MADISON — Wisconsin’s Department of Public Instruction is massive and expensive and inefficient, and it’s always hungry for more — much more — taxpayer money.
Gov. Tony Evers, who has spent much of his adult life as an educrat, wants to feed DPI a feast of increased funding.
The governor this week joined DPI Superintendent Jill Underly in announcing a plan to pump $2 billion more into the state’s public education system. Republicans blasted the plan as a costly political stunt two months shy of a closely contested election. Evers insists, “We have to do this if we finally want to make a difference for kids.”
Wisconsin taxpayers have been doing a lot of “this” — spending — on a public education system that has left a lot of kids behind and many of them unprepared for the workforce of tomorrow.
Keep in mind some important facts as the the education establishment pleads for significantly more money:
› DPI’s 2021-23 budget is $16.3 billion, supporting 643 bureaucrats.
› The state and its school districts have received some $2.4 billion in COVID relief funds for education with wide discretion over their use.
› Per-pupil spending in Wisconsin rose to $12,740 in 2020, according to the latest figures from the U.S. Census. In Milwaukee, it’s more than $2,000 more per student.
What has all that money paid for? Some truly subpar achievement numbers. English and math proficiency scores have plummeted. Last year, just 34 percent Wisconsin’s third through eighth graders were proficient in English, and just 33.6 percent were proficient in math. Those numbers are in the single digits in schools in some of Wisconsin’s largest districts. While the pandemic created a number of challenges, the federal government also delivered unprecedented funding.
The Institute for Reforming Government on Wednesday released the first in its Wisconsin State Agency 101 series, taking a closer look at the state’s 20 largest state agencies — their history, functions and problems. IRG launched the educational series with reports on the University of Wisconsin System and DPI.
“Since 2017, DPI has seen its biennial budget increase by over $2 billion, from $14.2 billion to $16.3 billion. This is despite serving 18,500 fewer students and overseeing disastrous drops in math scores and college enrollment beyond pandemic averages,” the report states.
IRG notes much of the $2.4 billion in federal COVID relief funds were intended to help Wisconsin schools manage distance learning before transitioning to in-person learning. Districts in Madison, Milwaukee, Racine and elsewhere refused to re-open schools to in-person learning long after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advised doing. Much of the federal aid remains unspent.
IRG notes the Legislature has in recent years provided more specific guidance to DPI, an agency that has remained mostly unchanged in structure.
“However, there is still significant work to be done. The Department has minimal direction and oversight over its plan to spend federal dollars,” the report states.
“In addition, education reforms such as additional school choice, empowering parents, further improvements to reading outcomes, accountability for Milwaukee Public Schools, and revamps of how teachers are prepared for the classroom have been mostly stymied by Governor Evers.”
Read the IRG report on DPI here, and the report on the UW System here.