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Public education in Wisconsin

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K-12 Education in Wisconsin
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
Public education in Wisconsin
Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction
Wisconsin school districts
List of school districts in Wisconsin
The Wisconsin public school system (prekindergarten-grade 12) operates within districts governed by locally elected school boards members and superintendents. Wisconsin has 442 school districts.

The Wisconsin state constitution requires that the state offer a general and uniform public school system.[4]

School revenues, expenditures and budget

See also: Wisconsin state budget

2011-2013 Bienium

Wisconsin Assembly approved a $66 billion two year budget on June 16, 2011[5] and the Senate passed it the following day.[6] Gov. Scott Walker signed the bill into law on June 26, 2011.[7]

The budget does not increase taxes but does cut funding to education and local government.[7] Portions of the FY2012-13 budget related to collective bargaining by unions triggered days of protests in the state capitol.[8]

According to the 2011-2013 budget in brief, school aid is reduced by $834 million, or 7.9%, over the biennium. In order to prevent property tax increases, the budget sets the school district revenue limit per pupil to 5.5% less than the amount authorized for 2010-2011. The change in employee contributions to pension and healthcare costs is estimated to save nearly $1 billion over the biennium.[9]

The 2011-2013 budget also reduces funding to University of Wisconsin institutions by $250 million and by $71.6 million to technical college districts over the biennium. The savings is from cutting administrative costs and raising tuition costs.[9]

In FY2013, general and categorical school aids is the largest general purpose revenue program at $5 billion, or 34.5%. The University of Wisconsin System and Madison account for $895 million in spending, or 6.1% of the budget. Combined, education accounts for approximately 40.6% of budget expenditures.[9]

According to a statement released by Governor Scott Walker a month after the passage of the 2011-2013 budget, local governments and school districts reported savings of roughly $220 million.[10]

Effect of Budget Cuts on Education

The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction has maps regarding the impact of the 2011-13 Biennial Budget. The maps show that majority of school districts in the state will face teacher losses, class size increases, and more budget cuts during the biennium.[11]

  • Graduation Rates
    • Graduation rates have not yet been released for school years affected by the 2011-2013 budget.
  • Assessment
    • As of May 5, 2012, there are no reports of significantly lower or higher test scores after the passage of the 2011-2013 budget. The most recent data available is from November of 2011 from the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction.[12]

Cost of Teacher's Health Insurance

Some school districts have begun to transition their teachers on to high deductible insurance plans like the ones used in many private businesses. They feature a yearly deductible of $2,000 a year for individuals and $4,000 for families along with a variety of wellness incentives to get people more involved in their own health care. Some of the districts making the transition include Greendale, New Berlin, and Brown Deer. New Berlin expects to save $1.25 million over the year from the change.[13]

2009-2011 Bienium

Wisconsin's education costs are about 40% of the state budget

As of June 30, 2009 the Gov. Jim Doyle signed a $62 billion budget, of which education accounts for approximately 40%.[14] In light of the state's looming budget deficit, the governor cut about $10 million in spending before signing the final budget.[15]

In the governor's recommendations proposed in February 2009 the governor suggested a $201 million increase in state aids and federal economic stimulus education funding in fiscal year 2009-10 and an additional $24 million increase in fiscal year 2010-11 for a total increase of $426 million over the biennium compared with fiscal year 2008-09 for public education.[14]

In addition to state funding, Wisconsin approved of 18 new bond measures and 18 new taxes.

The cost per pupil was $10,680, ranking 16th highest the nation according the Census Bureau 2007-2008 report.[16]

In 2009, the cost per pupil was $11,783 when adjusted for regional cost differences according to the Kids Count Data Center for The Annie E. Casey Foundcation.[17]

Wisconsin was one of 40 schools who participated in the Race to the Top program for $3 billion in federal funding. The school was not selected to make it to the second round.[18]

School deficits

Milwaukee Public Schools built up a $10.7 million deficit in 2010, with 93 schools going into debt this year. Milwaukee Public Schools racked up nearly $2.4 billion in long-term, non-pension obligations to retirees and their spouses, according to new figures released August 2010.[19]

Milwaukee Public School teachers reportedly have an average salary of $56,500, but with benefits included, the total compensation average is $100,005 for 2011.[20]

Nineteen of the schools reported deficits of more than $200,000.[21]

