Republican groups are calling for the restructuring of Wisconsin’s convoluted K-12 education funding system — including additional funding for students living in poverty — as education becomes a focal point heading into the 2022 midterm elections.
The idea that low-income students need more resources to succeed has long been championed by academics, public school advocates and Democratic Gov. Tony Evers, who in 2010 proposed an overhaul of the state’s now 30-year-old school funding system. Republicans have dismissed Evers’ so-called “Fair Funding” proposal as too expensive. Instead, they have focused on distributing an equal amount of new state aid to each student regardless of background while expanding the state’s private school voucher programs.
The conservative Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty provided the Wisconsin State Journal with a new report calling for a more granular funding model for funding K-12 schools that focuses on the individual financial needs of each student, rather than each district — a concept similar to a proposal put forth by a statewide bipartisan Blue Ribbon Commission on School Funding in 2019.
I don’t think this is necessarily a conservative vs. liberal issue. If we accept that it is the role of government to fund education, then we’re talking about the how and who. Tailoring funding to the actual need of the student makes sense. In the past this would have been unachievable, but in the technical era, this is not difficult at all.
The next step is the who. Who will receive the money? If we are tailoring funding for government schools base on the students’ actual need, wouldn’t that apply to voucher funding too? But that gets the liberal nervous because if we treat students as individuals, then that moves us closer to making the money follow the kids instead of the institution. Personally, I think that’s where the focus needs to be.
WILL’s report also says it’s necessary for private voucher and public charter schools to be included in the proposed weighted funding formula.
Currently each student who receives a private school voucher gets between $8,300 and nearly $9,000. Public school districts are limited by the state to having between $10,000 and $24,000 to spend per student, depending on the district and not counting federal funds and certain other state aid programs.
Julie Underwood, a member of the blue ribbon commission and president of the liberal Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools, pushed back against WILL’s effort, calling it a Trojan horse to get more money for vouchers.