Small State Agency Writes Constitutionally-Protected Check For Libraries
By Shawn Johnson
Tuesday, April 9, 2013, 3:26pm
As state lawmakers grapple with how to fund schools in the next budget, an obscure state agency is cutting a check for $30 million to Wisconsin's school libraries.
The money comes from the Board of Commissioners of Public Lands, which gets its funding from all over the place, including revenue from unclaimed property, criminal fines, timber production on public lands, and interest from loans it makes to local schools. It's not your typical investment portfolio. Speaking at a conference where the board unveiled the $30 million payment, deputy Director Tom German said that the board has been able to make it work through some challenging times.
"If you've been watching the financial markets, long-term interest rates have fallen about 70 percent over the last five years. Short-term interest rates have fallen 99 percent. And so despite the reduction in interest rates, we've still been able to keep our interest rates up by being very selective in terms of how we invest the money."
The Board is Wisconsin's oldest state agency, established in 1848 by the state constitution. Its commissioners include - among others - state Treasurer Kurt Schuller, a Republican: "This is my third year, this is the third time the total has been over $30 million."
Also on the board is Secretary of State Doug LaFollette, a Democrat, who says that over the years, money in the fund has been coveted for other projects, "so there's always a bit of a struggle to keep people from nibbling away at that money."
Having the board's earnings designated for libraries in the Constitution has guarded against that. The board says overall the $30 million payment to school libraries is enough to put a book in the hand of every student in every district.