AEF DISAPPOINTED AT A LOST OPPORTUNITY

For Immediate Release:

John Gaier, President

Wisconsin Association for Equity in Funding

jgaier@neillsville.k12.wi.us

715-743-3323

Neillsville, WI, JUNE 21, 2021

The Association for Equity in Funding was formed in 1992 to identify legislative solutions to school funding challenges. When those solutions were ignored, we sued all the way to the Wisconsin Supreme Court in a landmark case known as Vincent vs. Voight. The ruling established important criteria for school funding, especially for disadvantaged students.

Now, our legislative leaders are ignoring even their own party’s proposals from the Blue Ribbon Task Force on School Funding, co-chaired by GOP Representative Joel Kitchens! As today’s Milwaukee Journal states, “The Legislature has taken no action on those proposals, but, said Kitchens, ‘I would hope that we would still have a chance to get those done this time or in the future.’” AEF members can’t just hope anymore, we need results.

As key legislators craft a budget that does little to address the longstanding challenges in educating high-need students as well as the unfair Revenue Limits that trap unlucky children in poorly funded school districts, they have missed a huge opportunity.  AEF understands their priority for tax reductions, but to put so few new state dollars into addressing these school funding challenges, at a time when state coffers overflow, is more than disappointing, it calls for a strong response. AEF members will be weighing our options. It appears ever clearer that the time for another state-level school funding lawsuit is sadly drawing near.

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The Wisconsin Association for Equity in Funding (WAEF) is a group of Wisconsin school districts that seeks financial equity in the state system of school financing. The members include urban, suburban and rural schools. The two issues that brought this group together have been the wide differences in the amount school districts have been able to invest in the education of their children and the even wider differences in the property tax burden to pay for that investment.

The Association for Equity in Funding Has Some Questions for Elected Officials

“It’s a political staredown.” That’s how one State Capitol insider described the recent education funding proposal from Wisconsin’s Republican-Controlled Joint Finance Committee (JFC). Now we learn that Governor Evers may veto the entire budget, an action that hasn’t happened since at least 1931. Since the Governor has yet to allocate $2B in federal stimulus funds, we are told that JFC isn’t willing to budget state funds that might duplicate those efforts. One big problem: this does nothing to address longstanding inequities that harm so many students across Wisconsin. Our kids are losing. This is our democracy. Can we keep it if we endlessly block the other side to score political points?

AEF has been collaborating with noted UW-Madison Economist Andrew Rechsovsky. Yesterday, he shared this message: “I calculated the arithmetic average of per pupil revenue limits for (Fiscal year) FY 2011. The average is $10,632. For each of the next 10 years, I added to this number the legislated annual revenue limit adjustments: -$554 in FY12, $50 in FY13, $75 in FY 14, and so on. In FY21, after adding the $179 revenue limit adjustment, the average revenue limit was $10,632–the exact same value as 10 years earlier.To put this fact in perspective, over the same 10 year period, inflation (measured using the CPI) grew by 18.6 percent.” In plain English, schools are being asked to do more with less. Over a decade, while costs have gone up almost 20%, why do low revenue districts struggle to keep the lights on while other districts have enough cushion in their budgets to deal with the shortfalls?

On Monday, we honored the memory of the men and women who gave their lives for our great nation. They did so knowing that for our system of government to continue, sacrifices needed to be made. They were willing to give their lives. Are our elected officials willing to negotiate with each other to make our funding system more fair? Or, are our children just pawns in a battle over money?

At AEF we work at the grassroots level with people across the political spectrum. One thing is clear: everyone wants fairness in funding for Wisconsin’s children. One politically divided school board recently came together after learning how their district has been among the lowest funded for almost three decades. As they debated issues with a voucher school in their community, conservative and liberal board members concurred: a level playing field is a fundamental element of fairness. Why should their public school be funded lower than the rest of the state? What’s fair about a system of school finance that leaves so many behind?

The last biennial budget attempted to remedy some of the issues with school funding. Low revenue districts were given more resources, and it helped. Only later did it become clear that with an even larger influx of cash for all districts, that the inequities got worse. The districts at the top got even more revenue than those which had been languishing at the bottom of the revenue system for decades. The legislature’s own Blue Ribbon Commission on School Funding in 2019 released dozens of recommendations, few have been acted on. Why was the Blue Ribbon Commission created if their work would not be used?

In 2001, the Wisconsin Supreme Court made it clear in Vincent vs Voight, that our system of school finance must include adequate funding for students with disabilities, students from low-income homes, and students who are learning English. As AEF analyzes school revenue data and support for these three groups, it’s clear that our system has not improved, and is not reflective of the needs that districts across the state experience. How long does the legislature think we will wait for fairness? Is it time for the courts to revisit these issues?

Governing requires cooperation, not endless blockage and refusal to work with the other side. A house divided cannot stand. 

