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HomeWRN VoicesWisconsin School Choice Bill Is a Rare Win for All

Wisconsin School Choice Bill Is a Rare Win for All [WRN VOICES]

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It’s a rare day when everyone is a winner from an education finance measure. New information from the non-partisan, authoritative Legislative Fiscal Bureau (LFB) confirms that is the case for Assembly Bill 900.

School boards, school district business managers, and parental choice advocates: Take note! Learn about this proposal and tell your legislators to support its change that treats Wisconsin taxpayers fairly.

At issue is school choice decoupling, a topic I wrote about here last month.

Briefly, the state currently uses two systems to finance parental choice programs. Beginning next year, state funds will fully finance students in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program. In contrast, property taxpayers are substantially affected by the system used to finance the Racine, Wisconsin, and Special Needs choice programs.

The latter system allows school choice opponents to claim that growth in the popular choice programs increases property taxes. It is an administrative headache for local school district business managers, and most importantly, it is unfair to Wisconsin taxpayers.

That’s why choice supporters were heartened to see the LFB’s February 6 report that found legislation to decouple choice funding from local property taxes produced statewide saved local property taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars.

The LFB report shows that Assembly Bill 900 would: increase state aid to local districts by $293 million; cut property taxes by $220 million; and increase local district revenue limit authority by $73 million.

This now looms as a key issue for public schools in legislative districts across Wisconsin. Any opponents of this bill will need to explain to local citizens their resistance to a measure that benefits 404 of the state’s 421 districts and has no impact on the remaining 17.

At a State Capitol public hearing on February 7 — a day after the LFB report was issued — legislators from districts that are clear winners nevertheless offered opposition.

One, Rep. Kristina Shelton (D-Green Bay), was for it before she was against it. She and several Democratic legislators have sponsored Senate Bill 503, which contains the basic elements of decoupling. The Department of Public Instruction fiscal note to SB 503 explains that under her measure a “district’s [state aid] would be greater and the resulting tax levy would be less.” This is exactly what happens under AB 900, yet Rep. Shelton flipped her position and spoke against decoupling on February 7.

Let’s look at how AB 900 affects Green Bay. The new LFB report shows the Green Bay school district would see an increase in state aid of $4.9 million, a property tax cut of 3.7 million, and $1.2 million in added spending authority.

The LFB report shows district-by-district results from AB 900 had it been in effect this year. For those who want to understand how their public school districts are affected, the report contains an attachment showing the estimated net impact by district in columns..Column L shows additional aid that would have been received, column M shows the property tax reduction, column N shows the increase in school district spending authority.

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Want to help property taxpayers and help stem the attacks on parental choice programs? Ask school districts and your legislator to support AB 900.

Nic Kelly
Nic Kelly is president of School Choice Wisconsin and a former private school teacher and administrator.
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