When voters evaluate the revenue-generation and spending plans of either the Federal or the state governments, it behooves us to consider not only the current year budgetary impact, but what the impact of these decisions will be in the future. Spending money on infrastructure for example, can have an enormous beneficial impact on the economy for many years to come. The U.S. cannot afford to fall behind other countries, and Wisconsin can ill afford to fall behind the other 49 states, in areas that will directly affect our ability to compete in the future.
One critical area that will have a tremendous impact on Wisconsin's relative competitiveness in the future is education. Will the voters of Wisconsin continue our proud tradition of educational excellence? Will Wisconsin produce the type of workforce that will attract new business and retain existing businesses and keep Wisconsin competitive? Or will Wisconsin cut education spending relative to other states, making it more difficult for students to get jobs that can support a family?
A disturbing report issued by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities shows that at least 34 states are providing less per-pupil funding on kindergarten through 12th grade education than 6 years ago in inflation-adjusted dollars! How did Wisconsin compare to the other states? Wisconsin's spending per K-12 student declined 15.3% over this period - the 7th biggest decline among the 50 states. How about our neighbors? Well, Minnesota's spending actually marginally increased 0.3%, which was the 14th best overall. Michigan (despite the severe impact of the Great Recession) and Illinois, had the 15th and 16th biggest declines. (See Fig. 1)
The picture is even grimmer looking at actual (inflation-adjusted) dollars spent by the various states! The report shows that Wisconsin spent $1,038 less per student in inflation-adjusted dollars last year than it did 6 years ago! That was the 2nd largest decline in the nation! Only Alabama saw a bigger decline in actual dollar spending per student. (See Fig. 2)
Of course some of the cuts are due to the Great Recession, but the question remains - why does Wisconsin compare so poorly to other states? The worst of the economic crisis is behind us, and most other states have increased per capita student spending in the current fiscal year, but not Wisconsin. Wisconsin is one of only 15 States that is spending less this year. (See Fig. 3)