Officials from the Department of Public Instruction are trying to update the state’s school aid formula.
Education information services director John Johnson says the current system is wildly out of date and needs reform. “The state aid formula was started literally in 1945, decades ago, as a way to equalize property value across the state. It’s very reflective of the property wealth of the district, and not of the actual income of the people who live there.” Under the current system, the formula looks at the valuation of the district’s property, enrollment numbers, and how much the district got in aid last year.
That means areas like central Wisconsin and the Northwoods where there is a lot of waterfront and vacation properties are valuated higher than is normal for the income levels of the district, which lowers their state aid. “What’s happened is the state aid formula has not been updated for for decades to really reflect what people make and what people’s incomes are in an area, as opposed to the property wealth of the area.” Johnson says that’s partly an effect of the boom time before the Great Recession as well as the changing district enrollment levels.
DPI has been attempting to pass a new formula in their last two budgets to no avail. The new formula would use an income based approach to the calculations. “It’s pretty complicated the way it runs right now and there’s a better way to do this. And the better way is proposed in our last two budgets, and it’s our hope that it goes some place this time.” Johnson says they’re also hoping to raise the revenue cap on districts to allow them to properly raise the funds for their schools without having to go to referendum to pay for structural deficits.
Johnson is hoping that elected officials will make sure that education funding is covered as they come up for campaigns this fall. “It is the biggest thing the state does, resource wise, is educating kids, and that’s probably something that should be discussed in elections.”