Fed’s help points out
fatal flaws in state funding formula
The federal government, in order to keep kids in classrooms
and learning during the economic downturn, just sent $179
million to Wisconsin, the Badger State’s share of the
Education Jobs Fund’s $10 billion.
It was up to the state to distribute these desperately needed
resources to the state’s 424 school districts, and Governor
Jim Doyle decided to use the equalization formula.
There is no doubt the added resources are desperately needed.
The only question is “how did we do” in making
sure it helped kids. Well, let’s see.
On a per-student basis, Oconomowoc got $459.79 per student,
Bonduel got $238.18, New Berlin got $160.60, Beloit got $96.85,
Chequamegon got $1.71, Turtle Lake got $.58, Elcho got $.07,
and Gibraltar got a penny. Apparently, we didn’t do
so well (for a complete list of the per-student allocation
of the Education Jobs Fund,
I don’t know about you, but for me that is pretty much
the definition of “it didn’t work.” So,
the question now is, “What happened?”
The answer is quite simple. If you are part of the school-funding
reform effort, you probably didn’t even ask. Putting
money into the state’s equalization formula-as the sole
means of funding public education-is like putting money on
a roulette wheel: “Where she stops, and how much aid
you get, nobody knows.”
For years, WAES has talked about school-funding reform that
links revenue to what we want kids to know and do and to their
needs and the needs of their communities. For example, one
of those needs is poverty.
The equalization formula-without additional categorical aid-doesn’t
recognize that children from poor families need additional
resources, as stated by the Wisconsin Supreme Court. Because
some districts with a great deal of poverty (for example,
lakes districts throughout northern Wisconsin) are also extremely
property wealthy, the equalization formula doesn’t see,
much less understand, the difference.
So, when Wisconsin ran its $179 million from the
Education Job’s Fund through the state
equalization formula, Crivitz got $360, Birchwood got $42,
Minocqua got $28, Green Lake got $15, and Phelps got $7-those
figures, remember, are for the entire district.
If Wisconsin had used the Title I funding formula-a formula
devised to address poverty-the
roughly comparable distribution would have
been $174,911 for Crivitz, $57,558 for Birchwood, $137,078
for Minocqua, $39,442 for Green Lake, and $41,103 for Phelps.
Could the Governor have done a better job of allocating the
federal funds? Maybe, maybe not. Did some districts get “more
than their fair share” of the federal funds? Again,
maybe, maybe not.
That really isn’t the point. The point is that Wisconsin’s
school-funding system doesn’t work-it isn’t fair
to all children, plain and simple. Our schools and children
shouldn’t suffer because of the state Legislature’s
failure to address the crisis.
So, what can we do?
First, and this is a long shot, the Legislature can come
back into session and consider a better way to distribute
Jobs Fund resources. The equalization model,
used alone, has definite drawbacks. Title I funding, aimed
at kids from poverty, isn’t perfect. Perhaps if we use
the equalization formula and categorical aids together to
reach specific students, all of Wisconsin’s public school
teachers could stay in the classroom and kids could keep learning.
Second, maybe the stark and complete failure of Wisconsin’s
equalization system to meet the needs of all children will
be tipping point for reform. Over the last decade, more and
more lawmakers have paid lip service to reform. On the campaign
trail over the next few months, hopefully, they will run out
of excuses and promise to get the job done. Of course, it
will be up to you to hold
their feet to the fire and hold them accountable.
Finally-and most important to children, their schools and
communities, and taxpayers-we need to continue working for
and pressuring legislators and candidates to support “A
Penny for Kids,” a one-cent increase
in Wisconsin’s sales tax that would be the boost to
revenue that is needed, in this short-term economic downturn,
to really keep kids in the classroom and learning.
MPS would have got more with Title I formula
Not all schools are sure about spending federal money
Door County districts "shortchanged" by federal