2021-23 Education Budget Analysis


While in the few months since Governor Evers released his 2021-2023 budget proposal JFC Republicans have made many substantial changes, it is important not to forget how radical the Governor’s proposals were. Here is the MacIver Institute’s complete analysis of the 2021-2023 education budget as passed by the Governor and JFC. 

The Basics of Evers’ Education Proposal

Evers’ massive spending plan would have sent more than $17.3 billion to DPI over the biennium. In base year doubled math, that’s a $1.7 billion, or 11 percent, increase over the prior budget. The agency would have hired one more position, bringing total full-time equivalent (FTE) employees at DPI to 644. 

That’s right—in a year when thousands of students left public schools in pursuit of other options, the state of Wisconsin would have sent $1.7 billion more to those schools.

The largest single line-item increase in DPI’s budget as proposed by the Governor was for special education categorical aid, which would have increased by $710 million over the biennium. That funding would have brought reimbursement rates to 45 percent in 2022 and 50 percent in 2023. The previous budget increased that fund by $96.9 million, for reimbursement rates to 26 percent in 2019 and 30 percent in 2020, which brought special education funding to $450 million.

When trying to comprehend the enormity of Evers’ request, it is important to look at the break out of funding in K12 schools. On average, only 53% of K12 spending actually makes it to instruction in the classroom.

Despite their popularity, for the second budget in a row, Evers proposed halting enrollment in Wisconsin’s popular school choice programs. Beginning in 2023, his budget would have frozen enrollment at 2022 levels in the Milwaukee, Racine, and statewide programs, as well as in the Special Needs Scholarship Program (SNSP). In addition to capping SNSP enrollment, his budget also required that new schools entering the SNSP also participate in another choice program at the same time. He also proposed eliminating the Office of Educational Opportunity, which authorizes independent charter schools when a local school board will not.

Evers’ entire budget proposal — including his education budget — was littered with equity initiatives for the state. It is clear that “equity” programs starting at the top down, without a doubt lead to these same principles being taught in the classroom. MacIver has done extensive research on instances of CRT in the classroom. While some parents are frustrated that Republicans didn’t push to ban CRT in the budget, we do need to think about the tricks Evers could play with his veto authority. Adding language that the Governor then, by way of the veto pen, can use to make the situation even worse for parents and students is worrisome for us. For example — had Republicans proposed an amendment saying “Wisconsin schools cannot teach CRT,” the Governor could have simply struck “cannot” making Critical Race Theory required curriculum in schools. 


What Evers Fails To Mention Regarding K12…


Quite noticeably absent from the Governor’s proposed budget was any mention of catching students up after the lost year of learning as a result of the pandemic. As the MacIver Institute has covered in length, students suffered through the school year and a half they were forced to be virtual. It was disappointing that as the former State Superintendent, Governor Evers did not see it necessary to invest funding into catching students up, or reward districts that worked to remain open in the 2020-2021 school year. 

There is evidence that many Wisconsin students struggled to learn with online instruction. The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI) apparently does not track the number of “F”s earned by students statewide, but a pool of data from local school districts shows academic failure rates have gone through the roof. The question the Governor chose to ignore in his budget request is how the Department of Public Instruction and school districts will help students recover from the lost year of learning and catch up academically. 

What Governor Evers and other educrats seem to conveniently leave out in their demands for more funding to schools is the fact that even though we have been pumping massive increases into education over the past four budgets, less than half the state’s students are proficient in English and Math. How can DPI continue to demand higher amounts of funding when clearly these resources are not catching students up? The MacIver Institute’s most recent School Report card shows data before the pandemic, and does not yet account for the lost year of learning incurred by students.

Additionally, the Governor’s budget failed to take into account the fact that enrollment in public schools has been decreasing over the past two decades. Data from the Department of Public Instruction shows that public school enrollment dropped by around 25,000 students from the 2019-2020 to 2020-2021 school year. To put this number in perspective, public school enrollment has dropped an average of 1,000 students a year over the past two decades. Why do we continue to invest more money in public schools, when fewer students are attending them?

Whether parents are pulling their children out of public schools as a result of schools remaining virtual, or the CRT indoctrination taking place in countless districts across the state, it’s hard to comprehend how the Governor could justify such a massive increase in funding with far fewer students to teach.

