October 13: State Budget

October 13, 2017

Hello, Black River Falls Community!  This is Dr. Shelly Severson, with the School District of Black River Falls, here to share this week's installment of our Spotlight on Schools!  Today we are going to talk briefly about the recently signed biennium state budget.  While it is definitely the budget that recently received approval, there is an awful lot of educational policy and rulemaking that comes out of that document.  I’d like to give you some highlights and some lowlights from the public school perspective in Black River Falls.

Before I get too far into the impact to education within the state budget, I first want to give you a little background on school funding.  Districts are funded on a per pupil revenue limit.  The limits were put into place in 1993; there was no state formula that determined what the right amount to spend per pupil was. Instead, it locked in whatever a district happened to have been spending at that time.  In 1993, the School District of Black River Falls was among the lowest spending districts in the state, which was great for our taxpayers at this time!  The challenge that this created is that we have been locked in at this level since 1993, except when the state provides for a revenue limit per pupil increase, which by the way, dropped by $452 in 2011 during Act 10.  To put this into perspective, I would share that the average revenue limit increase for the seven years before Act 10 was $279 per pupil revenue limit increase per year.  Act 10 decreased the per pupil revenue limit for districts by over $450 per student.  In the five years since then, the average increase has been $60 per student, as you can tell by the math, in 2017-2018 we are still funded at a level less than we were in the 2010-2011 school year on a per pupil revenue limit basis.  What all this means is that if you were a low spender in 1993, you have been locked in as a low spender and cannot make up the difference between your circumstances and those of the much higher spending districts without going to a referendum.  This means a continuous cycle of reducing the school budget, while at the same time working to meet the continuously more demanding needs of the students and families that we serve.  Several area districts were locked in spending several thousand more per student than we were.  During the recent state budget cycle, there was serious consideration to allowing low spending districts the opportunity to slowly step up to the state average. However, that provision was vetoed.  So for now, the inequity in funding will continue.

You likely heard that there was a huge investment in education through the current budget, which is greatly appreciated!  However, the funding that previously was divided up between Public Schools is now being divided with Independent Charter Schools, Parental Choice Programs in which parents use public tax dollars to attend private and religious schools, as well as Special Needs Scholarship Programs. Here is how it boils down for the School District of Black River Falls.  There were funds put into what are called “Categorical Aid.” We did receive an increase of $250 per pupil for this year and another increase for the following year of the biennial budget. However, these are considered aid outside of the revenue limit per student, which means they are not added to our formula and remain with us moving forward.  It is a two-year commitment.  The amount allocated to private school vouchers was equal to or greater than the amount allocated to public schools on a per pupil basis.  There were also dollars allocated to help rural schools through a Sparsity Aid provision, the School District of Black River Falls does not meet the requirements for these funds, as they are for districts with less than 1,000 students.

There were some adjustments to the laws that govern high school students taking courses from a college or technical school while still being full time high school students.  We are motivated to have the majority of our students graduate with either some post secondary credits already successfully completed, or an industry specific certification that gives them a leg up in the employment market.  This provision will help us reach these goals.

There were funds put into mental health training support for schools which will be accessed through different grant programs.  As I mentioned earlier, some of our students and families are in significant need of mental health assistance, this is not something that schools are equipped to handle; however, many communities are struggling with enough providers in the mental health areas.  Hopefully grants and training in this area will be steps toward addressing this issue.

There are also grants for working with the Department of WorkForce Development to create youth apprenticeship programs and sponsoring work based learning experiences for our older students.  This is something that we have been working on developing and growing for many years.  We will wait for the guidance from the state to see if we qualify for any additional funds in this area.

A non-fiscal provision within the budget  is something we hope is going to be beneficial to us.  Beginning immediately, anyone holding an associate's degree, or a bachelor’s degree is now eligible to apply to be a substitute teacher!  We are OFTEN left with openings that do not get filled and would love more of our community members being willing to come and give it a try!  We have some wonderful substitutes that love what they do and do a great job on behalf of our kids!  If you have an associate’s or bachelor’s degree, and are interested in giving this a try, please stop in and see us at the District Office!

As always, thank you so much for your support of the School District of Black River Falls!  If you have any questions or concerns, please don’t hesitate to contact me!  Let’s show our Tiger Pride in all that we do!

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