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Public education in Wisconsin

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K-12 Education in Wisconsin
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Education facts
State Superintendent: Tony Evers
Number of students: 871,105[1]
Number of teachers: 56,245
Teacher/pupil ratio: 1:15.5
Number of school districts: 462
Number of schools: 2,243
Graduation rate: 88%[2]
Per-pupil spending: $11,774[3]
See also
Wisconsin Department of Public InstructionList of school districts in WisconsinWisconsinSchool boards portal
Education policy logo.jpg
Education policy project
Public education in the United States
Public education in Wisconsin
Glossary of education terms
Note: The statistics on this page are mainly from government sources, including the U.S. Census Bureau and the National Center for Education Statistics. Figures given are the most recent as of June 2014, with school years noted in the text or footnotes.
The Wisconsin public school system (prekindergarten-grade 12) operates within districts governed by locally elected school boards and superintendents. In 2012 Wisconsin had 871,105 students enrolled in a total of 2,243 schools in 462 school districts. While the national ratio of teachers to students was 1:16, in Wisconsin there were 56,245 teachers in the public schools, or roughly one teacher for every 15.5 students. There was roughly one administrator for every 364 students, compared to the national average of one administrator for every 295 students.[4] On average Wisconsin spent $11,774 per pupil in 2011, which ranked it 16th highest in the nation. The state's graduation rate was 88 percent in 2012. This was the Regulatory Adjusted Cohort Graduation Rate reported to the United States Department of Education for all students in 2011-2012.[5]

State agencies

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State Education Departments

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See also
Wisconsin Superintendent of Public Instruction
Wisconsin school districts
List of school districts in Wisconsin
Public education in Wisconsin
School board elections portal
The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction is in charge of advancing public education and libraries in Wisconsin.[6] The department is led by the State Superintendent of Public Instruction. Tony Evers was first elected to the position in April 2009 and re-elected in 2013.[7]

The Department of Public Instruction is divided into six divisions: the Office of the State Superintendent, the Division for Academic Excellence, the Division for Finance and Management, the Division for Learning Support, the Division for Libraries and Technology and the Division for Student and School Success.[8]

Common Core

Common Core, or the Common Core State Standards Initiative, is an American education initiative that outlines quantifiable benchmarks in English and mathematics at each grade level from kindergarten through high school. The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction adopted these standards on June 2, 2010. The standards will be fully implemented during the 2014-2015 school year.[9]

Regional comparison

See also: General comparison table for education statistics in the 50 states and Education spending per pupil in all 50 states

The following chart shows how Wisconsin compares to three neighboring states with respect to number of students, schools, the number of teachers per pupil, and the number of administrators per pupil. Further comparisons between these states with respect to performance and financial information are given in other sections of this page.

Regional Comparison
State Schools Districts Students Teachers Teacher/pupil ratio Administrator/pupil ratio Per pupil spending
Wisconsin 2,243 462 871,105 56,245 1:15.5 1:363.9 $11,774
Illinois 4,336 1,075 2,083,097 131,777 1:15.8 1:283 $10,774
Michigan 3,550 869 1,573,537 86,997 1:18.1 1:336.2 $10,823
Minnesota 2,392 555 839,738 52,832 1:15.9 1:396.1 $10,712
United States 98,328 17,992 49,521,669 3,103,263 1:16 1:295.2 $10,994
Sources: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Common Core of Data (CCD), "State Nonfiscal Public Elementary/Secondary Education Survey", 2011-12 v.1a.