Finally, Governor Evers fails to account for the astronomical amount of federal funding that has come to the state — and specifically school districts — as a result of the COVID pandemic. Quite frankly, it is frustrating to hear so many district administrators cry poverty when such an unprecedented amount of money has flooded into the state. During the floor debate on the budget, many on the left quickly pointed out that it was “dishonest” to factor this federal funding into the K12 budget. However, Wisconsin schools have always received federal funding — never to this magnitude — and have always included this money when budgeting for the school year.



JFC Makes Positive Changes To The Governor’s Education Budget


While the Joint Finance budget still provides K12 education with more funding, they do it in a much more fiscally responsible way. 

Before the budget deliberations officially kicked off, JFC removed many of Evers’ outrageous policy proposals relating to education, including the caps on school choice, tax increases on private K12 tuition, and the provision requiring schools to teach about climate change. 

In their budget, JFC raised total K-12 spending to $15.3 billion over the next two years.  This follows a 9% increase in the previous budget, which increased spending from $14 billion to $15.2 billion. Their budget includes:

  • $109 million in additional GPR funding to Special Education, raising the state’s commitment to 30%, the “highest dollar amounts ever in state history” 
  • $17 million in additional funding for high-cost transportation 
  • $6.3 million more toward sparsity aid 
  • $12 million more to mental health categorical aid, more than double the last budget which saw a $6.5 million dollar increase 
  • $7 million in additional funding for school-based mental health grants, a $6 million increase over the last budget and matches the Governor’s original budget proposal Setting aside $350 million to maintain education funding stability in the future 
  • A guaranteed minimum of $781 per pupil to all school districts if the schools were in-person at least 50% of the 2020-2021 school year

During their debate, Republicans continued to focus on the fact that the state had received an unprecedented amount of federal aid in the last 18 months. In 2009, the last time Wisconsin was flush with a $3.7 billion dump of federal stimulus cash, former Governor Jim Doyle reduced GPR spending on K12 education by $284 million. While the state government’s commitment to K12 was reduced or dare we say “cut” by $284 million, Gov. Doyle replaced it with $789 million in one-time federal school aid. The state dollars that Doyle shifted out of K12 education were distributed out to other areas of his budget that were in the red from the economic downturn.

In their wrap-up motions, Republicans also achieved the left’s coveted “⅔ state funding of public schools.” Unlike Governor Evers’ plan, however, these funds would move through General Aids so they would not increase individual’s property taxes. A wrap-up motion also contained $400 million GPR for General School Aid funding increases satisfying the Maintenance of Effort (MOE) requirement (which was 36% of the budget spent on DPI) to secure the $2.6 billion in federal funding. Democrats have been clear that had Republicans not spent more than their original proposal for education, they would risk losing all this federal funding. The Republicans turned this back on Governor Evers: if he had vetoed the budget in its entirety, the state would not meet the MOE and could have potentially lost all this aid for schools. 

Following the bipartisan approval of the budget in the Legislature, the Governor surprisingly made few vetoes to the education section of the budget. He vetoed the creation of a grant program for Lakeland STAR Academy — a Charter school in Minocqua, funding for benchmark assessments, and changes to the high-cost transportation aid formula. 


Higher Education


The University of Wisconsin System was also set to see a massive spending increase in the Governor’s proposed budget. Overall, his plan proposed $299 million more for the UW System across the biennium, for a total of $13.24 billion, all funds in 2022 and 2023. That’s a 2.3 percent increase from current spending. Total positions at the UW would increase by 51.52 full-time equivalents, a 0.10 percent increase.

Predictably, Higher Education demanded more money in this budget. Yet they don’t acknowledge that since 2013, the System’s Program Revenue (PR) balances have continued to grow. At the close of the 2020 fiscal year, total PR balances for the system stood at $1.22 billion. Recently, these funds have shifted to the restricted fund away from the unrestricted fund. The restricted fund is made up mostly of gifts, funds, and contracts. The largest portion of the unrestricted fund is auxiliary operations, followed by tuition. While this balance dipped slightly over the past year, $1.22 billion in the slush fund is still a significant balance.

The Governor also proposed a generous increase to the UW System Capital Budget for building projects on campuses across the state. Evers’ capital budget recommends spending just over $1 billion on building projects across the system. The vast majority – $932.8 million – would be borrowed. The remaining $73 million would come from gifts.

JFC changed the Governor’s proposals concerning Higher Education. Most notably, JFC chose to end the popular tuition freeze for in-state students at UW System Schools that Governor Evers recommended extending. Governor Walker first implemented the freeze in 2013, and it has been saving students and families thousands of dollars in college tuition and loan costs since then. The freeze was set to expire, and no motion was taken up to continue it.