Agency 101: Department of Public Instruction

Sep 6, 2022 | Administration

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State Agency Fast Facts: 

The Department of Public Instruction manages sending state funds to local school districts, spending programs, and federal funds for the state. The agency is also tasked with overseeing school choice programs.

The Department also is responsible for issuing teacher licenses and publishing accountability data such as state report cards. The DPI’s 2021-23 budget is set at $16.3 billion over the biennium and the agency has a total of 643 employees.

Close Call:

In his last budget, Governor Evers proposed to eliminate the Office of Educational Opportunity, the statewide charter authorizer through the University of Wisconsin.

He also tried to freeze enrollment in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program, Racine Parental Choice Program, and Wisconsin Parental Choice Program. Fortunately those efforts failed.

Keep an Eye on…

The state and its school districts received a massive influx of covid-relief funds from the federal government- nearly $2.4 Billion! While the funds were mostly intended to help schools manage distance learning and then return to in-person learning, much of the funds still have not been spent. DPI’s website has this information broken down by school district.

Expect districts to continue to look for flexibilities on how and when these funds can be spent. In addition, once these one-time funds are exhausted, expect many political actors and the media to describe their absence as a “cut.”

Reform History:

Governor Tommy Thompson’s 1995-97 state budget made sweeping reforms to DPI only to have them rejected by the State Supreme Court. Governor Walker was able to pass aggressive reforms on topics such as collective bargaining (Act 10) reform and school choice (which then-Superintendent Tony Evers strongly opposed) while still working with Evers on topics such as school report cards and reading reform.

While the Department has mostly been unchanged in structure, the Legislature has begun providing more specific guidance to DPI about how to manage various programs. However, there is still significant work to be done. The Department has minimal direction and oversight over its plan to spend federal dollars.

In addition, education reforms such as additional school choice, empowering parents, further improvements to reading outcomes, accountability for Milwaukee Public Schools, and revamps of how teachers are prepared for the classroom have been mostly stymied by Governor Evers.

What would you do?

If you were in charge for a day, what reforms would you make to the Department? Email Alex Ignatowski, IRG’s Director of State Budget and Government Reform, at [email protected].