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Report: WI Budget Fallout Could Harm Lower-Income Schools

Education accounts for one-third of general revenue spending in Wisconsin. (Adobe Stock)
Education accounts for one-third of general revenue spending in Wisconsin. (Adobe Stock)
May 7, 2020

MILWAUKEE -- If Wisconsin policymakers freeze or cut education spending amid the coronavirus budget fallout, lower-income districts might shoulder more of the burden, according to a new report from the Wisconsin Policy Forum.

The nonpartisan research group says as the governor and state lawmakers grapple with the economic mess created by the pandemic, it's hard to imagine that education spending will escape the impact.

The Forum's research director, Jason Stein, says based on Wisconsin's current school-funding formula, districts in low-income communities might see bigger drops in aid.

"Districts without a lot of property value per student get more state aid, and wealthier districts get less," he explains. "And so, you know, potentially those districts with lower property values, and typically with more under-served students, they could be hit the hardest by this."

Democratic Gov. Tony Evers recently proposed an across-the-board spending cut of 5%, which his office says would save the state $70 million. The proposal has some support from the Republican leadership in the Legislature.

Stein says there could also be some budget pain even for wealthier districts that aren't as reliant on state funding.

"Lawmakers and the governor could also adjust revenue limits that control both general school aid and local property taxes," he explains. "And if they do that, then really, the impact starts to extend across all districts."

Stein says some of the wealthier districts might also be less inclined to raise property taxes right now.

The report says Wisconsin school districts have raised their core reserve levels in recent years, but notes that wouldn't help with any longstanding gaps. The uncertainty looms large as districts prepare for the start of a new fiscal year this summer.

Mike Moen, Public News Service - WI