FILE - Wisconsin state Sen. Duey Stroebel

Wisconsin state Sen. Duey Stroebel

A recent report rips Wisconsin lawmakers for cutting taxes and opening up school choice in the state over the last decade, rather than sending more money to traditional public schools. 

But a state senator says tax cuts and providing more money for kids to learn isn't a bad thing. 

The Wisconsin Budget Project released a report at the end of January that it says shows Wisconsin's public schools are actually getting less money now than they were in 2011.

"In 2021, the state will invest less in public school districts than it did in 2011, something that has been true of every year in between as well," the Budget Project's report states. "In 2021, Wisconsin school districts will receive $75 million less in state aid than in 2011 in inflation-adjusted dollars, or 1.2% less than in 2011."

The Budget Project report claims that Wisconsin spent 38 percent of the state's general revenue on schools in 2011. The report claims that figure will drop to 31 percent in 2021. 

But those are percentages. The report doesn't talk about actual dollars spent. In 2021, the state budget will send almost $7 billion to public schools in the state. In 2011, that number was closer to $6 billion. 

The Budget Project report also ignores two factors in the amount of money public schools in Wisconsin receive, critics argue: Local tax dollars and money earmarked for school choice. 

"This analysis focuses solely on changes in state aid to public school districts, and excludes local property tax revenue as well as state aid that is withheld or deducted from school districts," the report stated. 

Sen. Duey Stroebel, R-Saukville, said those are two really important pieces of the puzzle for school funding. 

"The Wisconsin Budget Project conveniently ignores several enormous factors in their analysis of K-12 funding," Stroebel said. "Their analysis ignores the cost savings generated by Act 10 reforms, increases in local K-12 funding, and recent declines in total students due to declining enrollment."

Local taxpayers have approved more than $2 billion in local tax increases over just the past two years. Local schools are gearing up to ask for another billion-plus this spring. 

Numbers put the savings to taxpayers from Act 10 at $3.2 billion in reduced benefit costs. 

Stroebel said there is also a benefit to taxpayers by getting kids out of poor-performing public schools. 

"The success of school choice has also led more students getting a quality education outside of a traditional public school – which their analysis characterizes as a cut to K-12 education rather than a win for students and taxpayers," Stroebel said. 

The Budget Project report tries to make the case that tax cuts from Republican lawmakers have hurt public schools.

Stroebel said there is never anything wrong with giving people their money back. 

“I am proud of our efforts to cut taxes," Stroebel said. "Property taxes on a median-valued house actually decreased $88 from 2010 to 2018, all while statewide education spending increased by over $4 billion.”

The Center Square Contributor

An industry veteran with two decades of experience in media, Benjamin Yount reports on Illinois and Wisconsin statewide issues for The Center Square.