by Benjamin Yount
Parents and taxpayers in Wisconsin are one step away from having a much easier time finding out where their local schools spend their money.
Lawmakers in Madison have approved Senate Bill 373, which will collect financial information on public schools in the state, and make it available through one central, statewide website.
Chris Reader, vice president at the Institute for Reforming Government, said allowing taxpayers to know where public schools are spending their money is the first step toward holding public schools accountable for how they are spending that money.
“There is little accountability on schools for how they spend taxpayer money, and far too many schools are graduating students who cannot read and are ill-equipped for today’s jobs,” Reader told The Center Square. “One way for schools to be held accountable for their student outcomes is to make it easier for the public to track where their taxpayer money is spent in their school district. One, it will help locate and end wasteful and fraudulent spending, and two, it will highlight initiatives that save money and have better student results, which in turn will allow other classrooms to emulate what works.”
State Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, said during debate on the bill Tuesday that parents need to know where the money is going because public schools in the state get a lot of money.
“If you look at our total investment in education, we by far spend the biggest part of our budget on education,” Darling told lawmakers.
The new website would allow parents to see how much money their schools get from both the federal and state governments, as well as what local taxpayers pay.
Sen. Chris Larson, D-Milwaukee, accused Darling and other Republicans of attacking public schools in the state.
“If you want transparency, let’s get transparency,” Larson said. “If you want to continue the attack on public education, if you want to belittle public institutions, if you want to try and grind them down, and if you want to say they’re failing while you underfund them, while you defund them, while you continue to not put forward the resources they need to make sure the next generation is successful, that’s on you.”
Darling countered, saying Wisconsin schools have more money than ever before, and are getting billions of dollars more from the federal government over the next two years through COVID-19 relief measures.
The proposal passed the Senate on a strictly party line vote, with Republicans in support and Democrats voting against. It now heads to Gov. Tony Evers’ desk. He has not said what he intends to do.
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Benjamin Yount is a contributor to The Center Square.