School Trust Funds Study Committee sets first meeting for Aug. 16

A special study committee looking at the constitutionally established state school trust fund that supplies Library Aid to public school libraries will convene next month.

The Legislative Council Study Committee on the Investment and Use of the School Trust Funds will  hold its initial meeting on August 16 at 10:00 a.m. in Room 411 South of the State Capitol.  The WASB has been asked to participate in a panel discussion presentation to the study committee at that meeting.

The Study Committee is directed to review the statutes governing the investment of the trust funds administered by the Board of Commissioners of Public Lands (BCPL), including the loan programs administered by BCPL. The Study Committee shall assess whether current statutes adequately ensure the effective investment and appropriate use of the proceeds of the funds, and recommend legislation for necessary changes.

The work of this study committee could have important implications for schools.  Each year, the earnings from the largest of these state trust funds, the Common School Fund, are distributed to school districts as Library Aid.  This aid is used by school districts for the purchase of library books, instructional materials from the State Historical Society, and other instructional materials.  This aid may also be used to purchase library-related computers or other equipment and software to be housed in the school library, if the district consults with its library media coordinator.  Library Aid monies are the sole source of state funding for school libraries. For many school districts, this is the only money available to them for library books, newspaper and periodical subscriptions, web-based resources and computer hardware and software.

The Common School Fund was established by Wisconsin’s original Constitution in 1848 with the granting to the state of about 1.5 million acres of federal lands to be used for educational purposes.  The vast bulk of these lands was sold to create the principal for a permanent school fund, with the earnings to be used exclusively “to support and maintain common schools (now known as public k-12 schools) and the purchase of suitable libraries and apparatus therefor.”

The income currently generated by the Common School Fund is primarily derived from interest payments on loans made by the fund through the State Trust Fund Loan program  to municipalities, counties and school districts.  That revolving loan program is managed by the Board of Commissioners of Public Lands (BCPL), the state’s oldest agency, which is comprised of three constitutional office holders–the Attorney General, Secretary of State and State Treasurer.  Additionally, under our state Constitution, revenues from certain fines and forfeitures, unclaimed property and sales of public lands are deposited in the Common School Fund.