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Report: Wisconsin School Spending ‘Adequate’ And ‘Equitable’

Researchers Call For Transparent, Understandable Funding System

Students and a teacher in a classroom
Alvin Trusty (CC-BY-NC)

Wisconsin’s school funding system is doing better than other states. That’s according to a recently released Wisconsin Policy Forum report that ranks the state 16th in adequate spending and ninth in fair distribution, based on data from 2014.

The “School finance: Here vs. Elsewhere,” report from the public policy think tank comes out more than a month after the first meeting of a bipartisan legislative commission to examine school funding. Wisconsin schools get funding from a combination of state, federal, and local aid.

The Blue Ribbon Commission on School Funding will gather information and draft a plan to update the state’s school funding system. The commission hopes to complete the plan by the next state budget in 2019.

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Wisconsin Policy Forum research director Dale Knapp said it’s important for the Legislature to take a step back and examine the state’s funding model prior to changes.

“There may be flaws in our system,” Knapp said. “There may be things that we need to fix, but essentially, let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater. Compared to everyone else, our system looks pretty good.”

The report also calls for simplifying the current school funding system. Knapp said when voters go to the polls they’re making decisions about school funding, and it needs to be more understandable.

Rep. Joel Kitchens, R-Sturgeon Bay, co-chairs the legislative commission. He agreed simplifying the funding system should be a priority.

“Especially when you have school districts going to referendums, it’s pretty difficult for, you know, citizens to understand whether they need more money when the formula is so complex,” Kitchens said. “I really think that there are very few people in the state that completely understand the funding formula.”

Wisconsin Policy Forum drafted the report from Education Week’s annual figures to compare the state to others.

Knapp said his organization doesn’t have any plans to speak before the commission, but he hopes this report will serve as a contribution.

The Blue Ribbon Commission will have its next public hearing on Friday, Feb. 2 at the James Madison Academic Campus in Milwaukee.