Wisconsin’s school funding system is failing our children, our communities, and our taxpayers. For 15 years, the quantity and quality of education have both diminished, while property taxes have risen.
Because of this unsustainable situation, property owners are under extreme pressure, communities are losing their schools, and children are being denied the future guaranteed in our state’s constitution.
Comprehensive school-funding reform is the only way to guarantee the kind of quality statewide education that will lead us into a prosperous 21st century. The Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools (WAES) will continue to be a leader of this unflagging effort.
The first step is for Wisconsin to reverse the trend of declining public school aid started by the 2009-11 state budget, and to do it now. This budget cuts state funding to our schools by $535 million. In addition, 336 school districts have lost $175 million in general aid, meaning a decrease of more than 10 percent for 181 school districts and more than 15 percent for many others.
As a result, a shocking 63% of districts in our state have had to reduce their academic course offerings. The state has backed away from its longstanding promise to fund two-thirds of education, leaving local property taxpayers struggling to keep schools afloat.
As the school funding crisis grows, we need “A Penny for Kids”
The crisis of funding in Wisconsin’s public schools is so deep and so wide that immediate legislative action is needed to just protect the education our children have now much less the education they deserve in the future.
To address that crisis, Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools (WAES) has launched “A Penny for Kids,” a campaign to raise the sales tax one-cent to help fill the gap in public school funding created by the 2009-11 budget and to try to keep the lid on property taxes. At the same time, WAES will continue to work for comprehensive reform, understanding the long-term answer to the problem is a new, sustainable funding system that recognizes the needs of children and the goal of quality education for every student.
If passed, a one-cent increase in the sales tax will raise about $850 million annually. According to the plan being worked out by WAES members, the largest portion of that revenue would be devoted to children in classrooms through increases in categorical aid. Additionally, because it would increase the state’s share of school aid “A Penny for Kids” would slow increases in property taxes expected in the wake of the most recent state budget. One example of that distribution is:
Question: What is “A Penny for Kids”?
Answer: “A Penny for Kids” is a campaign of the Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools (WAES) for a statewide one-cent per-dollar increase in the sales tax to help fund public education.
Question: Why is this necessary?
Answer: For 15 years schools in Wisconsin have struggled under a funding system that requires districts to chip away at the quality and quantity of the education of our children. The last state budget actually made things worse by cutting state aid for the first time in history. This has resulted in an acceleration of lay-offs, cuts in programs and services, and property tax increases in many districts. A new revenue source?”A Penny for Kids”?addresses that crisis, head-on, while something can still be done.
Question: So, “A Penny for Kids” will fix school funding in Wisconsin?
Answer: No, “A Penny for Kids” is intended to address the immediate crisis and buy time for Wisconsin to change the way if funds public education.
Question: How much money are we talking about?
Answer: The most recent estimates from the Legislative Fiscal Bureau say that a one-cent increase would bring in $850 million annually.
Question: Isn’t the sales tax regressive?
Answer: Yes, and that’s why the proposal sets aside about 20% of the funds for credits to be paid to low income residents.
Question: How will the rest of the money be used?
Answer: WAES has proposed the following (all figures rounded):
Question: Why target the money in this way?
Answer: By definition, a crisis needs an immediate solution. Reforming the present funding system could take years, and we need to act now. This distribution method puts the greatest amount of revenue where it can do the most good for children in the shortest amount of time.
Question: How can we be sure this new revenue goes to our children and their schools?
Answer: The only way to guarantee where the revenue goes is to pass a constitutional amendment, a process that could take four years. The other option is to write a bill that increases revenue for our classrooms and controls property taxes, pass it, and then hold our elected officials responsible for doing the right thing and not using the money for other purposes. Because we are dealing with a crisis, we cannot wait for four years.
Question: Will this decrease property taxes?
Answer: Property taxes are set by local school boards. By increasing state aid, “A Penny for Kids” will slow the growth in property taxes and might lead to local decreases.
Question: Won’t this hurt businesses and consumers?
Answer: No. Wisconsin’s sales tax has not been raised in 28 years. It is lower than all of our neighboring states and is among the lowest in the country (27th in the rate and 35th in collections as a percent of income).
Question: What about other tax reforms to fund schools?
Answer: WAES continues to work for equitable and adequate system that relies on fair and sustainable local, state, and federal taxes. “A Penny for Kids,” however, is meant to meet, head-on, the crisis.
Question: Didn’t the federal stimulus include a lot of money for education?
Answer: Yes, but about 70 percent of the education stimulus money was used to replace cuts made by the state. The remainder could only be used in specific areas to supplement existing spending. After the 2010-11 school year, it will be all gone, leaving school districts with a funding cliff and making a new source of state revenue?”A Penny for Kids”?even more important.
Question: With all the economic problems, is this a good time to increase revenue for schools?
Answer: Yes, it is. It is an investment in children and their schools that will pay off for everyone. Educated individuals are more engaged, productive, and prosperous. An educated populace builds stronger communities and attracts business.
Question: What is WAES?
Answer: WAES is a diverse, grassroots coalition of organizations and individuals that has been working since 1999 to reform school funding in Wisconsin. Members include school districts, groups of educators, civic organizations, congregations, and parent and student groups in communities all over the state.
Question: What can I do to help?
Answer: You can start by joining the thousands who have signed the petition on the website and asking your friends, co-workers, and neighbors to do the same thing. The website also has information about scheduling a presentation, letters to the editor, and contacting state officials.
To find out what else you can do to help, click here.