Personnel salaries

  • On June 29, 2009 the Gov. Doyle signed the state budget for 2009-11 and with it the governor eliminated qualified economic offer (QEO) which allows for school districts to cap increases in teacher pay and benefits to 3.8% a year. The governor also decreased the amount of the state's commitment to public schools' operations. Usually the state contributes 2/3rds but for the upcoming fiscal year the state will instead contributed 60%.[22]

Role of unions

In late June 2009 when Gov. Doyle signed the new state budget it included the elimination of the Qualified Economic Offer rule, created in 1993. The rule allowed school boards to settle contracts by offering 3.8 percent total compensation increase. Additionally, new bargaining laws allow arbitrators to disregard revenue limits and local economic conditions when settling disputes. The new law, said school board members, will lead to an increase in binding arbitration and thus a possible increase in settlement costs. However, Mary Bell, president of the Wisconsin Education Association Council, said "It isn't in employees' best interest to put forward a settlement the district can't afford. It isn't that we don't understand resources. We do."[23]

During the 2009-2010 legislative session, the Wisconsin Education Association Council spent $2.5 million on lobbying the legislature. The organization focused on lobbying on Senate Bill 405 which would have given more power to the district superintendent in Milwaukee Public Schools at expense of the school board and only allowed the superintendent to negotiate contracts with labor organizations.[24]

Union Protests

Protests erupted over a bill that would require state employees to contribute an average of 8% more to their pension and health care costs and the right to collective bargaining.[25] Gov. Walker said that asking employees to pay half the national average for health care "is truly a modest request."[26] Walker also denied that his proposal is trying to break the unions.[26] Up to 40,000 thousands of union protesters filled the state capitol for a week.[25][27][28] After four days of pro-union protests, the Tea Party staged a rally in support of the legislation.[28]

To avoid a vote on the measure, 14 Senate Democrats disappeared and could not be found.[8] They reportedly went to a hotel in Illinois.[25] Republicans control the State Senate by 19 to 14, but to have a vote on fiscal matters, 20 senators must be present.[8] The Senate Democrats, however, threatened to stay away for weeks.[29]

The Assembly had sufficient attendance to hold a vote on the bill but delayed doing so on Feb. 18, 2011, until the following week,[28] and Republican Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald said that the bill has the votes to pass when lawmakers reconvene on Feb. 22, 2011.[30]

Union Benefit Cuts

State employees are unhappy with the governor's budget that forces them to contribute 5.8% of their salary toward their pensions, and also pay 12.6% of their health insurance premiums.[27] The move is 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 would take away most state and local workers of collective bargaining rights on everything except salary.[32] Unions would be unable to seek pay increases above those pegged to the Consumer Price Index unless approved by a public referendum.[25] In addition, unions also would have to hold annual votes to stay organized and would be unable to force employees to pay dues.[25]

Republican lawmakers said collective bargaining rules must be changed so governments can avoid laying off thousands of workers.[33] Gov. Scott Walker has said that he will have to lay off up to 6,000 state workers if the measure does not pass.[25]

Employees who would retain their collective bargaining rights are local police, firefighters and state troopers.[25]

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

School Closures

More than 15 school districts, including the Madison schools 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]

Role of school boards

The school board is comprised of a superintendent and "such other officers as the legislature shall direct." The superintendent is appointed by the state legislature in the same manner as members of the Wisconsin Supreme Court. The superintendent can hold office for 4 years.[37] According to the state constitution the board of education may not prevent a non−union teacher from speaking of a bargaining issue at an open meeting, as was ruled in the [[Judgepedia:United States Supreme Court|U.S. Supreme Court case Madison School District v. Wisconsin Employment Commission.[38]

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 will allow searches for school purchases from 2005 to 2010.[39][40][41] There are over 432,000 invoices which archive over $2.2 billion dollars in spending in the database.[42][43]


A 2009 study, Leaders and Laggards, conducted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Institute for a Competitive Workplace, Frederick M. Hess of the conservative American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, and the Center for American Progress, gave Wisconsin: "B" in academic achievement; "C" in truth in advertising about student proficiency; "D" in rigor of standards; "B" in post-secondary and workforce readiness; "C" in for its teacher workforce policies; "B" in data quality.[44]


