Today, the Wisconsin Legislature\’s budget-writing committee took up the contentious issue of K-12 school funding.Â 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.Â The state sets a limitÂ ($257 for 2006-07) that school districts can increase their per-pupil spending.Â 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.Â LegislativeÂ Republicans objected to this spending increase, and offered a motion to limit the increase to $100 per pupil.Â If a school district wanted to go above that limit, they could do so by holding a referendum.Â 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.Â 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.\”Â 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.Â In 2005-06, the average shared cost (amount state and local governments spend) per pupil was $9,169.Â The 2006-07 revenue cap adjustment added $257 to that number.Â 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.Â And remember – the GOP plan increases school spending by $100 per pupil.Â However, even this small gap means millions in lost potential new revenue to school districts.Â But to say that a motion to limit the increaseÂ in school district spending is \”taking a meat axe\” to our children is entertainment at its best.
Â UPDATE:Â WisconsinEye has begun broadcasting Joint Finance proceedings.Â Senator Jauch\’s statements can be viewed here, starting at about the five minute mark.