The Future of Public Education in Wisconsin

(Nov 2015) On November 3, nearly 100 GRUMPS and friends heard State Superintendent of Public Instruction, Tony Evers, and UW Professor Julie Mead discuss what lies ahead for public schools in our state. In a word, the future is challenging! And that challenge lies almost entirely on the political side of education “reform.”


On the academic side, we have challenges as well – not least of which is the achievement gap, which, as Tony pointed out, is very much related to race. But good news also abounds. Wisconsin students are graduating at a higher rate and lead the nation in that measure. We continue to rank among the top ten states on the prestigious NAEP exams; attendance rates are increasing, while drug and alcohol use decreases. More students are involved in co-curricular activities. Our public school classrooms are working for Wisconsin students.

But to return to the political challenge… Public schools confront this challenge on many fronts. We will emphasize two: funding and alternatives to public schools, both of which are driven by decisions in the state legislature, decisions based on politics, not educational needs.


Is Wisconsin fast approaching the point when a legal challenge can be brought against the state for failing to fulfill its constitutional obligation to provide a “sound basic education?”

PUBLIC SCHOOL ALTERNATIVES (Charter schools and vouchers)

As one of the participants suggested, and Tony agreed, we should STOP using the term voucher! Substitute “tax-supported private school payment!” And in most communities, it’s a “tax-supported PAROCHIAL school payment!”

As Dr. Mead pointed out, the cost to local school districts will be significant and, over time, will definitely impact the quality of education. Local property tax payers will be supporting both local public and private/parochial schools at a cost that’s likely to become prohibitive to the taxpayer! While this is happening – increasing local property tax levels – the public schools face revenue limits that allow no increase in spending. Higher property taxes, lower public school spending! A recipe for disaster!

The challenge is obvious. And, there are ramifications that are less obvious. The enrollment in Wisconsin Schools of Education, public & private, has declined 12 percent. Who will teach the children?

Why do we GRUMPS believe so strongly in PUBLIC education. It is because of education’s “PUBLICNESS!” As Dr. Mead stated, so elegantly, PUBLIC education has:


Shake Off Those Charter Chains!

(Dec 2014 & 2015) The Progressive has produced another wonderful video, Shake Off Those Charter Chains!) to go along with the first (Profitship! Cashing in on Public Schools!). Both are animated features on school privatization starring little Timmy, a kindergartner who likes his public school. Timmy gets a lesson in corporate education reform, starting with the rightwing mantra "Public Schools have failed."

Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Mark Fiore uses his trademark humor to show the absurdity of this argument. Despite poor results, independent charters are replacing real teachers and classes like art, social studies, and gym with a computer-aided test-prep curriculum straight out of science fiction. 

Please enjoy (if "enjoy," is the proper word!) and send this page to all your friends in other parts of Wisconsin and the nation. 

Watch the Progressive's Profitship! Cashing in on Public Schools video below


Vouchers Explained

(July 2013) Voucher expansion will create two taxpayer-funded school systems: one, our existing public schools, with stringent accountability measures and mandates, and the other, taxpayer-funded voucher schools (for-profit, religious and private) with little oversight and accountability. The state isn’t adequately funding the public school system it is constitutionally directed to provide; taxpayers certainly can’t afford another one.

K-12 Education Issues in the 2013-15 State Budget

(July 2013) The budget bill increases total state support for K-12 education funding by about $411 million in General Purpose Revenue (GPR) over two years – an average growth of less than 2% per year. A little over a fifth (21%) of the increase is for choice and charter schools, and 7% is for assessment of students and schools. [See below for another description of how vouchers & charters have priority (first draw) on aid appropriations.]

A Small Increase for Public Schools
The increase in state aid to public schools will not allow school funding to keep pace with inflation. The increase in school aid is $289 million over two years, which amounts to a 1.5% increase in 2014 and a 2.8% increase in 2015.

Each district’s revenue cap, which limits the amount of revenue a district can generate from the combination of equalization aid and property taxes, will increase by $75 in 2014 and another $75 in 2015. This represents an increase of 0.8% in the revenue cap in each year of the budget.

In contrast to the usual way of using the bulk of a school aid increase to boost equalization aid (targeted more towards districts with lower property tax bases), this budget uses most of the increased aid for a $190 million appropriation to increase categorical aid (increased categorical aid DOES NOT increase the revenue cap) for all districts by $75 per student in 2014 and another $75 in 2015.
Putting much of the aid increase in a categorical
appropriation means that the state is diminishing its efforts
to help poorer districts (with weaker property tax bases). On the other hand, the less progressive approach not only has broader political support, it also has the advantage that categorical aid does not count against the revenue cap.

