Divided government means Wisconsin taxpayers will continue to pay for two parallel school systems.
Any bipartisan agreement in the Wisconsin Legislature will, by necessity, have a little something for everyone to like—and hate. Unfortunately, there’s something very significant to hate in a new deal between Gov. Tony Evers and legislative Republicans that reforms the outdated way state government spends your money on schools and local governments.
Wisconsinites have been paying—quite unnecessarily—for two parallel school systems, including one that disproportionately benefits wealthier households at the expense of our local public schools. The new budget agreement not only keeps intact the taxpayer-supported vouchers for private and religious schools, but many more tax dollars for each voucher.
Thanks to a record state budget surplus, lawmakers and Evers have the resources to improve how the state shares its tax revenue with cities, counties, towns, villages, and public school districts. Unfortunately, split control of state government means Republicans were not going to lift a finger to improve the shared revenue system without getting a chunk of cash for vouchers as well.
According to reporting from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, state voucher payments would increase from $8,399 to $9,500 for every elementary and middle school student, and from $9,045 to $12,000 for each high school student. This will exacerbate the inequity in state support for kids in public schools, as the new agreement only raises spending on public school students by $300 each and raises state-imposed spending limits on school districts.
The Journal Sentinel quotes public school advocates who want Evers, a former state superintendent of public instruction, to scuttle the agreement and fight for greater public school funding. An Evers spokesperson noted the deal provides “historic increases to state-imposed revenue limits and general aids for schools, and the first increase in special education funding in 10 years.”
The impending tradeoff of increased public school funding in exchange for increased voucher funding was foreshadowed once Evers won reelection last November. It doesn’t make it any less acceptable that taxpayers have to continue paying for two systems, but an Evers loss would have only accelerated the Republican war on public schools.
So long as gerrymandered maps give Republicans a disproportionately larger number of legislative seats compared to their general public support, we are stuck getting double-billed and shortchanging Wisconsin’s proud tradition of supporting free public education.
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