  • In 2007, Weyauwega-Fremont School Board lost a suit against Barry Hoerz after he was kicked out of a board meeting in July 2006 "for writing notes." In January 2007, a Waupaca County circuit judge ruled that the board violated the state's open meeting law and ordered the district to pay a $300 fine as well as attorney expenses and other fees totaling $9,133.[45]
  • In fall 2006 the Appleton Post-Crescent newspaper filed suit against the Weyauwega-Freemont School District after requesting and receiving district legal expense documents that were heavily edited. The school district refused to provide more information, after the newspaper made a second request, until a $430 fee was paid. In February 2007, the suit was settled and the district agreed to release the information and pay $10,000 in legal expenses.[45]
    • From 1997-2007, the district has spent approximately an average of $60,000 on legal expenses and has an annual budget of about $9.5 million.[45]

Academic performance

Public schools

For the 2008-09 school year, based on the Wisconsin Knowledge & Concepts Examinations (WKCE) and the Wisconsin Alternate Assessment (WAA) administered in Fall 2008, two school districts - Milwaukee School District and Beloit School District - were "identified for improvement." Also, in 2008-09 Wisconsin reported the highest number of schools in need of improvement. In the 2007-08 school year the state saw it's highest number of schools that missed AYP, followed by the second highest in 2008-09.

Every school year student, school and district performance is generated through state performance exams, WKCE and WAA, and through the national No Child Left Behind Program - the Adequate Yearly Progress or AYP.[46]

The chart below depicts the number of public schools "identified for improvement" and the number of schools that "missed AYP" for school years 2002-03 through 2008-09.[47]

School Year Schools Identified for improvement Schools Missed AYP
2010-11 84 217
2009-10 84 135
2008-09 79 145
2007-08 54 146
2006-07 45 89
2005-06 37 87
2004-05 44 47
2003-04 50 103
2002-03 67 99

Despite having some of the highest spending-per-pupil in the country, a recent study by the National Assessment of Educational Progress found in 2009 that only 34 percent of Wisconsin public-school eighth graders earned a “proficient” or higher rating for reading proficiency.[48]

The table below shows the results for all students in the Wisconsin Student Assessment System (WSAS) according to the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction.[49]

Year Math Reading
2005-06 72.8 81.7
2006-07 75.1 82.1
2007-08 74.7 81.9
2008-09 76.7 81.4
2009-10 77.3 81.6
2010-11 77.2 83
2011-12 78 81.9
  • Source: Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction

Charter schools

For the 2008-09 school year, based on the Wisconsin Knowledge & Concepts Examinations (WKCE) and the Wisconsin Alternate Assessment (WAA) administered in Fall 2008, three charter schools were "identified for improvement" - Academy of Learning & Leadership, Business and Economics Academy and Milwaukee Academy of Science. According to reports, for the consecutive school years 2002-03 through 2005-06 Center City Cyberschool was identified as a school in need for improvement. Wisconsin charter schools had the most number of schools that missed AYP standards in 2007-08, followed by the second highest in 2003-04.

Every school year student, school and district performance is generated through state performance exams, WKCE and WAA, and through the national No Child Left Behind Program - the Adequate Yearly Progress or AYP.[46]

The chart below depicts the number of charter schools "identified for improvement" and the number of schools that "missed AYP" for school years 2002-03 through 2008-09.[47]

School Year Schools Identified for improvement Schools Missed AYP
2010-11 4 6
2009-10 5 5
2008-09 3 3
2007-08 2 7
2006-07 0 3
2005-06 1 0
2004-05 1 2
2003-04 1 5
2002-03 1 3

The WKCE tests were administered again in fall 2010.[50]

State Budget Solutions’ Education Study: “Throwing Money At Education Isn’t Working”

State Budget Solutions’ examined national trends in education from 2009-2011, including state-by-state analysis of education spending, graduation rates, and average ACT scores. The study shows that states that spend the most do not have the highest average ACT test scores, nor do they have the highest average graduation rates. A summary of the study is available here. Download the full report here: Throwing Money At Education Isn’t Working.

See National Chart to compare data from all 50 states.

