Christian Schneider

Author, Columnist

School Funding Hyperbole

Today, the Wisconsin Legislature\’s budget-writing committee took up the contentious issue of K-12 school funding.  School funding is the single largest appropriation the state makes, eating up nearly half of all state general purpose expenditures.

One of the most contentious elements of the school finance formula is the level at which the state allows local school districts to increase spending on a per pupil basis.  The state sets a limit ($257 for 2006-07) that school districts can increase their per-pupil spending.  Then the state fills in some of that increase with state aids, and the remainder is made up through increased property taxes.

Under Governor Doyle\’s proposed budget, the revenue cap was set to increase $264 in 2007-08 and $270 in 08-09.  Legislative Republicans objected to this spending increase, and offered a motion to limit the increase to $100 per pupil.  If a school district wanted to go above that limit, they could do so by holding a referendum.  This approach would save the state money, but would reduce the increase school districts received.

Naturally, Democrats on the Joint Finance committee took exception to the motion.  Democratic Senator Bob Jauch said, \”I have a hard time understanding the Republican compulsion to take a meat axe to the children of this state.\”  Committee Co-Chair Russ Decker said the proposal was like \”putting a gun to the head of public education and to students.\”

Given this hyperbole, it\’s instructive to look at how different the two plans actually are.  In 2005-06, the average shared cost (amount state and local governments spend) per pupil was $9,169.  The 2006-07 revenue cap adjustment added $257 to that number.  That would then be the per-pupil baseline for the upcoming budget.

Below is a chart of total proposed per-pupil spending in 2007-08 under the Doyle plan and under the Republican Joint Finance motion:

When put in context with total per-pupil spending, you can see the gap isn\’t really all that large.  And remember – the GOP plan increases school spending by $100 per pupil.  However, even this small gap means millions in lost potential new revenue to school districts.  But to say that a motion to limit the increase in school district spending is \”taking a meat axe\” to our children is entertainment at its best.

 UPDATE:  WisconsinEye has begun broadcasting Joint Finance proceedings.  Senator Jauch\’s statements can be viewed here, starting at about the five minute mark.


  1. Fun with graphs.

    A graph that showed the GOP proposed revenue cap increase as less than half of the Governor’s would be just as accurate.

    Graphs showing the difference between the Governor’s proposal, the GOP proposal and the real “cost to continue” budgets of school districts would reveal the budgeting realities of districts around the state.

    A graph that compared the proposed revenue limit increases with the 3.8% increase under the QEO would give a fuller picture.

    Graphs that included the dollar or percentage figures for anticipated increases in “fixed costs” such as fuel would also give a fuller picture.

    A graph accounting for inflation would be informative.

    Graphs showing the progamatic cuts that districts around the state have been making for the last decade in order to live under the caps would capture more about what the current system is doing to education in our state.

    But when the reality doesn’t support your position you look for something that is true but hides that reality. Congratualtions on finding it. Congratualtions also on insulting your readers by thinking they are two dense to see what you have done.

  2. “Congratualtions also on insulting your readers by thinking they are two dense to see what you have done.”

    Shouldn’t you congratualt Mr. Mertz, two?

  3. I guess typos aren’t allowed. Well, if that’s the best you’ve got to counter what I posted you are welcome to the cheap shots.

  4. The typos caught my eye because of the context, sort of like misspellings on a picket sign in a teachers’ strike.

    As to your comment, there’s nothing to counter. His original post is about how limiting an increase gets portrayed as a cut, and your comment does just that six different ways.

  5. No, the post was about portraying a decrease of $170 (or 85%) in the revenue cap increases as insignificant. My response (typos and all) suggested other ways of graphing school finance that would be less deceptive.

  6. As to whose graphs are deceptive, I refer anyone interested to Chapter 5 of “How to Lie with Statistics” (1954) by Darrell Huff.

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