National Center for Education Statistics, Table 2. Number of operating public schools and districts, state enrollment, teacher and pupil/teacher ratio by state: School year 2011–12
U.S. Census Bureau, "Public Education Finances: 2011,Governments Division Reports," issued May 2013


See also: Demographic information for all students in all 50 states

The following table displays the ethnic distribution of students in Wisconsin as reported in the National Center for Education Statistics Common Core of Data for 2011-2012.[10]

Demographic Information for Wisconsin's K-12 Public School System
Ethnicity Students State Percentage United States Percentage**
American Indian 11,277 1.29% 1.10%
Asian 30,742 3.53% 4.68%
African American 85,495 9.81% 15.68%
Hawaiian Nat./Pacific Isl. Students 665 0.08% 0.42%
Hispanic 84,561 9.71% 24.37%
White 642,176 73.72% 51.21%
Two or More 16,189 1.86% 2.54%
**Note: This is the percentage of all students in the United States that are reported to be of this ethnicity.

Enrollments by region type

See also: Student distribution by region type in the U.S.

Students in Wisconsin are almost equally split by school region type, with students slightly more likely to attend rural schools than city, suburban or town schools. This is very similar to school region demographics in Minnesota. However, students in Illinois and Michigan are more likely to attend suburban schools than city, town or rural schools.

Student distribution by region type, 2011 - 2012 (as percents)
State City schools Suburban schools Town schools Rural Schools
Wisconsin 27.5% 24.0% 19.2% 29.3%
Illinois 31.3% 43.3% 10.3% 15.1%
Michigan 23.8% 40.2% 11.4% 24.6%
Minnesota 20.8% 29.4% 19.5% 30.4%
U.S. average 28.9% 34.0% 11.6% 25.4%
Source: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Common Core of Data (CCD) (timed out)

Academic performance

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Education policy terms
Academic bankruptcyAcademic EarthAcademic performanceAdaptive softwareBlended learningCarnegie unitCharter schoolsCommon CoreDropout rateDual enrollmentEnglish Language LearnersFree or reduced-price lunchGlobal competence learningHomeschoolingImmersion learningKhan AcademyLocal education agencyMagnet schoolsNAEPOnline learningParent trigger lawsProgressive educationRegulatory Adjusted Cohort Graduation RateSchool choiceSchool vouchersTeacher merit payVirtual charter schools
See also

NAEP scores

See also: NAEP scores by state

The National Center for Education Statistics provides state-by-state data on student achievement levels in mathematics and reading in the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). Wisconsin had a higher percentage of students score at or above proficient in math and reading in fourth and eighth grades than students in Illinois and Michigan. However, Minnesota had a higher percentage than Wisconsin.[11]

Percent of students scoring at or above proficient, 2012-2013
Math - Grade 4 Math - Grade 8 Reading - Grade 4 Reading - Grade 8
Wisconsin 47 40 35 36
Illinois 39 36 34 36
Michigan 37 30 31 33
Minnesota 59 47 41 41
U.S. average 41 34 34 34
NAEP assessment data for all students 2012-2013


Graduation, ACT and SAT scores

See also: Graduation rates by groups in state and ACT and SAT scores in the U.S.

The following table shows the graduation rates and average composite ACT and SAT scores for Wisconsin and surrounding states.[11][12][13]

Comparison table for graduation rates and test scores*
State Graduation rate, 2012 Average ACT Composite, 2012 Average SAT Composite, 2013
Percent Quintile ranking** Score Participation rate Score Participation rate
Wisconsin 88% First 22.1 71% 1771 4%
Illinois 82% Third 20.9 100% 1807 5%
Michigan 76% Fourth 20.1 100% 1782 4%
Minnesota 78% Fourth 22.8 74% 1780 6%
U.S. average 80% 21.1 1498
*Regulatory Adjusted Cohort Rate (except for Idaho, Kentucky, Oklahoma, which did not report “Regulatory Adjusted Cohort Graduation Rate,” but instead used their own method of calculation).
**Graduation rates for states in the first quintile ranked in the top 20 percent nationally. Similarly, graduation rates for states in the fifth quintile ranked in the bottom 20 percent nationally.
Source: United States Department of Education, ED Data Express

Dropout rate

See also: Public high school dropout rates by state for a full comparison of dropout rates by group in all states