State Spending on Education vs. Academic Performance 2012

State 2011 Total Spending[51] 2011 Education Spending[52] 2011 Percent Education Spending 2012 Total Spending[53] 2012 Education Spending[54] 2012 Percent Education Spending 2010 Avg. ACT score[55] 2011 Avg. ACT score[56] 2012 Avg. ACT score[57] 2010 Graduation Rate[58] 2011 Graduation Rate[59]
Wisconsin $55.6 billion $17.0 billion 30.5% $55.0 billion $17.3 billion 31.4% 22.1 22.2 22.1 88.5% 89.6%

School choice

School Choice options include:

  • Charter schools: In the 2009-10 school year, there were approximately 79 school boards and 206 charter schools across the state. About 4 new charter schools opened in 2009, while about 41 closed between 2008 and 2009. There were a reported 37 non-instrumentality charter schools (169 instrumentality). Charter schools were first authorized in 1993. Although, charter schools are funded by local public school districts, they offer different programs and curriculum.[60][61]
  • Public school open enrollment: Wisconsin's open-enrollment program allows for students to attend school in a school district other than the one in which they reside. Any student from kindergarten through 12th grade may apply. However, through the program students cannot apply for individual schools. Students may request to be placed in a particular public or charter school but the placement is not guaranteed. This program does not allow for intra-district enrollment - transferring from one school to another within the same district.[62][63]
  • Milwaukee Parental Choice Program:beginning in 1990, Wisconsin allowed for disadvantaged children to receive school vouchers to attend private schools. This program was restricted to the city of Milwaukee, until it was expanded to Milwaukee County and the City of Racine in 2011. In 2008, the state department of education reported that 18,882 students participated in the program.[64] In 2012, enrollment in the program has risen to 23,198 students using a voucher of up to $6,442.[65]
  • Online learning: The state of Wisconsin offers a supplemental online program, established in 2008. In the 2010-11 school year, the system put a cap on enrollment, leaving nearly 1,700 children locked out of the public school of their choice and had to wait for others on the list to drop off before being able to enroll in their chosen school.[64][66]

School Choice Academic Performance

The table below shows the academic performance of students in two school choice programs: Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP) and Parental Private School Choice Program (PPSCP) for Racine which allow students eligible based on income to attend private schools using tax dollars. Results are from the 2011 Wisconsin Student Assessment System (WSAS). The report notes that while MPCP students saw a 5.5 percentage point increase in reading and 1.1 percent point increase in math compared to the previous year.[67]

2011-2012 WSAS Results Math Reading
State 78 81.9
State Economically Disadvantaged 64.7 70.5
Milwaukee Public Schools 48.6 58.2
MPCP Enrolled 39.9 56.3
MPCP (Enrolled Minus Parent Opt Out) 40.4 57
PPSCP Enrolled 50.8 55.7
PPSCP (Enrolled Minus Parent Opt Out) 51.7 56.7
Racine Unified School District 61.5 69.2
  • Source: Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction

