Wisconsin taxpayers will spend more than $14.2 billion on the state’s share of funding K-12 education. That doesn’t include unprecedented amounts of federal money, much of it in the form of pandemic relief.
But where’s the accountability?
The Institute for Reforming Government (IRG) says the state should make it easier for the public to track where their taxpayer money is spent in their school districts. Senate Bill 373/Assembly Bill 378, supported by IRG and the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty, aims to shine light on the taxpayer money that is — and isn’t — being spent on the classroom through a searchable and free website, according to the nonprofit good government group.
As IRG notes, the recently enacted state budget will increase state spending within the K-12 system by nearly 5 percent over the next two years. On top of that, federal COVID relief funding will increase spending on Wisconsin’s public schools by 15 percent.
IRG believes local education spending should be as easily searchable as the OpenBook Wisconsin website, which provides readily available information on the state’s checkbook.
“Unfortunately, it is nearly impossible for an interested person to obtain school spending information from their local school, to say nothing of trying to compare that spending to other schools and districts,” asserts IRG’s latest Policy Solution statement. “That means teachers and school board members are unable to compare what works, watchdog groups are unable to weed out fraud, and citizens are generally left in the dark.”
Senate Bill 373 by state Sen. Mary Felzkowski (R-Irma) and Assembly Bill 378 by Rep. Gae Magnafici (R-Dresser) would require the Department of Public Instruction to make the data it already collects from school districts available on a searchable website, as is already required for most state agencies.
“Doing so would give citizens, watchdog groups, teachers, school board members, and any other interested party the ability to review spending decisions being made by school districts, which in turn would allow praise and emulation when the results are good, but also critique when the transparency uncovers failed initiatives and even potential fraud,” the policy solution statement says.
The transparency legislation has broad support, according to IRG. Last week, a coalition of teachers wrote a letter to lawmakers asking for a greater ability to know just how much money reaches their classroom. A 2019 WiLL survey found 80 percent of voters support public school spending transparency.
Read more at the Institute for Reforming Government.