AEF proposes that the state legislature take the following actions to achieve equity for school children and taxpayers so that all children may have an equal educational opportunity:
Provide More Equal Access to State and Local Revenue – All Wisconsin school children have an equal right to education, but a high level of dependence on local property wealth prevents equal access to state and local resources for many districts. In addition, all school districts should have an equal ability to provide buildings, equipment, supplies, staff and technology.
True tax base equalization in an equalized aid formula would mean that taxpayers anywhere in Wisconsin would pay identical tax rates for equal per pupil spending. The property tax revenue shortfall in lower tax base districts would be reimbursed directly through state aids. In such a system, any difference in tax rates would be the result of different spending levels, which reflects the willingness of local taxpayers. The result would be that every community would have equal access to state and local resources and the identical ability to sponsor educational programs.
While the higher level of state funding provided beginning in 1996-97 did increase equalization aid and reduce the property tax burden, some inequities also were increased. For example, an increase in the school levy tax credit and creation of the primary aid hold harmless disproportionately benefit wealthy, high-spending districts. All funds should be distributed to school districts through a formula which equalizes access to state and local resources.
Address Additional Student Needs – The Supreme Court standard provides that the school finance system should take into account children with special needs, those who are economically disadvantaged, and those with limited English language skills.
This can best be accomplished through creation of a pupil weighting system which reflects inflation and the appropriate level of additional costs along with any increase or decrease in the target population.
This legislative proposal is our recommendation on how the standard can best be met:
- Transfer the school property tax levy credit funds to the equalization aid formula.
- Transfer the First Dollar Credits to General Aids.
- Eliminate special adjustment aid and distribute the funds as equalized aid.
- Repeal the primary aid hold harmless provision.
- Set the school district low revenue ceiling at the average per pupil shared cost in the previous year and set the secondary cost ceiling per member at the level of the low revenue ceiling one year earlier.
- Eliminate most categorical aids and distribute the funds as equalized aid.
- Transform the categorical aid for special education to an equalized aid weighting based on state average costs for each disability and the special education services actually provided to disabled students.
- Transform the categorical aids to SAGE, P-5 and children at risk to an equalized aid weighting for all economically disadvantaged students.
- Transform the categorical aid for bilingual bicultural programs to an equalized aid weighting for all students with limited English language skills.
- Provide a separate appropriation to fund charter schools.