West-central Wisconsin legislators discussed school funding issues at a breakfast Friday sponsored by the Eau Claire Area Chamber of Commerce. Several legislators who attended the panel held at Chippewa Valley Technical College’s Business Education Center agreed that the school funding formula needs an overhaul.
Rep. Bob Kulp (R-Stratford) questioned the viability of the revenue limits established in the 1993-94 school year, which limit the amount a district can raise from state aid and local levies and have led to an increase in school referenda to exceed the limits.
“Is that what we really want to do?” he asked. “Keep school districts locally in some kind of a straight jacket that rewards those who were not frugal in the 1980s and ’90s and does the opposite for those who were not spending a lot? That’s what happens.”
Rep. Warren Petryk (R-Eleva) said the coupling of property values to determine municipalities’ ability to pay and declining enrollment — especially in some rural districts — creates imbalance. But he also noted that bipartisan groups for months attempted to come up with a better funding formula, but did not.
“What are we going to do? Will there be another study group?” he asked. “I think it’s time to look really judiciously at how this funding formula came to be and how we can change it in a positive way that rewards the smaller schools.”
Sen. Terry Moulton (R-Chippewa Falls) said he hopes the state can find ways to direct money toward public education. He pointed to the Lake Holcombe school district that recently said it will dissolve if it can’t pass an upcoming referendum.
But changing the school funding formula will be a challenge, said Sen. Sheila Harsdorf (R-River Falls).
“It’s very difficult to reform the formula unless you have additional monies to go into the formula,” she said. “It won’t happen.”
Kulp said the Legislature could also look at consolidating school districts to reduce the number of them. Those sentiments were echoed by Rep. Kathy Bernier (R-Lake Hallie).
“We have far too many school districts in the state of Wisconsin,” she said. “Since we compare to Minnesota a lot, it’s my understanding that they have one superintendent per county, so administratively we can take a look at things, but it requires the attitude of change, which is very difficult in this business.”
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