Focus Newsletter How have schools here and elsewhere weathered economic and fiscal storms?

June 30, 2016  •  No. 12
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  • Summary
  • Press Release
  • New Census data through 2014 shed light on K-12 expenditures. In 2002, Wisconsin spent $8,574 per pupil, 11.3% more than the U.S. ($7,701). The difference between the two was due to benefits: Wisconsin spent $2,070 per pupil, or 57% more than the nation ($1,321). In 2014, the state spent in total $11,186, or 1.6% more than the U.S. ($11,009). The state-nation gap in benefits, once over 60%, is now 12%.

  • Todd A. Berry or Dale Knapp

    Wisconsin School Spending Remains Above National Average

    Census Bureau Data Show the Gap Narrowing

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    MADISON—Wisconsin continues to spend more per pupil on K-12 education than the national average, but that difference declined to 1.6% in 2014, according to a new report, “How Have Schools Here and Elsewhere Weathered Economic and Fiscal Storms?” from the nonpartisan Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance (WISTAX). Now celebrating its 85th year, WISTAX is a nonpartisan research organization dedicated to citizen education.
    U.S. Census Bureau figures show that in 2002, Wisconsin’s per pupil spending was 11.3% higher than the national average ($8,574 compared to $7,701). By 2014, the most recent year for which complete figures are available, Wisconsin spent 1.6% above the national average, or $11,186 compared to $11,009. Overall, per pupil spending rose 30.4% in Wisconsin and 43.0% nationally during the period.
    The new report shows Wisconsin’s per pupil spending remained well above the national average from 2002 to 2007, just prior to the Great Recession. Unlike other states, Wisconsin attempted to weather the financial storm with an assortment of budget devices and one-time revenues. Ultimately, per pupil spending still declined here, but two to four years later than in other states. Overall, however, during the 2008-12 period, spending both here and nationally increased by the same rate—3.4%.
    WISTAX researchers noted that Wisconsin’s spending growth was slowed by several state-imposed factors.
    The first was a slowing in allowable increases (2010) and then reduction (2012) in school revenue limits. In place since 1993, state-imposed revenue limits cap the amount districts can raise from a combination of general school aids and property taxes. A second factor was changes to employee benefits made under 2011 Wisconsin Act 10. The impact of the benefit changes were particularly striking. In 2011, before the changes took place, employee benefits as a share of per pupil spending were 51.9% higher than the national average; by 2014, that difference had dropped to 11.6%.
    The report concludes that the Census Bureau figures show “local school funding is more tied to the state economy and Wisconsin’s top-down budget decisions than ever before.”
    The WISTAX report, “How Have Schools Here and Elsewhere Weathered Economic and Fiscal Storms?” is available by visiting; emailing; calling 608.241.9789; or writing WISTAX at 401 North Lawn Ave., Madison, WI 53704-5033.

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