Minn. and Wis. budget for education very different

Under Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s new budget proposal, he wants to keep funding for education flat, and that has school districts nervous about a drop in state aid.

But just across the river in Minnesota, quite the opposite is happening.

When it came to designing a budget plan, Minnesota and Wisconsin were in very different situations. Minnesota had a $1 billion surplus, while Wisconsin was around $2.2 billion in the hole.

Wisconsin isn’t raising education funding, but Minnesota is putting an additional $418 million in its public school system over the next two years.

Rushford-Peterson Superintendent Chuck Ehler is glad to see more money being spent on education and the future of Minnesota.

“It is very reassuring and comforting for us to know that the governor is there supporting us and actually being proactive in his proposals,” Ehler said.

But for his district, it’s just a drop in the bucket, because it will only be seeing about a 1 percent increase.

“That’s somewhere in the neighborhood between $30,000 – $40,000 per year. Overall, it’s good to have an increase, but in the big picture of things, that’s not going to have as dramatic an impact as we had hoped,” Ehler said.

In Wisconsin, however, Sparta School District Superintendent John Hendricks isn’t getting any additional funding from the state.

“The problem is it will prevent us from expanding and doing more for our students like our families expect,” Hendricks said.

Fortunately his district has the support of local families. The district’s previous three referendums have passed keeping its schools afloat.

“If the state was providing an adequate amount, we wouldn’t need to go to our residents to ask for that additional money,” Hendricks said.

Hendricks said although state funding is staying level, he doesn’t expect to receive the same amount money.

“The enrollment in public schools in Wisconsin continues to increase and so that will also reduce the amount of funding that’s available to each individual student, so there will definitely be less money available. What that will mean for us in the future is a little bit hard to say at this point,” Hendricks said.

Hendricks says his district faces the same challenges all schools face; increasing class sizes, teachers spending too much of their own money on the classroom and administrators spread too thin across multiple buildings. He said if funding continues to decrease, he worries the situation for public schools will get worse.

Both budget proposals will now be debated by their respective legislatures over the next several months. They need to be signed by July 1 when the next budget cycle begins.