The high school event dropout rate indicates the proportion of students who were enrolled at some time during the school year and were expected to be enrolled in grades 9–12 in the following school year but were not enrolled by October 1 of the following school year. Students who have graduated, transferred to another school, died, moved to another country, or who are out of school due to illness are not considered dropouts. The average public high school event dropout rate for the United States remained constant at 3.3 percent for both SY 2010–11 and SY 2011–12. The event dropout rate for Wisconsin was lower than the national average at 2.0 percent in the 2010-2011 school year, and 1.9 percent in the 2011-2012 school year.[14]

Educational choice options

See also: School choice in Wisconsin

School choice options in Wisconsin include: charter schools, parental choice voucher programs, private school tuition tax deductions, homeschooling, online learning, private schools and public school open enrollment policies.

Education funding and expenditures

See also: Wisconsin state budget and finances
Breakdown of expenditures by function in FY 2012.
Source: National Association of State Budget Officers

According to the National Association of State Budget Officers (NASBO), the state spent approximately 16.7 percent of its fiscal year 2012 budget on elementary and secondary education. This is down 2.4 percentage points, a 12.5 percent decrease as a share of the budget from fiscal year 2008, when the state spent 19.1 percent of its budget on elementary and secondary education.[15][16][17][18][19] Over 90 percent of Wisconsin's education revenue comes from state and local funding, with about 45 percent coming from both funds. Federal funding accounts for less than nine percent.

Comparison of financial figures for school systems
State Percent of budget (2012) Per pupil spending (2011) Revenue sources (2011)
Percent federal funds Percent state funds Percent local funds
Wisconsin 16.7% $11,774 8.79% 45.83% 45.38%
Illinois 15.8% $10,774 10.09% 32.42% 57.49%
Michigan 27.2% $10,823 13.75% 55.03% 31.22%
Minnesota 23.8% $10,712 7.93% 59.52% 32.55%
Sources:NASBO, "State Expenditure Report," Table 8: Elementary and Secondary Education Expenditures As a Percent of Total Expenditures
U.S. Census Bureau, "Public Education Finances: 2011,Governments Division Reports," issued May 2013

Revenue breakdowns

See also: Public school system revenues in the U.S.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, public school system revenues in Wisconsin totaled approximately $11.4 billion in fiscal year 2011. The table and chart below present further detail, including revenue sources, for Wisconsin and surrounding states.[20]

Revenues by source, FY 2011 (amounts in thousands)
Federal revenue State revenue Local revenue Total revenue
Wisconsin $1,002,909 $5,226,954 $5,175,978 $11,405,841
Illinois $2,895,524 $9,304,948 $16,499,969 $28,700,441
Michigan $2,677,078 $10,710,646 $6,075,517 $19,463,241
Minnesota $886,619 $6,657,769 $3,641,015 $11,185,403
U.S. total $74,943,767 $267,762,416 $264,550,594 $607,256,777
Public school revenues by source, FY 2011 (as percents)


Expenditure breakdowns

See also: Public school system expenditures in the U.S.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, public school system expenditures in Wisconsin totaled approximately $11.2 billion in fiscal year 2011. The table and chart below present further detail, including expenditure types, for Wisconsin and surrounding states.[20]

Expenditures by type, FY 2011 (amounts in thousands)
Current expenditures** Capital outlay Other*** Total expenditures
Wisconsin $10,175,521 $541,918 $469,214 $11,186,653
Illinois $24,525,567 $1,884,976 $1,138,206 $27,548,749
Michigan $16,728,164 $1,334,386 $1,269,168 $19,331,718
Minnesota $8,907,505 $1,077,969 $882,342 $10,867,816
U.S. total $520,577,893 $52,984,139 $29,581,293 $603,143,325
**Funds spent operating local public schools and local education agencies, including such expenses as salaries for school personnel, student transportation, school books and materials, and energy costs, but excluding capital outlay, interest on school debt, payments to private schools, and payments to public charter schools.
***Includes payments to state and local governments, payments to private schools, interest on school system indebtedness, and nonelementary-secondary expenditures, such as adult education and community services expenditures.
Source: National Center for Education Statistics
Public school expenditures, FY 2011 (as percents)


