K-12 Spending Continues to Balloon Despite Declining Enrollment

From Senator Duey Stroebel.

The largest portion of our property tax dollars go to support for our K-12 educational systems.  According to the Wisconsin Legislative Fiscal Bureau, K-12 spending has seen an increase of $4 billion since 2013.  This $4 billion figure does not even count debt service payments for referendums passed in the same time.

How is this massive K-12 spending increase possible while local property taxes statewide remained flat?  It’s because of state appropriations that “back filled” (or reduced) local property taxes.

In total, the Legislature appropriated $4.25 billion in local property tax relief from the 2014 fiscal year through the budget ending in June of 2019.  That’s right — money all Wisconsinites paid, predominantly in income tax, has been used to back fill local property taxes statewide.  To put that sum into perspective, those funds could have been used to lower income taxes from our current four tax brackets topping at 7.65% to only two income tax brackets of 4% and 5.5%.  Viewed another way, if that money were pooled into our current budget, we could cover all funds for the entire two year commitment for these departments: Corrections, Natural Resources, Justice, and all of our appellate courts.

The billions of dollars in state level spending was necessary to keep local property taxes statewide flat despite the 13.1% increased spending by local K-12 school districts from 2013 to June of 2019.  Interestingly, during this same period, statewide student enrollment declined 0.8%.