External links

Additional reading


  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. Wisconsin Constitution, "Article 10, Section 1," accessed July 13, 2009
  5. [The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel "Budget passes Assembly with provisions on choice schools, broadband funds" June 16, 2011]
  6. Reuters "Wisconsin Senate passes budget, sends to governor" June 17, 2011
  7. 7.0 7.1 The Green Bay Press Gazette "Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker signs state budget in Green Bay area" June 27, 2011
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 { New York Times "Democrats Missing, Wisconsin Vote on Cuts Is Delayed" Feb. 17, 2011]
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 Budget in Brief
  10. "Scott Walker," "Month One: Walker Budget Working," August 1, 2011
  11. "Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction," 2011-13 Biennial Budget
  12. DPI Data Analysis
  13. Journal Sentinel Teachers moving to pricier health plans, April 21, 2012. Accessed May 5, 2012
  14. 14.0 14.1 State of Wisconsin,"2009-2011 Budget in Brief," February 2009
  15. Associated Press,"With minor changes, Doyle signs Wisconsin's budget," June 29, 2009
  16. Maine Watchdog, Education Spending Per Child, July 6, 2010
  17. Kids Count Data Center, Per-pupil educational expenditures adjusted for regional cost differences, 2009
  18. Watchdog, Wisconsin Once Again Fails in Educational Race to the Top, July 27, 2010
  19. "MPS’ Costs for Retiree Health Benefits Threaten to Overwhelm District," MacIver News Service, August 24, 2010
  20. "MacIver Institute," Average MPS Teacher Compensation Tops $100k/year, March 2010
  21. Watchdog, 19 Individual Public Schools in Milwaukee Run up Deficits in Excess of $200,000, Oct. 27, 2010
  22. Milwaukee Journal Sentinel,"School funding getting precarious," June 29, 2009
  23. The Northwestern,"Budget alters contract talks between board, teachers' union," July 12, 2009
  24. "Wisconsin Reporter," "Millions spent for Legislature lobbyists," August 15, 2011
  25. 25.0 25.1 25.2 25.3 25.4 25.5 25.6 "Wis. union vote on hold after Democrats leave state" Feb. 17, 2011
  26. 26.0 26.1 "Wis. gov: I took "bold political move" on budget" Feb. 18, 2011
  27. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named protest
  28. 28.0 28.1 28.2 "Tea Party to rally for Wisconsin anti-union bill" Feb. 18, 2011
  29. Yahoo! News "Wisconsin Democrats could stay away for weeks" Feb. 18, 2011
  30. "Wisconsin Assembly delays vote on union bill" Feb. 18, 2011
  31. 31.0 31.1 The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel "Budget bill draws a crowd" Feb. 15, 2011
  32. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel "Wis. state workers and allies descend on Madison to protest halt to collective bargaining" Feb. 15, 2011
  33. Reuters "Thousand of Wisconsin union workers protest budget plan" Feb. 15, 2011
  34. The Chicago Tribune "Walker says National Guard is prepared" Feb. 11, 2011
  35. 35.0 35.1 "MMSD denied temporary restraining order" Feb. 18, 2011
  36. "Madison schools remain closed, Fourth day in a row" Feb. 21, 2011
  37. Wisconsin Constitution,"Article 10, Section 1," accessed July 9, 2009
  38. Wisconsin Constitution,"Article 1, Section 3," accessed July 13, 2009
  39. CRG Press Release, CRG Network Applauds Milwaukee Public Schools for Publishing Online Spending Database, July 5, 2009
  40. MPS press release, MPS expense records now available online, July 2, 2009
  41. JS Online, Quick Hit: A step toward accountability, July 7, 2009
  42. JS Online, New MPS database wins kudos from taxpayer group, July 6, 2009
  43. JS Online, More welcome transparency at MPS, July 6, 2009
  44. U.S. Chamber of Commerce Institute,"Wisconsin Education Report Card," retrieved November 17, 2009
  45. 45.0 45.1 45.2 Milwaukee Wisconsin Journal Sentinel,"School District loses 2 suits over lack of transparency," March 14, 2007
  46. 46.0 46.1 U.S. Department of Education,"Adequate Yearly Progress," accessed July 13, 2009
  47. 47.0 47.1 Wisconsin Department of Instruction,"Office of Educational Accountability," accessed July 13, 2009
  48. CNS News, Two-Thirds of Wisconsin Public-School 8th Graders Can’t Read Proficiently—Despite Highest Per Pupil Spending in Midwest, Feb. 22, 2011
  49. Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction
  50. WKCE Test Administration Timing for Fall 2010 PDF Document
  51. "Alabama Government Spending Chart - Total Spending" Aug. 4, 2012
  52. "Alabama Government Spending Chart - Education Spending"Aug. 4, 2012
  53. "Alabama Government Spending Chart - Total Spending" Aug. 4, 2012
  54. "Alabama Government Spending Chart - Education Spending"Aug. 4, 2012
  55. 2010 ACT National and State Scores "Average Scores by State"
  56. [ 2011 ACT National and State Scores " Average Scores by State"]
  57. [ 2011 ACT National and State Scores " Average Scores by State"]
  58. National Center for Education Statistics
  59. National Center for Education Statistics
  60. Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction,"Wisconsin Charter Schools Yearbook 2009-2010," retrieved November 13, 2009
  61. Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction,"Charter Schools in Wisconsin," retrieved November 13, 2009
  62. Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, "Public School Open Enrollment," accessed July 13, 2009
  63. Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction,"Public School Choice (open enrollment)," accessed July 9, 2009
  64. 64.0 64.1 The Heritage Foundation,"School Choice in Wisconsin," accessed July 13, 2009
  65. "Watchdog," "Milwaukee voucher enrollment jumps 10%," February 15, 2012
  66. "Advocates Say Virtual School Lockout Still in Effect, Harming Families, MacIver News Service, August 18, 2010
  67. "Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction," Second year of choice school data, March 27, 2012