Heather DuBois Bourenane on funding schools with referendums

Wisconsin Public Education Network Executive Director Heather DuBois Bourenane discusses the state's school financing formula setting revenue limits and districts relying on referendums for funding.

By Zac Schultz | Here & Now

April 3, 2024

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Heather DuBois Bourenane:
Well, since those revenue limits were put into place in 1994, a whopping 82% of school districts have gone to school referenda, resulting in about 5% of total operating costs around the state being funded by those referenda in all of our schools. But there are about 100 districts that are currently paying for about 10% of their whole operating budgets through those referenda and 14 districts that are paying for a full 25% of their operating costs through that referenda aid. And while that might not seem like a problem on its face, like, OK, those people voted, they elected to raise taxes on themselves, that's their prerogative. What about where they didn't? What about those districts where the referenda didn't pass? Those kids are doing more with less and that's a problem. The other problem that we have is the way the revenue limits work is simply unfair. It's, you know, random and arbitrary based on decisions that were made in 1994 by folks who were serving on school boards back then and they have nothing to do with the needs of kids now. And so what Wisconsin really should be doing is focusing on overhauling its school finance formula to create one that's aligned with student need and not property values or not, you know, arbitrary spending limits that were set by the state and instead we're just bickering about, you know, whether the state of the local community should be paying a larger share of the bill. You know, we're having the wrong conversation and we should be talking about doing whatever we can to meet the kids' needs where they are.

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