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Bill would allow 19 school districts to benefit from raised revenue ceiling

by Baylor Spears, Wisconsin Examiner August 17, 2023

A pair of Wisconsin lawmakers are seeking to eliminate a statute that could prevent several school districts from benefiting from recently increased low revenue ceilings.

A provision to increase public schools’ low revenue ceiling — the amount schools can raise per pupil before having to go to referendum — from $10,000 to $11,000 per pupil was included in a recently enacted law that also increased state funding for private choice schools and independent charter schools. 

The public and private school funding provisions were negotiated by Republican lawmakers and Democratic Gov. Tony Evers during the state budget process. However, an estimated 19 school districts are ineligible for the increase due to a previously passed law. 

Wisconsin schools are restricted in the amount of money that they are allowed to raise from general school aids and property taxes due to school revenue limits, which were first introduced in 1993 and made permanent in 1997. If school districts want to raise more than their limits they must go to referendum to get approval from voters. 

Under a 2017 state law, school districts that have a failed referendum are not allowed to get an increase in revenue for three years following the referendum. 

Because of that law, 19 Wisconsin school districts that have a base per pupil revenue of less than $10,675 and failed a referendum may not be able to increase their revenue to the new low revenue ceiling.

The affected school districts include Arcadia, Auburndale, Beloit, Berlin Area, Bristol #1, Horicorn, Lake Mills Area, Merrill Area, Milton, North Lake, Northern Ozaukee, Parkview, Silver Lake J1, Southwestern Wisconsin, Sparta Area, Spring Valley, Valders Area, Walworth J1 and Westby Area. 

Sen. Patrick Testin (R-Stevens Point) and Rep. Chanz Green (R-Grandview) are introducing a bill that would help those districts by eliminating the ban on increased funding after a failed referendum effort. 

“It’s only fair that we give them that opportunity,” Testin told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “For some of these more rural districts, it provides some significant heartburn not having that certainty. I think with what we’re trying to do here, we’ll provide a little bit more certainty moving forward where they won’t be hampered by the three-year cap.”

Evers proposed eliminating the provision in his initial budget proposal, however, Republican lawmakers decided not to include it in the final budget. 

Testin, who has three school districts that wouldn’t benefit from the increase, has said that he hopes that the bill will be heard and make it to a floor vote when lawmakers return to session in the fall.

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