The non-partisan Wisconsin Policy Forum (WPF) is reporting that, despite the desire to throw more money at schools by both sides of the aisle, Wisconsin’s school funding ranks high in both adequacy and equity.

“Highlighting information compiled annually by Education Week, the new WPF study notes that Wisconsin
is one of only five states that ranked among the top 16 in composite measures of both adequacy (16th) and equity
(9th) during 2014,” the WPF said in a release Wednesday. “More commonly, states that are ranked high on adequacy placed low on equity, and vice versa.”

The news comes as Governor Scott Walker is proposing increases in sparsity aid to rural school districts. According to the Associated Press, “The proposal would increase the maximum that qualifying low-spending districts can spend on a combination of local property taxes and state aid per student from $9,100 to $9,400 for the 2018-2019 school year. It would increase by $100 each year to a maximum of $9,800 in the 2022-2023 school year.”

WPF said that a state commission examining school funding should look at the complexity of school funding in Wisconsin instead.

“While the report notes Wisconsin’s system compares favorably to those elsewhere, WPF researchers acknowledge that school finance here has some challenges, most of which are expected to be reviewed by the new blue-ribbon commission. However, one that is not often mentioned is simplification,” WPF said in the release. “As the commission undertakes its review of adequacy and equity, members might ask if there are changes that can be made to make the system more transparent and understandable, while still maintaining the many positive attributes in our system.”

The Wisconsin Policy Forum was formed with the merger of the Madison-based Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance and the Milwaukee-based Public Policy Forum.

A recent op-ed by Dr. Will Flanders of the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty criticized the proposed increase in sparsity aid, noting that increased funding for schools was unlikely to improve educational outcomes.

“There is extensive evidence for diminishing returns in education spending, including work produced by WILL,” Flanders wrote. “Even research that has found positive benefits to increased education spending generally finds such benefits when districts with high levels of poverty are given more money, and Wisconsin already has a funding system that does that.”

There would be more “bang for the buck” in investing in independent charter schools, Flanders said. Flanders suggested in the op-ed that rural school districts consider more consolidation of services in order to more efficiently use the school funding available.