Boots & Sabers

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0650, 08 Jun 21

Republicans increase school spending again

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online and in print. Here’s a part:

According to data from the Department of Public Instruction and the published state budget documents, the proposed spending on K-12 education for the 2022-2023 school year is $1.4 billion more than it was in the 2015-2016 school year when Republicans controlled the legislative and executive branches. That is an increase of 26% over just four budgets.


On a per-pupil basis, the increases are even more stark. For years there has been a steady decline in student enrollment driven by demographic trends. In the 2015-2016 school year there were 867,137 public school students in Wisconsin. This year, there are 826,935 public school students. That is a decline of over 40,000 public school students, but taxpayer spending continues to climb. On a per-student basis, state funding of K-12 education has increased by 32% since the 2015-2016 school year.


Throughout that entire period where state taxpayer spending on K-12 education increased by 26% as enrollment was dropping, Republicans controlled both houses of the state Legislature. For the first two budgets, Wisconsin also had a Republican governor. The fact is that Republicans have lavished the taxpayers’ money on the government education at every opportunity. Even though Democrats always want to spend more, the Republicans have been anything but stingy with education funding.


0650, 08 June 2021


  1. Mar

    When you say that student enrollment has dropped by 41,000, then spending should also drop is a false argument.
    In reality, there are about 2,200 public schools in Wisconsin and then you usually have a minimum of 13 grades.
    So, in reality, you are talking about 1-2 kids a classroom.
    So, where do you cut based on student enrollment?
    Yes, funding should be cut but don’t base it on enrollment.

  2. dad29

    Mar, the point is that the per-pupil spend is UP by nearly 1/3rd. That’s simply insane. I suspect that most taxpayers could understand per-pupil increasing at the rate of inflation, but that’s not 33%.

  3. Mar

    Oh, I understand that and you know it’s not for school supplies.

  4. dad29

    FYI, the inflation from 1/1/2015 through 1/1/2021 was ten percent (!!) according to US D of Commerce calculator.

  5. Owen

    Mar, I disagree for two reasons. First, the decrease is not uniform across districts or grade levels. Some districts have seen significant decreases. Some are seeing increases.

    Second, the vast majority of school costs are labor. They are variable costs. While a losing a couple of students doesn’t impact costs, at some point it does. When the 200 kids in 3rd grade become 190 kids, you can run 9 classrooms with 21 kids instead of 10 with 20. And all fixed costs become variable with time, so eventually you have excess space and can close buildings. In the West Bend School District, they could close one of their 5 elementary schools today and have sufficient capacity. They have said as much and it has been that way for a few years. But that school is still open. Why? Because they can afford to keep it open. Until the money dries up, they will spend it and claim that it is “needed.”

    Only in government education are we told with a straight face that demand can decline by almost 5% yet spending needs to go up by 30%. The fact is that school leaders will always find a reason the spend the money if it is there.

  6. Mar

    While West Bend might an outlier, most school districts are not that way.
    Milwaukee might be another one.
    But the fact remains that most school districts have stable school populations.
    Now, when you add on increased school costs, like gas for transportation, lack of school employees I support positions, that money extra will soon run out.
    And as I has said before, there is plenty to cut, but 9 out 10 times, it’s not going to be by student population.

  7. Mar

    Might add,there are certain sustained costs. You will need the teachers, bus drivers, bus aides, kitchen help etc.
    You can probably get rid of teacher teachers. Many administrators.
    But I don’t think, in most cases, that you can cut just on enrollment figures. And there are exceptions.

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