AEF Releases Funding Equity Data Dashboards

AEF is pleased to release dozens of Funding Equity Data Dashboards to highlight the unfair and unequal treatment that students in these districts have suffered under for nearly 30 years. These clear and easily-understood, 1-page documents summarize Revenue Limits along with the substantial burden of high-needs students in these districts.

Revenue Limits are limitations on the amounts of funding school districts can seek from local taxpayers after the state has provided funding to the district. Sadly, the state doesn’t provide equal amounts of funding. The state then bases the amount districts are allowed raise from local property taxes on the amount the district spent in 1993! It comes as no surprise that district spending levels were all over the map in that year, resulting in unfair and unequal revenues in districts across the state. Our dashboards go a long way to telling this sad story.

Most of a school district’s funding is limited by state law.

Our data dashboards start by showing the sources of revenue. In many cases, more than 70 cents of every dollar in school district revenue is limited by state-mandated caps. In other words, local districts don’t have the power to overcome the unfair funding by the state unless they ask local taxpayers for additional funding to overcome the lack of fair funding from the state.

Revenue limits were set in 1993!

Next, we show the 30-year history of Revenue Limits. The text box in the chart shows what can be called a “Structural Deficit.” We show either the 1-year funding deficit and/or the overall accumulation of deficits. Students in AEF member districts suffer from decades of an unequal and unfair funding system.

Funding is tied to spending…no surprise.

When districts get less funding from the state, and are limited in what they can raise from local property taxpayers, they are stuck in a bind. They simply spend less, and because of it, educational programs suffer. The 2nd page shows spending in the district compared to the state average.

The added challenge of high-needs students

AEF members are committed to doing the right thing–educating students with high needs. Students with disabilities, those from low-income homes, and English learners are more costly to educate. State and federal laws require schools to have programs to meet these needs. The problem is the funding. On top of the challenges AEF member districts face with low revenues, you add the burden of high-needs students. State and federal funding levels have never kept up with these costs. It’s also challenging when a district has a higher number of high-need students. Using a conservative estimate of an extra 40% of expenses for these students, AEF finally predicts a budget gap per student and overall for the current year, based on the number of high-needs students in the district.

It comes down to one thing: Fairness.

It’s time for the legislature to step up and fix these unfair, unequal challenges for districts across the state. Like what you see? Join AEF to help us spread this important message, and join AEF’s Call for Fair Funding. Contact your legislator today (enter your address for legislator contact information) and share your district’s Funding Equity Data Dashboard.

AEF Announces State Superintendent Candidate Forum: January 20th @ 6:30

The Association for Equity in Funding (AEF) announced plans for a State Superintendent candidate forum to be held January 20th, 2021 from 6:30-8:00 PM via Zoom.

AEF Steering Committee members will ask the candidates for their views about how to best fund schools in Wisconsin, about issues related to funding equity, and about their understanding of the state school finance system. Other questions will relate to the Blue Ribbon Funding Task Force recommendations and the impact of inequitable funding on student success. 

AEF Steering Committee Chair John Gaier expressed his excitement at the opportunity to hear from the candidates. “While the Blue Ribbon Commission on School Funding has made some important recommendations, AEF is concerned at the slow pace of adoption of those recommendations. Our new State Superintendent will have a heavy workload, collaborating with legislators and the Governor to help make our funding system more equitable and fair. Our candidate forum will be a great opportunity for our members, media, and voters to learn more about this important topic,” Gaier said.

Requests for the Zoom link can be sent to AEF Executive Director John Humphries, at johnhumphries.waef@gmail.com.

The Wisconsin Association for Equity in Funding (WAEF) is a group of Wisconsin school districts that seeks financial equity in the state system of school financing. The members include urban, suburban and rural schools. The two issues that brought this group together have been the wide differences in the amount school districts have been able to invest in the education of their children and the even wider differences in the property tax burden to pay for that investment.

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AEF Announces John Humphries Is New Executive Director

For Immediate Release:

John Gaier, President

Wisconsin Association for Equity in Funding

jgaier@neillsville.k12.wi.us

715-743-3323

AEF Announces John Humphries Is New Executive Director

Neillsville, WI, August 31, 2020

The Wisconsin Association for Equity in Funding (AEF) announced today the retention of John Humphries as Executive Director, as it prepares to launch a new phase of efforts at improving equity in state school funding.

“We are thrilled to have someone with John’s background and experience in this critical position in our organization, “said John Gaier, President of AEF. Not only was Mr. Humphries a successful District Administrator in a rural, low-revenue district, he has central office leadership experiences in urban Beloit, suburban Middleton-Cross Plains, and small rural schools from Dodgeville to La Farge to Thorp.

AEF plans to continue their work to remedy the educational inequities that result from an antiquated school funding system. “Our first order of business will be to maintain and even extend the revenue limit adjustments from the last state budget cycle” Gaier said. Revenue limits were increased from a minimum $9700 to $10,000 per student in the current biennium, a clear improvement, but one that highlighted the need for more equity. Preliminary analyses suggest that this change had a minimal impact on the overall variability of revenue amounts that districts across the state are allowed to raise through state aid and local taxes.