New Resources for Voucher and Charter Schools

The budget significantly expands the state’s school choice program, which allows students from low and moderate income families to attend private schools using publicly-funded vouchers. State spending on vouchers will increase by $77 million over the next two years.

The budget expands the school choice program statewide. Currently, only the Milwaukee and Racine districts are included in the program. The budget includes several limitations on the number and type of students who may participate in the program. (These restrictions do not apply to the programs in the Milwaukee and Racine districts.)

Many advocates for public education think the limitations put on the school voucher program will be lifted by the Legislature in the near future, similar to the way past limitations on the school voucher program have been rolled back. (see History)

A Generous New Tax Break for Private School Tuition

(July 2013)The budget includes an income tax deduction for tuition in private schools, which is expected to reduce state tax revenue by $30 million in 2015. Filers may deduct tuition expenses of up to $4,000 per year per student enrolled in kindergarten through 8th grade, and $10,000 per year for students in grades nine through twelve. Anyone paying private school tuition is eligible to receive this benefit, regardless of income. Wisconsin will be one of only six states that offer similar direct tax benefits for families paying private school tuition. 
The new tax break for private school tuition is generous, especially considering that in tax year 2012, the maximum deduction per student per year for college tuition and fees was $6,543, and eligibility phases out at higher incomes.

Assessment and Data Systems
The budget includes recommendations for spending on student assessment, teacher evaluations, and data systems, including:

Tamarine Cornelius and Jon Peacock (Wisconsin Council On Children and Families, / edits by GRUMPS


While the general school aids appropriation for 2012-13 increased by $31.7 million over 2011-12, public school districts received only $21.4 million of that increase. That’s because money to fund private voucher schools and independent charters is skimmed off the top as a “first draw” on general aid funding. Independent charter schools saw an additional $7.5 million over last year, while private voucher schools saw an additional $2.2 million in Milwaukee and $0.6 million in Racine.
What the numbers show is that independent charter schools and voucher schools, which together served roughly 31,800 FTE students, received nearly one-third ($10.3 million) of the new money, while public school districts, which serve 855,000 FTE students—or about 27 times as many students—received only $21.4 million in additional general aid. (WASB)

From SCHOOL ZONE Blog, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, July 4, 2013 (Is this what our founding fathers had in mind??):

“I have a question that perhaps you can answer. The Catholic School across the street from me has a 100% voucher population. That means that every single student at the school is on the voucher program. Since the school now gets all of it's funding from taxpayers, is it a public school? (And since voucher schools don't pay teachers the same as public schools, tax payer voucher money was used to upgrade the furnace and air conditioning at the church. I suppose that's better than buying several Cadillac cars for the school principal like other voucher schools have done.)”

Reply from MJS Blogger, Erin Richards

“Does the furnace and A/C heat and cool both the school and church? If so, it would be an allowable expense. If it is only for the church, the DPI auditors will not allow it as a voucher expense. If disallowing this cost from the voucher expenses drops their cost per student below $6,442, then the school will have to pay this money back to DPI, so it won’t cost the taxpayers for repairing the church. This is the system of checks and balances that DPI put in place with their independent audit.”

GRUMPS on The Record

GRUMPS take their message to Channel 3

(April 2013) Carol and Nan were on For The Record with Neil Heinen, Sunday, April 7 to discuss these state budget issues. See the video below:

Get the Facts on Vouchers

Voucher Facts

Know the Real Deal!

flowerWe ARE Grumpy when not enough of us grasp what a bargain our fine schools have been!

The percentage of our property taxes that support public schools has actually gone down since 1994!

Explore the REAL STORY about school property taxes!

GRUMPS (Grandparents United for Madison Public Schools) support the role of a strong public education system in our community.  Progressive advocates for public education, GRUMPS 1) generate support for school district referenda, 2) educate the community on relevant topics, 3) sponsor public forums to address current district issues, 4) study the impact of state and national policies on the district, and 5) provide timely information to GRUMPS members and the media.

GRUMPS: keeping the “public” in public education.  Join us.

As Grandparents United for Madison Public Schools, we still believe that good public education is the heart of our American democracy! Dedicated educators and a supportive community spell wonderful learning opportunities for Madison children. We can no longer sit around and grouse.

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To become a GRUMP, send us an email to If you have questions about the budget shortfall, email