Personnel salaries

See also: Public school teacher salaries in the U.S.
Note: Salaries given are averages for the state. Within states there can be great variation in salaries between urban, suburban and rural districts. When comparing nominal teachers' salaries it is important to remember that for a true comparison salaries must be adjusted for the cost of living in each area. Thus, for example, when adjusted for cost of living, Los Angeles drops from second highest to 17th highest; New York City drops even further, from third highest to 59th out of 60.[21]

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the average national salary for classroom teachers in public elementary and secondary schools has declined by 1.3 percent from the 1999-2000 school year to the 2012-2013 school year. During the same period in Wisconsin, the average salary decreased by 1.9 percent.[22]

Estimated average salaries for teachers (in constant dollars**)
1999-2000 2009-2010 2011-2012 2012-2013 Percent difference
Wisconsin $56,239 $54,721 $54,687 $55,171 -1.9%
Illinois $63,527 $66,264 $58,595 $59,113 -6.9%
Michigan $67,023 $61,867 $62,585 $61,560 -8.2%
Minnesota $54,393 $55,967 $55,874 $56,268 3.4%
U.S. average $57,133 $58,925 $56,340 $56,383 -1.3%
**"Constant dollars based on the Consumer Price Index (CPI), prepared by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, adjusted to a school-year basis. The CPI does not account for differences in inflation rates from state to state."



In 2012, the Fordham Institute and Education Reform Now assessed the power and influence of state teacher unions in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Their rankings were based on 37 different variables in five broad areas, including: resources and membership, involvement in politics, scope of bargaining, state policies and perceived influence. Wisconsin ranked 18th overall, or strong, which was in the second tier of five.[23]


In 2011, protests erupted over a bill that required state employees to contribute an average of eight percent more to their pension and health care costs and took away the right of collective bargaining.[24] Governor Scott Walker said that asking employees to pay half the national average for health care was "truly a modest request." Walker also denied that his proposal tried to break unions.[25]

Up to 40,000 union protesters filled the state capitol for a week after the bill was proposed.[24][26][27] After four days of pro-union protests, the Tea Party staged a rally in support of the legislation.[27]

To avoid a vote on the measure, 14 Senate Democrats disappeared and could not be found.[28] They reportedly went to a hotel in Illinois.[24] Republicans controlled the Senate by 19 to 14, but to have a vote on fiscal matters, 20 senators had to be present.[28] The Senate Democrats, however, threatened to stay away for weeks.[29]

The Wisconsin State Assembly had sufficient attendance to hold a vote on the bill but delayed doing so on February 18, 2011.[27] Republican Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald said that the bill had the votes to pass when lawmakers reconvened on February 22, 2011.[30]

Union Benefit Cuts

The governor's budget proposed state employees contribute 5.8 percent of their salary toward their pensions and pay 12.6 percent of their health insurance premiums.[26] The move was anticipated to save nearly $300 million over the following two fiscal years.[31]

Collective Bargaining

The governor's proposed budget also eliminated almost all union bargaining rights.[31]

The proposal took away collective bargaining rights on everything except salary from state and local workers.[32] Unions would be unable to seek pay increases above those pegged to the Consumer Price Index unless approved by a public referendum. In addition, unions also would have to hold annual votes to stay organized and would be unable to force employees to pay dues.[24]

Republican lawmakers said collective bargaining rules must be changed so the government could avoid laying off thousands of workers.[33] Gov. Walker said that he would have to lay off up to 6,000 state workers if the measure did not pass.[24]

The proposal allowed local police, firefighters and state troopers to retain their bargaining rights.[24]

In the case of a walkout, Walker put the National Guard on alert.[34]

School Closures

More than 15 school districts, including the Madison Metropolitan School District, were closed for four days due to teachers and staff calling in sick.[35][36] Judge Maryann Sumi of the Dane County District Court denied the Madison school district requests for an injunction against Madison Teachers Inc. so that schools could reopen.[35]

Taxpayer-funded lobbying

See also: Wisconsin government sector lobbying

The main education government sector lobbying organization is the Wisconsin Association of School Boards.


