Dan O’Donnell debunks Democrat scare tactics and sets the record straight on education spending in the upcoming budget
June 23, 2021
Perspective by Dan O’Donnell
When I was in sixth grade, my homeroom teacher Mrs. Nelson had a bumper sticker on her desk that read “It will be a great day when our schools get all the money they need and the Air Force has to hold a bake sale to buy a bomber.”
Now Mrs. Nelson was a wonderful teacher—one of my favorites, in fact—but 11-year-olds tend to get bored in even the most engaging of classes, and I stared at that bumper sticker so long that I can still picture it today.
The quote, which is widely attributed to Robert Fulghum, the author of “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten,” was a popular way for liberals to express their frustration with America’s priorities.
Well today, Mr. Fulghum, I can confidently say that although the Air Force might not need to hold a bake sale any time soon, Wisconsin’s schools have all the money they need.
Republicans on the State Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee used $2.6 billion in federal COVID relief money to increase K-12 education spending in the upcoming biennial budget by 17% to an estimated $17.9 billion over the next two years.
That amounts to $2,159.23 per student per year just in state aid; by far a record amount since total student enrollment in Wisconsin’s K-12 schools has been steadily declining for two decades. In just the past year, enrollment declined by 3.9%. Even if total spending in the next biennium were flat, it would amount to an increase in per-pupil spending. But total spending isn’t flat; it’s up 17% to a record $17.9 billion.
With substantially more total state aid and more money per student than ever before, it would stand to reason that K-12 educators would be rejoicing. Reason, however, has never been K-12 educators’ strong suit.
“All students and staff across our state deserve better than zero,” Verona Area School District Superintendent Tremayne Clardy said during a demonstration outside the Wisconsin State Capitol on Monday. “This budget simply does not meet the needs of students and families across the state.”
If $17.9 billion amounts to zero, then one must ask: What exactly does the state need to give these students and families? A couple of Air Force bombers?
The organization of school district leaders across the state to plead poverty Monday while sitting on a veritable pile of money was but the latest in a string of dishonest and increasingly desperate scare tactics.
First Democrats claimed that Wisconsin would lose out on the $2.6 billion in federal education relief because Republicans weren’t spending enough state money. Republicans simply reallocated $647 million in property tax revenue from university and technical colleges to K-12 schools and made up the difference in university and technical college budgets with more state aid.
Then Democrats intimated that the COVID relief money could only be spent on items directly related to disease prevention (such as masks and hand sanitizer). The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction itself told the Joint Finance Committee that the money can be used for any and all “activities that are necessary to maintain the operation of and continuity of services in local educational agencies and continuing to employ existing staff of the local educational agency.”
School districts can use 100% of the $2.6 billion—including $1.4 billion in direct payments—however they need. This, on top of the $15.3 billion in state aid and billions more in property tax collections, is more than enough to educate an ever-declining number of students.
Suffice it to say schools in Wisconsin won’t have to resort to bake sales any time soon.