Agency Primer: Department of Public Instruction

Agency Primer by IRG:

Wisconsin’s Department of Public Instruction

The Wisconsin Constitution created the office of State Superintendent of Public Instruction in 1848 and required the legislature to provide free public education for all children between the ages of 4 and 20 years old. The State Superintendent served two year terms until the office was changed to a four year term in 1902. Most school operations and curriculum were handled at a local level with the State Superintendent dispersing state funds. The department shared teacher licensing authority with local school districts until the legislature transferred all licensing authority to DPI in 1939. In 1983, the state created uniform high school graduation requirements. In 1985, DPI set standards that all school districts must meet to receive state aid.

Today, the Department of Public Instruction oversees approximately $16 billion in annual expenditures, most of it directed to the state’s 421 local school districts. In addition to managing formula funding, categorical spending programs, and federal funds for the state, the agency is also tasked with overseeing school choice programs. In all, the Department manages the education of about 950,000 students enrolled in public and private schools.

The Department also is responsible for issuing teacher licenses and publish- ing accountability data such as state report cards. While much of this work is mandated by federal law, the agency is frequently criticized both for inefficiently executing on its required tasks while micromanaging districts in areas that may not be DPI’s purview.

DPI is located in the GEF 3 building near the Capitol Square in Madison. There are also a small number of staff who service Wisconsin Educational Opportunity Programs in Ashland, Eau Claire, Green Bay, Milwaukee, and Wausau.

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