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WI projected to drop below national average for school spending

MADISON — Wisconsin is projected to fall below the national average in per-pupil spending this school year. This was the major conclusion of Michael Griffith, a senior policy analyst at the nonpartisan Education Commission of the States, at May 11’s “Forum on Key Wisconsin Education Issues” at Marquette University Law School.

Griffith noted that in years past, Wisconsin was 10 percent above the national average in per-pupil spending. However, it differs from most states in that its spending for public education has not increased in recent years to keep pace with inflation. In fact, Wisconsin is one of just a handful of states in which lawmakers are expected to freeze or cut school spending in the next couple of years.

“Even if the projection cited by Mr. Griffith is revised upward for this school year, Wisconsin is clearly moving in the wrong direction as it relates to spending on public education,” said John Forester, director of government relations for the School Administrators Alliance. “The expected freeze in per-pupil revenues in the 2015-17 state budget will clearly drive Wisconsin below the national average in per-pupil spending.

“Some legislators will undoubtedly say that spending does not determine educational outcomes for our students. However, you cannot pretend that it doesn’t matter, either. The fact is that high-quality teachers, the best curriculum and state-of-the-art instructional technology all cost money. And research clearly shows that additional resources are needed to lift students in poverty to higher levels of achievement. Our failure to provide necessary funds for our school children is a clear mistake for our future.”

The comments made at Monday’s event follow recent news that the Wisconsin graduation rate has increased and that achievement gaps in certain areas are closing.

“Our state’s history of success over the years is built on a shared commitment to public education made by generations of Wisconsin citizens and past elected leaders,” said Forester. “While some Republican leaders continue to boast about our state’s high ACT test scores and graduation rates, we all must understand that this success was made possible because past leaders from both political parties made public education a priority.”

Since the governor’s budget, which proposes dramatic cuts to public education, was introduced in February, dozens of grassroots citizen groups have sprouted up across Wisconsin, with parents and other community members calling for increases in public school funding. In addition, a recent poll by Marquette University Law School shows clear and growing support among Wisconsin residents for funding public schools.

“Although public education is clearly important to most Wisconsin residents, this governor and today’s Republican leaders are clearly not making it a priority,” said Forester. “I never thought I would see the day that Wisconsin would become a below-average state in our support for our children and our investment in our future workforce. I guess I never thought Wisconsin policymakers wanted that as their legacy.”