A year after the Citizens for Responsible Government launched a transparency spending database for Wisconsin, the Milwaukee Public Schools launched its own database, which allows searches for school purchases from 2005 and on.[37][38][39]

Education ballot measures

See also: Education on the ballot and List of Wisconsin ballot measures

Ballotpedia has tracked 16 statewide ballot measures relating to education.

  1. Wisconsin Local Debt Limit and School Bonds Amendment, Question 2 (April 1963)
  2. Wisconsin Local Debt Limit for School Districts Amendment, Question 1 (April 1961)
  3. Wisconsin Property Tax for School Aid Referendum, Question 1 (April 1944)
  4. Wisconsin Public Television Advisory, Question 2 (1954)
  5. Wisconsin Repeal of Draft Exemption Purchase Amendment, Question 6 (1982)
  6. Wisconsin School Debt Limit Amendment, Question 1 (April 1955)
  7. Wisconsin School Release for Religious Instruction Amendment, Question 4 (April 1972)
  8. Wisconsin State Control and Funding of Vocational Education, Question 3 (April 1969)
  9. Wisconsin State Superintendent Amendment, Question 1 (1888)
  10. Wisconsin State Superintendent Amendment, Question 2 (1902)
  11. Wisconsin State Superintendent Salary Amendment, Question 1 (1896)
  12. Wisconsin Teacher Retirement Benefits Amendment, Question 1 (April 1956)
  13. Wisconsin Teacher Tenure Law Repeal Referendum, Question 1 (April 1940)
  14. Wisconsin Transportation for Private School Students Amendment, Question 7 (April 1967)
  15. Wisconsin Transportation to Schools Amendment, Question 2 (1946)
  16. Wisconsin Women Suffrage in School Matters Referendum, Question 1 (1886)

Studies and reports

ABCs of school choice

The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice publishes a comprehensive guide to private school choice programs across the U.S. In its 2014 edition, the Foundation reviewed four Wisconsin programs: the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program, the Racine Parental Private School Choice Program, the statewide Parental Choice Program and the K-12 Private School Tuition Deduction Program.[40] The full Friedman Foundation report can be found here.

State Budget Solutions education study

See also: State spending on education v. academic performance (2012)

State Budget Solutions examined national trends in education from 2009 to 2011, including state-by-state analysis of education spending, graduation rates, and average ACT scores. The study showed that the states which spent the most did not have the highest average ACT test scores, nor did they have the highest average graduation rates. A summary of the study is available here. The full report can be accessed here.

Recent news

This section displays the most recent stories in a Google news search for the term "Wisconsin + Education "

All stories may not be relevant to this page due to the nature of the search engine.

