Despite the state seeing $2 billion in tax revenue losses due to COVID-19, the Beloit, Beloit Turner, Clinton and Parkview school districts are receiving increases in state aid.
However, area legislators say the aid could be reduced if the legislature is forced to make cuts due to the pandemic.
According to Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI) data released Wednesday, Beloit will receive 1.84% more in state aid, an increase of $1,244,754. Beloit received $67,609,174 last year and is set to receive $68,853,928 for the 2020-2021 school year.
Beloit-Turner School District will receive 3.10% more in state aid, an increase of $274,808. Beloit-Turner received $8,873,929 last year and is set to receive $9,148,737 for the 2020-2021 school year.
The Clinton School District will receive 0.32% more in state aid, an increase of $23,430. Clinton received $7,244,018 last year and is set to receive $7,267,448 for the 2020-2021 school year.
The Parkview School District will receive 0.58% more in state aid, an increase of $31,394. Parkview received $5,419,740 last year, and is set to receive $5,451,134 for the 2020-2021 school year.
The aid calculation is based upon the best information available today. So school districts won’t know their real aid amounts until it is certified by DPI on Oct. 15.
Estimated general school aids for 2020-21 total $4.9 billion, representing a $163.5 million or 3.5% increase over last year. Due to changes in aid deductions for the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program and the Milwaukee-area legacy independent charter schools, the estimated increase in payments to districts is $160.8 million. Of the state’s 421 school districts, 72% (302) are estimated to receive more general aid in 2020-21, while 27% of districts (114) are estimated to receive less; five districts will have no change in aid between the 2019-20 and 2020-21 fiscal years.
A district’s general aid can increase or decrease due to changes in any of the three local factors comprising Wisconsin’s general equalization aid formula—property valuation, enrollment, and shared costs—as well as a difference in funds available from the state.
General school aids are the largest form of state support for public schools in the state. State equalization aid is meant to make up the difference between a district’s actual tax base and the state guaranteed tax base. Districts such as Beloit with a low valuation per pupil receive a higher percentage of state aid.
In the 2019-2021 Biennial Budget (2019 Act 9), an increase in general aid funding for the 2019-2020 school year was approved in the amount of $81.34 million, (which the districts would have already received during this last school year) and an increase of an additional $163.5 million was approved for the upcoming 2020-2021 school year, according to State Rep. Amy Loudenbeck, R-Clinton.
Loudenbeck said the increases in the total amount of general aid were passed by the Legislature and signed into law by the Gov. Tony Evers almost exactly one year ago. A breakout of the distribution of funds released Wednesday indicates that 72% of schools are expected to see an increase in state aid while 27% are expected to see a decrease. Even though there is a larger total appropriation, an individual district’s general aids can increase or decrease due to changes in any of three local factors comprising Wisconsin’s general equalization aid formula—property valuation, enrollment, and shared costs.
There is a real possibility, Loudenbeck said, the Governor will be required to propose a “budget repair bill” to adjust previously approved spending levels downward to match up with a projected decrease in revenues.
“This is required under current law in order to have a ‘balanced budget.’ It is possible the total general school aid appropriation could be adjusted downward as part of the budget repair bill, although the local factors already mentioned will still be used to determine an individual district’s general aids. At this time, I would strongly encourage all state and local units of government, K-12 schools districts and the UW System, to conserve resources and plan for flat budgets at best for the next fiscal year,” Loudenbeck said.
Rep. Mark Spreitzer, D-Beloit, said he’s glad to see that local districts are tending to receive higher aid estimates, however, it’s important to remember that there have been no changes to the current budget to reflect the new budget realities of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Unless a new budget or budget repair bill is passed, the state will continue under the approved 2019-2021 budget. I am confident that Gov. Evers will do everything he can to keep state agencies below budget and preserve as much funding as possible for priorities like public education. Even so, we are all expecting there will be a budget shortfall, and the legislature will need to both find new revenues and prioritize the funding we have,” Spreitzer said.
Spreitzer said legislators need to act urgently to begin identifying and using the resources it has to close the state’s budget gap to avoid cuts to school funding, especially in the middle of a school year.
Spreitzer said he’s identified three sources of funding legislators must consider before contemplating any budget cuts that would affect public schools: federal Medicaid expansion dollars which would generate hundreds of millions of dollars in budget savings; budget stabilization fund or rainy day fund which has over $600 million; and increased online sales tax revenue for places like Amazon which are selling more online.
“The impacts of this pandemic have been profound, and our schools are on the front lines of trying to find creative ways to both educate our kids and keep them safe. School funding must remain a top priority for state government,” Spreitzer said.