Inequality in Wisconsin Public Schools Funding

Back in 1993, the state of Wisconsin locked in the amount of money each student could receive based on where the budgets stood at that point in time. In an effort to keep a lid on property taxes “revenue limits” were created. This amount has since increased at a uniform rate, roughly tied to inflation and the gap between districts has remained.

In 2013, the average revenue limit per pupil was $9,884, but the actual revenue limit varied pretty significantly from district to district and this has a huge impact on the buying power relative to the neighboring districts and there are 424 school districts statewide.

District Spending Disparities | Create Infographics

As an example, the Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) revenue limit per pupil in 2013 was $9,921 and the revenue limit in Brown Deer was $11,802 – that’s a $1,881 difference. That may or may not seem like a lot to some people, but when you consider total enrollment of MPS students at 82,928 students then you can make this statement:

“If MPS had Brown Deer’s revenue limit, MPS revenue would be increased by $156 million on an annual basis. We could do a lot for MPS kids with $156 million, I could add roughly 1,560 more teachers to our schools, for example.”
– Christopher Thiel, Legislative Policy Specialist for The Milwaukee Board of School Directors

In addition to the working conditions within MPS with students who by and large need additional support, neighboring districts have significantly more buying power when they are looking for sought after teachers such as bi-lingual, special education, high school math… etc.

“The environment has led to a “free agency” atmosphere in his district, making it more difficult for the district to attract and keep talented teachers.”
-Randy Refsland, administrator for the Clinton School District, WI

“Beyond the obvious differences in revenues there are tough policy ramifications. For example, right now the federal government is calling on districts to put the most highly qualified teachers in front of the students who most need them, but what the attached data is showing you is that more affluent districts that don’t have as many students in poverty have greater buying power than districts that do” said Thiel.

School District Demographics | Create Infographics

“It’s a reflection of the nation’s widening gulf between poor and wealthy families. And also about how schools in poor and rich communities are financed, and the nation’s increasing residential segregation by income….The result is widening disparities in funding per pupil, to the direct disadvantage of poor kids.
-Robert Reich, author and Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley


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