THE PROBLEM: Wisconsin taxpayers are spending unprecedented amounts of money on K-12 public education, but there is no accountability on the schools for academic performance. As a result, far too many schools are graduating students who cannot read and are ill-equipped for today’s jobs.
POLICY SOLUTION: One way for schools to be more accountable for performance is to make it easier for the public to track where their taxpayer money is spent in their school district. Senate Bill 373 / Assembly Bill 378, supported by IRG and WILL, would shine a light on the taxpayer money that is – and isn’t – being spent on the classroom by creating an easily searchable, free website.
1. Wisconsin’s K-12 education system is flooded with federal and state taxpayer dollars. The recently enacted state budget will increase state spending within the K-12 system by nearly 5%. On top of that, federal COVID relief funding will increase spending on Wisconsin’s public schools by 15%. But there is no accountability on schools for how they spend taxpayer money.
2. The public deserves to know where their tax dollars are being spent. Senate Bill 373 / Assembly Bill 378, supported by IRG and WILL, would require the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) to put all public school spending online on an easily searchable and free website.
3. More transparency in school spending will improve K-12 education in two ways. One, it will help locate and end wasteful and fraudulent spending, and two, it will highlight initiatives that save money and have better student results, which in turn will allow other classrooms to emulate what works.
4. This proposal has broad support. Last Friday, for example, a coalition of teachers wrote a letter to lawmakers asking for a greater ability to know just how much money reaches their classroom. Across Wisconsin, 80% of voters support public school spending transparency (WILL, 2019).
BACKGROUND: The state of Wisconsin has an online portal where any interested person is able to search the state’s checkbook and see what spending decisions policy makers are making. That same transparency should apply to the billions of dollars that are spent on K-12 schools in the state.
Unfortunately, it is nearly impossible for an interested person to obtain school spending information from their local school, to say nothing of trying to compare that spending to other schools and districts. That means teachers and school board members are unable to compare what works, watchdog groups are unable to weed out fraud, and citizens are generally left in the dark.
There is an easy solution. DPI already collects spending data from school districts. Senate Bill 373 by Senator Mary Felzkowski (R-Irma) and Assembly Bill 378 by Rep. Gae Magnafici (R-Dresser) would require DPI to make the data they already collect from school districts available on a searchable website, as is already required for most state agencies. Doing so would give citizens, watchdog groups, teachers, school board members, and any other interested party the ability to review spending decisions being made by school districts, which in turn would allow praise and emulation when the results are good, but also critique when the transparency uncovers failed initiatives and even potential fraud.
WHAT’S NEXT: SB 373 has been introduced in the Senate Committee on Education with its companion, Assembly Bill 378, introduced in the Assembly Committee on Government Accountability and Oversight. The committee hearings will occur in August.