WASB resolutions ask for school voucher transparency and no referendum restrictions

By LeAnn R. Ralph

COLFAX —  Two of the resolutions that will be considered by the Wisconsin Association of School Boards during the state education convention in January focus on school voucher transparency and no referendum restrictions.

Ken Neuburg, school board member, noted at the Colfax Board of Education’s December 18 meeting that this year, WASB has fewer resolutions than in previous years.

Neuburg is the Board of Education’s delegate to vote on the convention resolutions.

At the state education convention later in January, 13 resolutions will be introduced.

Usually, about 25 or 30 resolutions come under consideration at the convention, Neuburg said.

WASB’s resolution committee met twice last fall and will meet one more time before the convention, Neuburg noted.

The state education convention will be held January 17 to January 19.

The group had “lots of discussion” on school vouchers and public and private schools, Neuburg said.

According to the voucher transparency resolution, WASB supports legislation to require property tax bills to include information from the school district in which the property is located regarding the dollar amount and the percentage of change in the reduction of the school district’s state aid, if any, as the result of students being enrolled in the statewide voucher program, the Racine voucher program, the Milwaukee voucher program or the special needs voucher program.

Approval of the resolution at the convention would allow WASB to support legislation that would attempt to inform property taxpayers about the impacts school vouchers are having on the state aid received by their school and on their property taxes.

Two bills introduced in the current legislative session, Senate Bill 183 and Assembly Bill 267, would require property tax bills to include the information about the financial impacts of school vouchers on the school district in which the property is located.

Another resolution, if approved, would allow WASB to support legislation requiring the state to fully fund as categorical aid the cost to local public school districts of providing transportation to students who attend private and parochial schools through a taxpayer funded voucher program.

Current law allows students attending private or parochial school who may be eligible to have their transportation to and from the voucher schools provided and paid for by the school district in which they live.

The vouchers of students who began participating in the 2015-2016 school year or later are funded by subtracting the amount of state aid from the school district providing the transportation.  

Referendum restrictions

The referendum restrictions resolution states that WASB opposes limits on scheduling referendums and also opposes any limitations on the duration, scope or effect of school referenda.

“In light of the flurry of bills introduced recently on restricting school district referenda or limiting their effect, this proposed amendment to the existing resolution would take a stronger stance against all attempts to restrict local control of school district referenda,” according to the rationale for the resolution.

When the state-imposed revenue limits were put into place in 1993, legislators told school district administrators that if the district needed more money, the school board could always authorize a referendum.

In 2011, Act 10 reduced school funding by about $1 billion. The money has never been replaced, prompting more school districts to hold referendums in recent years for operational costs and for maintenance items that cannot be covered by the revenue available to the school district.

Since then, legislation has been introduced limiting referendum questions to certain elections and also requiring a school district to wait two years if a referendum fails before attempting it again.

Local control

The resolution on referendum restrictions ties in with a separate resolution about maintaining local fiscal control.

According to the resolution, WASB “believes that the locally elected school board should have control of its local fiscal affairs. The WASB opposes efforts that undermine the fiscal authority of local elected officials, diminishes the role of citizens in the local decision-making process, and hinders the ability of Wisconsin public school boards to address the changing needs of their students.”

High-poverty aid

Another resolution states WASB is in support of legislation that would allow school districts eligible for high-poverty aid to receive it as categorical aid outside of the revenue limits.

School districts with more than half of their students eligible for free or reduced price school meals are eligible for high-poverty aid.

High-poverty aid is currently distributed as a general aid, which means it is subject to revenue limits and requires school districts to use the money to offset or reduce the property tax levy instead of being able to use the money for programming to address the needs of students who come from a poverty-stricken background.

Other resolutions that will be considered at the convention include supporting legislation requiring a school district’s revenue limit to be provided to the school district prior to the start of the district’s fiscal year, changing the revenue limit calculation to allow a district to use either a five-year rolling average, a three-year rolling average, or the current year membership, whichever is greater, as well as changes in language to update WASB policies to reflect current state law.