More than half Wis. school districts see drop in state funding

Total state aid amount available frozen from last year

More than half of the public school districts in Wisconsin will be seeing less state money this year compared to last, and that is certainly true for the districts in La Crosse County.

The total amount of state aid available to public school districts this year was unchanged from last year, and that’s part of the reasons so many districts are receiving less funding for the 2015-2016 school year.

Thankfully, educators expected a drop in funding and planned accordingly.

Of the five public school districts in La Crosse County, the Holmen School District is the only one receiving more in funding compared to what it received last year. West Salem is taking a little more than a 7 percent reduction in state aid.

Bangor          -0.11 percent
Holmen          2.00 percent
La Crosse      -0.51 percent
Onalaska       -3.52 percent
West Salem   -7.12 percent

“Your aid is based upon how much you spend, how many children you have, and what the property values are in your school district,” West Salem School District Superintendent Troy Gunderson said.

But Gunderson said while 7 percent is a big hit, the district anticipated this.

“We spent a little bit less last year. Our property values are going up every single day. We’ve been expanding, growing. Our property values are worth more, and our student population is staying about the same. So what happens is your value per child increases, and therefore, your aid goes down,” Gunderson said.

Because the district was planning ahead, the drop in funding isn’t expected to force any cuts to staff or programming. The same goes for the Onalaska School District.

“We had to set our budget many months ago, so we are planning on continuing the same programs, so the day-to-day things for this year will not change,” Onalaska School District Director of Finance and Business Kent Ellickson said.

Gunderson said had the state increased the aid available to public schools, 56 percent of districts across the state, including West Salem, might not be taking as big of a hit to their budget as they currently are. He said if the trend continues, it is the state taxpayers that will be taking the hit.

“The education pile, if you continue to freeze this, there are going to be folks all over the state that as the tax pressure hits, who’s going to pay that bill and how’s it going to be managed. It’ll be interesting to see,” Gunderson said.

Gunderson said the biggest pool of money in the state of Wisconsin budget is public education funding, so if lawmakers are trying to balance the budget, freezing that account is one way of helping balance things out.

Total aid amounts statewide will be reduced later in the year by costs for the voucher program, then increased for categorical aid, which includes things like special education programming and transportation.