Tony Evers explains plan to increase public school funding
State Superintendent Tony Evers discusses his recent proposal to increase aid to public schools by $615 million over the next two years.
Frederica Freyberg: We move now to education news. Wisconsin's superintendent of schools wants more state money for education in the coming budget. Hundreds of millions more. DPI secretary Tony Evers also wants to change up how schools are funded. He would guarantee at least $3,000 per pupil, no matter the district, and fold in monies from property tax relief programs that count toward the state's support of the K-12 system, but actually don't finance it at all. Superintendent Evers joins us now. Thanks a lot for doing so. Tony Evers: Thanks for being here. Frederica Freyberg: So, you call this fair funding. Tony Evers: Yes. Frederica Freyberg: How so? Tony Evers: Because what it does, it takes a look at our funding system, and distributes the money differently. It deals with some really major flaws in the formula. One is that in the state of Wisconsin, there are several school districts that receive no state aid, general state aid, because the property values are so high, regardless of how much income people earn. The second one, it will weight poverty in a district. Districts that have higher poverty, that also means that they have more limited ability to pay their taxes, and it shifts money that way. The third thing it does is it creates more transparency by folding what is considered school funding from the property tax credit levy to the funding formula itself. Frederica Freyberg: How much money is that in those property tax relief programs? And where was it going? Tony Evers: Well, it is about $900 million plus, I believe, at this point in time. It went directly to municipalities. It was called School Aid. It went to the municipalities, and the school districts were compelled to, essentially, increase their property tax levy in order to capture money that was already determined to be for them. It just-- there was no transparency in that system. We absolutely need to make it one system, not two or three. Frederica Freyberg: What happens if you take $900 million out of a property tax relief program? Does that boost property taxes? Tony Evers: It doesn’t. Our plan will keep property taxes level. Certainly, during the second year of the biennium for sure. It folds the money into the school funding formula, but we also will remain under revenue limits. So not only will it fund schools, but it will also continue to fund that property tax relief. Property taxpayers in a net sense across the state of Wisconsin will see no increase with this plan. Frederica Freyberg: And you want to increase funding going to K-12 schools by how much? Tony Evers: It’s about $600 million total over the biennium. Clearly, over the past biennium we lost $800 million. This doesn't get us back to the point we were. I understand the issue around– you know, we've decreased expenditures over the last couple of years, because of employees paying more for insurance and pensions and those sort of things, which, that ‘s a fait accompli, that's done. But we can't be doing that every year, otherwise we won't have any teachers or support staff in the schools. So we believe that there needs to be an infusion of money. Our budget really is quite modest. It's a 2-1/2% increase the first year, 5-1/2% the second year. Frederica Freyberg: What has been the reaction from the administration and the Republican majority legislature? Tony Evers: We've talked with several people and they are willing to listen. I've actually talked personally with the governor. He listened. I think we're going to get some consideration. Certainly, any time you have a drastic change it drives a stake into some people's heart. We've had a system that has been broken for 30 plus years. This is the perfect time to change it. Frederica Freyberg: I was going to ask, you proposed this two years ago and it didn't go anywhere. What’s different now? Tony Evers: The atmosphere, and the fact that there is, just yesterday, the Department of Administration indicated that there would be a balance at the end of the next biennium of $1.5 billion. The resources are available. We need to move forward, and last time it became-- we had bipartisan support of this and then Act 10 came and the budget bill, and the people spent most of the time fighting with each other instead of looking for ways to reform the funding system. Frederica Freyberg: Who would you say are the biggest winners under your plan? Tony Evers: I think the biggest winners are those districts that have higher poverty, because we will be shifting some money towards them. Also, big winners are districts that have high property wealth and people have very low incomes. Those districts will be winners. But every district in the state, under our plan, will be either winning or held harmless. We have a handful of districts that we will be providing extra money to, to make sure they don't lose in this plan. Frederica Freyberg: What effect are private school-choice schools funded by the state having on, kind of, the funding pie for K-12? Tony Evers: Certainly, because of the increase in choice programs across the state, the increase in funds going to those schools as a percentage of the pie is far greater than the public schools, because the public schools' enrollment is pretty stable right now. Of course it is. The state has made a commitment to those schools and so they will have resources going forward. Frederica Freyberg: This week the governor said he wanted to tie K-12 and university funding to state employment outcomes. Let's listen to what he said. Scott Walker: We're going to tie our additional funding into performance in our K-12. We’re going to tie our funding in our technical colleges and University of Wisconsin system into performance, and say, if you want money, we need you to perform. And particularly in higher education, we need you to perform not just on how many people you have in the classroom. And I’ll borrow a line from Jeb. Jeb says it well. We shouldn't be paying for butts in seats. We should be paying for outcomes. And in higher education that means, not only degrees, but our young people getting degrees in the jobs that are actually open and needed today, not just the jobs that the universities want to give us. Or degrees that people want to give us. Frederica Freyberg: Now, does this mean that Wisconsin trends away from the study in humanities and goes exclusively toward technical skills education to fill these jobs? Tony Evers: No. I suppose if we let it go to the extreme. I think Wisconsin values the humanities, values music, art and phy. ed, at the higher ed. area. There are many firms in this state, such as Epic, that really value the liberal arts and work hard to recruit students like that. So I think we'll have a balance. I think the issue right now is how we can talk about performance and outcomes, and how it's related to funding. I guess at the K-12 issue, and I really haven’t talked to the governor about his specifics, but in the K-12 arena, we’re constitutionally obligated to take in everybody that walks in the door. And second of all, we do value outcomes. We have a new report card that we're working on now, and it just seems unclear to me how if a school is underperforming, that we would think of removing resources from that school, and make them possibly even more underperforming. Those are some of the dialogues that we'll have to have going forward. Frederica Freyberg: All right. Superintendent Tony Evers, thanks very much. Tony Evers: Thanks. You bet.