Governor Scott Walker’s plan to increase education spending in the 2017-19 state budget has prompted a predictable response from Democrats in the legislature. They argue the hike doesn’t make up for “the cuts” Walker has made in education spending. A sample:
Instead of making schools he cut by record amount whole, @GovWalker diverts funds to voucher schools & tax subsidies for wealthy MKE suburbs
— One Wisconsin Now (@onewisconsinnow) February 8, 2017
Even if it passes, Wisconsin kids are still at a net negative because of Walker's attacks on education. https://t.co/HMTblBZDze
— Senator Chris Larson (@SenChrisLarson) February 8, 2017
From a news release issued by State Senator Janis Ringhand:
Governor Walker has changed his tune when it comes to funding education and is no longer proposing to further cut public education funding. He finally grasps that a great public education system is good politics.
Not only is this behavior predictable. It was, in fact, predicted in a policy brief issued by the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty on February 7. From WILL’s brief:
➢ The Obama stimulus plan temporarily inflated the amount of money Wisconsin spent on public schools. Once federal funding declined, Wisconsin faced cuts to K-12 spending.
➢ Since 2012, Wisconsin has increased spending on K-12 public schools every year.
➢ Cost savings resulting from Act 10 give school districts the ability to save money.
➢ There is little evidence that increased spending on K-12 public schools actually leads to improved student outcomes.
In the aftermath of the Great Recession, federal funds poured into the state–funding that substantially increased per student spending. But this funding was temporary–the vast majority of it was exhausted by 2011. As federal funding declined, Wisconsin necessarily faced some cuts to K-12 spending. These occurred in 2012. When detractors make the claim that Walker has cut education spending, they focus on this one year. In every year since, spending on K 12 education has been increased. By 2016, average per student spending in the state was only $4 short of spending at the height of the stimulus.
It is true that some districts have experienced declines in school aid over the past few years. But changes in enrollment almost universally explain this decline. When students leave, school districts receive less money from the state.
Even to the extent that spending growth has slowed, the enactment of Act 10 has provided school districts many tools to do more with less. For example, the MacIver Institute has found that Act 10 resulted in more than $405 million in savings to school districts over its first five years. Districts across the state have creatively applied Act 10, many of which are found in our report on the topic. The state’s K-12 education priorities should be to support proven strategies and practices that lead to better student outcomes. Indiscriminately throwing money at the public school system is no guarantee of success.
As our previous study, Diminishing Returns, has shown, there is not a significant relationship between increased spending on K-12 public schools and improved student outcomes on tests and graduation rates.11 Governor Walker’s proposed increase to K-12 spending in the 2017-2019 budget would amount to more than $200 per student in the 2017-18 school year and an additional $204 increase in the 2018-2019 school year.12 If included in the final budget, this increase in spending would be the most Wisconsin has ever spent on traditional public schools, more than $400 above the previous per student height of the stimulus by 2019.
Despite analyses such as the one by WILL and other groups, the narrative that Walker has cut education funding has been accepted as fact both inside and outside of Wisconsin. Democrats are using that narrative to attempt to paint Walker’s education spending in his proposed 2017-2019 budget as a “deathbed conversion,” or a transparent effort to boost his re-election prospects in 2018. The overwhelming evidence suggests otherwise.