher schools is currently $6,442. This is the amount before the proposed increase - which is currently much more in funding from the state than what the students in the ELG school district receive without the added increase!

Simply put, how can lawmakers justify freezing revenue caps for public schools while proposing to increase funding for private school vouchers?

Public schools make up more than 40 percent of the state budget. Lawmakers have more than $1.7 billion in available revenues for new spending. Surely public school children deserve more than a revenue cap freeze.

To give a historical perspective, this freeze comes on top of the drastic cut public school districts had to make in their revenue cap limit by 5.5 percent in the 2011-2013 budget. For ELG this amounted to a decrease of $547.04 per student. While ELG did utilize the “tools” put in the governor’s budget bill at that time, those increased contributions by all school staff and the $50 increase allowed in last year’s budget have recouped only slightly more than half the amount cut in 2011. If it were not for the passage of the referendum last April, ELG would be in the news like many of the other school districts in the state - either announcing drastic cuts and/or proposing referendums to maintain operational expenses.

Sotoclarifytheeffect,whilethegovernorisproposinga1percent increase ($129 million) in state aids for public schools, none of it would go to educating children. The governor’s proposal will make it very difficult for the Elkhart Lake-Glenbeulah School District and for other public schools across the state to accomplish their mission of providing the best education possible.

What can be done?

School administrators and boards across the state are working with their local state representatives and senators to share their concerns over the lack of funding for public schools and the use of tax dollars for voucher schools. If you have concerns, you may also make contacts. Any resident of Wisconsin can find out who their state representative and state senator are by going to the following website and simply typing in their own residential address: http://Iegis.wisconsin.gov/Pages/ waml.aspx.

As I mentioned, ELG currently is not as affected by this budget as greatly as other districts as we are currently in year one of a three- year referendum. However, unless things change at the state level, we will be facing the same difficult financial challenges in two years that other districts are currently facing.

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