AEF will clearly demonstrate the impact of continuing revenue limit discrepancies, and will begin to re-examine the groups highlighted in AEF’s last major effort: the Vincent v. Voight decision in the Wisconsin Supreme Court. “Legislators should be on notice: the Vincent decision made it very clear that our State Constitution requires equity. AEF intends to tirelessly advocate for equitable funding and equitable opportunities for all children across the state.”

In addition to district office experience, Mr. Humphries brings seven years of experience at the Department of Public Instruction where he was a lead author on a 5-year administrative rule change process involving special education. Humphries was also the lead technical consultant on the settlement to a federal class action lawsuit, Jamie S v. Milwaukee Public Schools, et. al.  In his 2017 bid for State Superintendent, Humphries worked across the political aisle to rally support for school improvement. He brings critical background to the AEF at a time when school finance is taking center stage.

“I’m very excited for this opportunity to improve funding equity across the state. What was a short-term fix, Revenue Limits have turned into a decades-long error in our school funding model. As a District Administrator in a low-revenue district, I saw firsthand the inequities caused by our funding system. I will work tirelessly to ensure that voters and legislators across the state understand how this system is impacting children every day. A great education should not be related to the amount that your district spent in 1993.“

John Humphries has served on the Mount Horeb Community Foundation Board, and was President of the Wisconsin School Psychologists Association. He and his wife Kay Rhode live in Mount Horeb and have two adult sons. He can be reached at johnhumphries.waef@gmail.com, or via cell at 608-438-6109.

The Wisconsin Association for Equity in Funding (WAEF) is a group of Wisconsin school districts that seeks financial equity in the state system of school financing. Members include urban, suburban and rural schools, educating about 85,000 students across Wisconsin. The two issues that brought this group together have been the wide differences in the amount school districts have been able to invest in the education of their children (Revenue Limits) and the even wider differences in the property tax burden to pay for that investment.

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AEF Releases New Study

On April 10, AEF held a press conference at the Capitol to release it latest study. The study underscores the increasing need to address funding disparity. Previous factors that
protected certain district types against declining student outcomes due to poverty and truancy have disappeared. Specifically, the effects of poverty and truancy have become too strong to be overcome by the previous resiliency of rural and suburban districts.

The study also indicates that increased funding disparity has a greater negative effect within low poverty districts, such that state report card scores of low poverty districts with high funding disparity no longer differ from state report card scores of their counterpart median and high poverty districts with high funding disparity. These factors all point to a greater urgency to address the root causes of disparity, as well as the disparities we now know to be caused by inadequate funding of our Wisconsin public
schools.

AEF’s latest study

Learn more about your school district’s funding disparities.

AEF Press Conference Presentation

 

 

 

Evers Aims to Fully Fund Public Schools

During his inauguration speech, Governor Evers stated that his aim is to fully fund public education. WUWM reported that “Evers sought a $1.4 billion increase to education funding over the next two years. As governor, he plans to propose a similar budget.”

Michelle Langenfeld who serves as the superintendent of Green Bay Area Public Schools, is an AEF member and served on the Blue Ribbon Commission was quoted as saying: “I’ve never felt more hopeful about the investment in children, in public education in the state.”

AEF Statement on GOP Assembly School Funding Plan

The Assembly Republicans and Governor Walker have released plans that call for additional support for our PK-12 public school systems in the next biennial budget. Members of the Wisconsin Association of Equity in Funding (WAEF) applaud the change in direction from past budget decisions that included significant funding cuts and minimal increases (far below the cost of inflation) for PK-12 public schools.

WAEF members believe our lawmakers have heard the voice of the citizens of the state and have agreed that PK-12 public schools need additional funding support from Madison. We strongly endorse the Governor’s proposal to increase per student categorical funding of $200 per student in the first year and an additional increase of $204 in the second year. We encourage Governor Walker to continue to advocate for this increase and secure these funds in the final budget.

WAEF has reviewed the Assembly Republicans proposed PK-12 education funding plan, and support the effort to create greater equity by allowing low spending districts the authority to increase their revenue limit to $9,800 per student. While the increased low spending revenue cap authority is a great move to help school districts, we are concerned that this increased revenue is a shift to property owners and in many property poor school districts this would be a significant burden through large increases in the mill rates.

WAEF proposes for consideration that the Governor and legislators consider supporting a plan that would achieve the $200 and $204 increases as well as the Assembly Republican’s plan to increase the low spending revenue cap floor at $9,800 per student. Both plans could be accomplished by shifting a portion of the property tax levy credit to the school districts that are the lowest spending districts in the state. This shift could be easily done.

Both the Governor’s and the Assembly Republicans’ proposals call for increase in funding the property tax levy credit. If the Governor and the Legislature are truly committed to property tax relief, they should provide that relief to the school districts that need it the most. The property tax levy credit is the mechanism that would accomplish all the goals of the Governor as well as those in the recently released proposal of the Republican Assembly.