Wisconsin Education News Feed

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See also

External links


  1. National Center for Education Statistics, "Table 2. Number of operating public schools and districts, state enrollment, teacher and pupil/teacher ratio by state: School year 2011–12," accessed March 18, 2014
  2. ED Data Express, "State Tables Report," accessed March 17, 2014 The site includes this disclaimer: "States converted to an adjusted cohort graduation rate [starting in the 2010-2011 school year], which may or may not be the same as the calculation they used in prior years. Due to the potential differences, caution should be used when comparing graduation rates across states."
  3. United States Census Bureau, "Public Education Finances: 2011," accessed March 18, 2014
  4. United States Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, "Common Core of Data (CCD); Table 2.—Number of operating public schools and districts, state enrollment, teacher and pupil/teacher ratio by state: School year 2011-12," accessed May 12, 2014
  5. United States Department of Education, "ED Data Express," accessed May 12, 2014
  6. Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, "About Us," accessed June 4, 2014
  7. Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, "Biography of Tony Evers," accessed June 4, 2014
  8. Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, "DPI Divisions and Teams," accessed June 4, 2014
  9. Common Core State Standards Initiative, "Core Standards in your State," accessed July 12, 2014
  10. United States Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, "Common Core of Data (CCD), State Nonfiscal Public Elementary/Secondary Education Survey, 2011-2012," accessed May 7, 2014
  11. 11.0 11.1 United States Department of Education, ED Data Express, "State Tables," accessed May 13, 2014
  12. ACT, "2012 ACT National and State Scores," accessed May 13, 2014
  13. Commonwealth Foundation, "SAT Scores by State 2013," October 10, 2013
  14. United States Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, "Common Core of Data (CCD), State Dropout and Graduation Rate Data File, School Year 2010-11, Provision Version 1a and School Year 2011-12, Preliminary Version 1a," accessed May 13, 2014
  15. National Association of State Budget Officers, "State Expenditure Report, 2011-2013," accessed February 21, 2014
  16. National Association of State Budget Officers, "State Expenditure Report, 2009-2011," accessed February 24, 2014
  17. National Association of State Budget Officers, "State Expenditures Report, 2010-2012," accessed February 24, 2014
  18. National Association of State Budget Officers, "State Expenditure Report, 2009," accessed February 24, 2014
  19. National Association of State Budget Officers, "State Expenditure Report, 2008," accessed February 24, 2014
  20. 20.0 20.1 United States Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, "Revenues and Expenditures for Public Elementary and Secondary School Districts: School Year 2010–11," accessed May 13, 2014 (timed out)
  21. Maciver Institute, "REPORT: How much are teachers really paid?," accessed October 29, 2014
  22. United States Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, "Table 211.60. Estimated average annual salary of teachers in public elementary and secondary schools, by state: Selected years, 1969-70 through 2012-13," accessed May 13, 2014
  23. Thomas E Fordham Institute, "How Strong Are U.S. Teacher Unions? A State-By-State Comparison," October 29, 2012
  24. 24.0 24.1 24.2 24.3 24.4 24.5 MSNBC, "Wis. union vote on hold after Democrats leave state," February 17, 2011
  25. CBS News, "Wis. gov: I took 'bold political move' on budget," February 18, 2011
  26. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named protest
  27. 27.0 27.1 27.2 MSNBC, "Tea Party to rally for Wisconsin anti-union bill," February 18, 2011
  28. 28.0 28.1 { New York Times "Democrats Missing, Wisconsin Vote on Cuts Is Delayed" Feb. 17, 2011]
  29. Yahoo! News, "Wisconsin Democrats could stay away for weeks," February 18, 2011 (dead link)
  30. WKOW, "Wisconsin Assembly delays vote on union bill," February 18, 2011
  31. 31.0 31.1 The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, "Budget bill draws a crowd," February 15, 2011
  32. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Wis. state workers and allies descend on Madison to protest halt to collective bargaining," February 15, 2011 (dead link)
  33. Reuters, "Thousands of Wisconsin union workers protest budget plan," February 15, 2011
  34. The Chicago Tribune, "Walker says National Guard is prepared," February 11, 2011
  35. 35.0 35.1 WKOW, "MMSD denied temporary restraining order," February 18, 2011
  36. WFRV, "Madison schools remain closed, Fourth day in a row," February 21, 2011
  37. CRG Press Release, "CRG Network Applauds Milwaukee Public Schools for Publishing Online Spending Database," July 5, 2009 (dead link)
  38. Milwaukee Public Schools, "Press Release: MPS expense records now available online," July 2, 2009
  39. JS Online, "Quick Hit: A step toward accountability," July 7, 2009
  40. The Friedman Foundation for Education Choice, "The ABCs of School Choice," 2014 Edition