March 8, 2024 at 2:05 p.m.

School District State Fundingv

Dear Editor, 

In looking at past Dodgeville Chronicles, I came upon your (Pat Reilly) Opinion statement in the February 1, 2024 Chronicle that dealt with the need for the state legislature to help school districts with their state funding issues.  As you know, most of a school district's funding comes from the tax payers and aides from the state with another small amount from federal sources. In 2003, the state legislature passed a new state funding formula that established revenue caps on funds to be received from the state and the local property taxes, and established a formula for distributing state education funds to each district. They also established that a referendum would have to take place in a district that wanted to exceed the revenue cap determined  for each district according to a formula established by the state. This is referred to as a referendum to increase operational funds. The other situation that needed to go to referendum was referred to as a building referendum. Over the 20 years that school districts have been living under the 1993 revenue limits and school state aide formula, costs to run school districts have significantly increased, and facility needs have occurred. This has greatly increased the need for school districts to cut staff, increase class sizes, decrease course offerings, reduce staff involved in dealing with student mental health, cuts in the arts programs and cuts in several other areas in the attempt to meet the revenue caps. It has also impacted the ability of the district to provide staff with improved compensation and benefits. When districts can't do any more cutting  on the aforementioned costs, they are forced to go to a referendum for operational costs.  If thy have facility needs, they have to go to a  building referendum. If the operational funds referendum does not pass, the next step is to close one or more schools or close the district.

Over the past several years the present system of funding school districts has made it very difficult to maintain a quality school district , and many more school districts have had to turn to referendums for operational costs. Because of this difficulty, many school districts, have had  to go to the public and ask for more funds through a referendum, and they have continued to cut programs and reduce quality of programs to keep alive. The present system of funding school districts is broken.  The only way the situation can be improved is for the state legislature to make changes in the law.  Over the past several years, pressure has been put on the legislature to make changes. This pressure has come from the school boards, school administrators, teachers and other groups looking for a quality education for all students. All of these groups have provided input to the Wisconsin State Department of Public Instruction who puts together a biennium budget that is submitted to the legislature's Joint Finance Committee.  That proposal has included a system of improving the school district funding and changing and improving the funding formula.  The WDPI's proposal, has never gotten through the Joint Finance Committee as part of the budget proposal that they the Joint Finance Committee submits to the legislature.  The Joint Finance Committee  has extreme power as they control what ideas go to the legislature and receive study and open hearings.  Senator Howard Marklein of our district, the 17th, is co-chair of the Joint Finance Committee and has a lot of power is determining the state budget for each biennium.  The pressure needs to be put on him to give leadership to needed changes.

I have communicated with Senator Marklein several times about the need for change, and in a recent email, January 19, 2024,  I asked him if he believed that school funding is a serious problem deserving study, hearings and action at the state level, and if so, how would he proceed with the study and what would be the time frame.  I closed the email stating that I looked forward to hearing from him.  I have not heard back from him, which has been the norm.  I believe this kind of questioning should take place in all districts of  the state of all assembly and senate candidates, and those senators not up for re-election this year.  With the changes in the configuration of districts, this is the time to put the pressure on those running for office, and organized pressure needs to be put on those not up for re-election.  I hope the editors of newspapers throughout the state will get this communication out, and will individually and collectively put pressure on their elected district representatives to give support to the study of the school district funding situation and develop an action plan to take legislative action for change. We need action now.

Monte Hottmann

Spring Green, WI