Frequently Asked Questions
Q) What is “Fair Funding for Our Future”?
Fair Funding for Our Future is the name given to State Superintendent Tony Evers’s school finance reform plan. The plan addresses some of the most critical problems with the current school funding system and proposes changes to help to ensure the quality of our schools, protect taxpayers, and provide a greater level of transparency by assuring state aid for schools goes directly to schools.
This plan is realistic and ready, providing solutions that are good education and public policy, as well as politically viable. It is a powerful first step that makes long overdue changes to the funding formula, maximizes existing resources, and sets the stage for greater state support in future years.
Q) Why are changes needed to the way in which we fund our schools?
Across our state, schools are struggling. Many have been forced to lay off staff and cut programs. Others are struggling to determine how to address aging facilities and how to ensure that students receive the quality education they need for success in the future. To be sure, the tradition of excellence in Wisconsin education is at risk.
There are many reasons why the current school funding system simply does not work for our schools and students:
- Revenue limits have required many districts to increase class sizes, reduce programming, etc.
- There is no minimum funding per student in Wisconsin, and dozens of districts get little or no general school aid.
- The current system counts the School Levy Tax Credit as “state support for schools”, when none of those dollars go directly to schools.
- The current system relies only on property wealth, without accounting for income as a factor in communities' ability to pay for schools--thus districts with high property values but low per capita income fare poorly.
- We no longer have a predictable system of funding our schools that districts can count on.
Q) How does the “Fair Funding” plan address these problems?
The plan reforms Wisconsin’s school funding system by:
- Guaranteeing a minimum amount of state funding for every student ($3,000), providing vital resources to the school districts that currently receive little or no state aid;
- Incorporating a poverty factor into the formula (20%), accounting for families’ ability to pay—not just their property value;
- Making technical formula changes that strengthen rural, declining enrollment and negatively aided districts by increasing the secondary cost ceiling and hold harmless level;
- Restoring revenue limit authority (+$200-204 per pupil) to all districts, providing a modest increase in school spending while protecting taxpayers; and
- Increasing transparency by redirecting the school levy and first dollar tax credit so all state aid goes right to school boards.
Q) Which school districts would receive funding under the plan? Would this reduce the amount of money that my district receives?
Under the Fair Funding for Our Future plan, all school districts would see an increase in their state general equalization aid.
Q) But this plan would move the School Levy Tax Credit (SLTC) into general school aids. Won’t those communities that currently benefit from the credit lose under this plan?
When the impact of moving the SLTC is taken into account, all districts would see increased or the same amount of total state aid (general aids and levy credits) for schools. Under the plan, 94% of school districts would see an increase in total state aid, and the remaining 6% would receive the same amount through a hold harmless provision in the plan.
Most districts in communities that currently benefit more from the SLTC than the state’s general equalization aid formula would be positively impacted by the Fair Funding reforms, particularly the minimum aid per student and the income weighting component. For those districts that may still be negatively impacted, the plan includes a hold harmless provision, so no Wisconsin school district would receive less total state aid (general aid and levy credits) than it does now.
Q) Will taxes increase?
This plan holds the line on property taxes. In the first year of the plan, gross statewide school property taxes are estimated to decrease by more than 18% – more than when the state instituted the two-thirds funding commitment in the 1990s. In net terms (i.e. when the impact of the SLTC is considered), net statewide school property taxes are estimated to be held at 0%.
Q) How can the state superintendent ask for an increase in state aid right now?
Budgeting is about establishing priorities. Local communities understand that and have been stepping up to fund their schools through referenda. But our state must meet its obligation as well. It is extremely important for Wisconsin to have highly educated students prepared to compete on the world stage. In this way, ensuring that our state has quality public schools is more critical than simply a matter of ensuring that the Wisconsin public school tradition continues. It is a matter of guaranteeing our future economic success.
Q) How would this impact spending caps (i.e. revenue limits)?
Next year, under state law, districts will not be allowed any per student increase under revenue limits. The state superintendent’s plan will provide increases of $200 per student in the 2017-18 school year and $204 per student in 2018-19. These efforts would provide districts with a modest increase in their spending, while helping to hold the line on property taxes across the state.
Q) Does use of School Levy Tax Credit dollars in the formula include both the regular School Levy Tax Credit and the First Dollar Credit, thus eliminating both programs?
Under this plan, the School Levy Tax Credit and the First Dollar Credit would be included as state general equalization aid to schools in 2018-19.
Q) Are categorical aids being affected?
The plan includes increased funding in our highest need areas:
- Special Education (including High Cost and Transition Grants)
- High Cost Special Education
- Bilingual/Bicultural Education
- School Breakfast
- Sparsity Aid
- Transportation (including Open Enrollment Transportation)
- Gifted and Talented
- School Library Aids
- Tribal Language Revitalization Grants
The plan establishes the following new categorical aids:
- Mental Health Aid-request $3 million for social workers providing mental health services.
- Mental Health Collaboration Grants-request $2.5 million to create a competitive grant program.
- Supplemental Bilingual-Bicultural Aid: provide $100 per student to all school districts educating English Language Learner (ELL) students, not just those required to have programs.
- Targeted ELL Grants: provide $100 per ELL student whose proficiency is classified at levels
- High-Cost Transportation: Target state resources to geographically large rural districts whose transportation costs exceed 150% of the state average.
- Dual Language Start-Up Grants: create a $750,000 competitive grant program to support dual-language start-up programs.
- ESL/Bilingual Capacity Building Grants-request $750,000 to increase ESL teacher capacity.
- Rural Teacher Grants-request $5.5 million to provide $750 per teacher in sparsity districts.
- Special Education Transition Readiness Grants-request $1.5 million to create new program.