Assembly Ed. Plan Could Cost Milwaukee, Green Bay Schools Millions

Green Bay Public schools have been bleeding students to other school districts for years through open-enrollment. And under a K-12 education spending plan unveiled by Republicans this week, the loss of students to other public school districts could cost Green Bay more than $2 million a school year in state aid.

When a student transfers to another district, the aid that follows the student is currently  $6,748. Under the Assembly plan, that would increase by $1,440 to $8,298. According to Department of Public instruction numbers, in the 2015-2016 school year, the Green Bay school district had a net loss of 1,549 students to other districts through open enrollment. That same loss under the Assembly plan would mean Green Bay would lose $2.23 million in aid to other districts.

Jim Bender of School Choice Wisconsin says it appears the goal is uniformity: the $8,298 would more closely match the independent charter or voucher allowance than the open enrollment allowance was previously. Bender says the change is likely going to spur districts neighboring Green Bay to more aggressively recruit students from Green Bay. Conversely, Green Bay schools will feel even greater pressure to keep students living in the district in Green Bay.

That would make Green Bay the 2nd biggest aid loser under the plan, behind Milwaukee’s $7.5 million on 5,247 students lost to other districts based on 2015-2016 numbers. Racine would be third with $1.82 million lost on 1,267 students and Madison 4th with $1.48 million lost on 1,031 students transferring out.

The Green Bay School District gained 384 students through open enrollment in 2015-16, but lost 1,933, for the net loss of 1,549. Green Bay is, by far, the biggest open enrollment loser in Northeast Wisconsin and has tried for years to stanch the flow of students to other districts. Former Green Bay School principle Terry Fondow has argued that talk of a new high school on Green Bay’s far east side is driven by the desire to have a new school that “looks like” the suburban schools to which Green Bay is bleeding students.

Bender says for districts like Green Bay, the key to keeping students is innovation. He says the Racine district has begun to do that and it’s making a difference: “Parents, all of the sudden, become far more important when they have an option to go to a nearby school. You have to be more responsive to those parents. There are many more options on the landscape.”

Wisconsin Public Radio reported that the plan includes a smaller increase in per pupil spending than the governor’s budget, but Assembly Republicans argue it would send more money to classrooms by diverting state funds from property tax relief and lifting property tax levy limits for districts across the state. Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald has rejected the Assembly plan. Governor Scott Walker has also expressed concerns about the plan. It would allocate about $90 million less on per pupil spending than the governor’s plan.

The budget impasse between the Assembly and Governor Walker and The Senate has resulted in cancelled Joint Finance Committee meetings this week and has raised the specter of the Senate passing its own budget that would mirror Walkers. The dispute threatens the prospect of a new state budget passing by the July 1st deadline.

This post has been updated.