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GOP Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (left) is seeking a third term in the 2018 elections. State schools chief Tony Evers hopes to win the Democratic nomination to run against him. GOP Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (left) is seeking a third term in the 2018 elections. State schools chief Tony Evers hopes to win the Democratic nomination to run against him.

GOP Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (left) is seeking a third term in the 2018 elections. State schools chief Tony Evers hopes to win the Democratic nomination to run against him.

Tom Kertscher
By Tom Kertscher April 20, 2018

Did Scott Walker take $1 billion from Wisconsin schools, as governor candidate Tony Evers claims?

Since shortly after Republican Scott Walker became governor in 2011, Democrats have claimed that he cut $1 billion or more in state funding for public schools.

Now, with Walker seeking a third term, the billion-dollar attacks are back.

One was made by Tony Evers, who, as state schools superintendent, would seem to be in a good position to know. Evers is one of a slew of Democrats hoping to win the August 2018 primary election in order to challenge Walker in November.

Evers was asked in a March 23, 2018, Wausau radio interview about a recent increase in funding Walker had approved for kindergarten through 12th grade schools. Evers replied by saying:

In K through 12, I think it’s a one-year flash. Governor Walker has taken over a billion dollars from the public schools and it hasn’t been replaced. This year, a little bit of an anomaly ….

Some of the other Democratic candidates for governor, including Mahlon Mitchell and Kelda Helen Roys, have made similar attacks.

There’s no question that, despite recent funding increases, Walker earlier made significant cuts to school funding.

But has Walker "taken" over $1 billion from public schools?

Not in the way most people would think of a funding cut.

Evers’ evidence

To back Evers’ statement, his campaign provided calculations of "total educational cost" figures. They indicate school funding is down a total of more than $1 billion since 2010-’11 -- the final state fiscal year under Walker’s predecessor, Democrat Jim Doyle.

But those figures count federal, state and local sources of school funding.

So, let’s go to a more direct measure -- state money allocated in the state budget for K-12 schools.

State funding of schools

When we posed Evers’ claim to the nonpartisan state Legislative Fiscal Bureau, the bureau provided us these GPR (general purpose revenue) figures. They include funding streams known as per-pupil aid, equalization aid and other categorical aids.

The chart below contains a lot of numbers. But we’ll focus on only four figures, each marked with an asterisk, and we’ll walk you through them.

State fiscal year

GPR school aids

Change to prior year

Change to 2010-’11

Cumulative change to 2010-’11

2010-’11

$5.27 billion*

     

2011-’12

$4.85 billion

-$426.5 million*

-$426.5 million

-$426.5 million

2012-’13

$4.91 billion

+$68.9 million

-$357.6 million

-$784.1 million

2013-’14

$5.03 billion

+$119.8 million

-$237.8 million

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-$1.021 billion

2014-’15

$5.19 billion

+$160.5 million

-$77.3 million

-$1.1 billion

2015-’16

$5.2 billion

+$3 million

-$74.3 million

-$1.17 billion*

2016-’17

$5.4 billion

+$197.3 million

+$123 million

-$1.05 billion

2017-’18

$5.58 billion

+$176.9 million

+$299.9 million

-$750.6 million

2018-’19

$5.84 billion

+$267.1 million

+$567 million

-$183.6 million*

 
 

The starting point is $5.27 billion -- the amount of state funding for schools in 2010-’11, Doyle’s last year as governor. Think of that as the base.

The next year, 2011-’12, Walker used his first state budget to cut school funding by $426.5 million, the second figure with an asterisk -- that’s the actual reduction.

How to get to ‘over $1 billion’

Since making that cut, Walker has increased the amount of state aid to schools every year.

But it took awhile before state aid got back to the level it was under Doyle’s final year.

More specifically, in Walker’s first five years, schools received a total of $1.17 billion less in state aid than if the funding had remained at the base level.

But if you carry that comparison forward to today, the amount "taken" is only $183.6 million.

Other factors

A final point.

While it’s clear that Walker’s first budget cut the $426.5 million, he also gave school districts the "tools," with Act 10, to recoup their losses.

The law, which dramatically reduced collective bargaining power for teachers and most public employees in Wisconsin, enabled school districts to save money by, for example, requiring employees to pay for a greater share of their health insurance.

On the other hand, Walker also reduced how much money revenue school districts could raise in property taxes. And that reduction, like the state funding for schools overall, hasn’t been fully restored -- though school districts can ask voters in referendums to exceed the limits.

Our rating

Evers says that despite a recent increase in school funding, Walker "has taken over a billion dollars from the public schools."

In Walker’s first year as governor, he cut school aid by $426.5 million from the previous year, Doyle’s final year as governor.

Because it took five years to get school funding back to that base level, it can be argued that Walker "took" a total of $1.17 billion from schools over that period.

But since then, Walker has increased school funding to the point that the deficit, in comparison to the base year, is $183.6 million.

For a statement that contains only an element of truth, our rating is Mostly False.

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Mostly False
Says that despite a recent increase in school funding, Scott Walker "has taken over a billion dollars from the public schools."
In an interview
Friday, March 23, 2018

Our Sources

WSAU radio, Tony Evers interview (2:30), March 23, 2018

Email, Tony Evers campaign spokeswoman Maggie Gau, April 5, 2018

Email, Scott Walker campaign spokesman Austin Altenburg, April 13, 2018

PolitiFact Wisconsin, "Testing Scott Walker claim on record education funding in Wisconsin," May 17, 2017

PolitiFact Wisconsin, "Scott Walker cut school funding more than any governor, Greater Wisconsin Committee claims," Sept. 7, 2014

PolitiFact Wisconsin, "In recall, union group says Walker cut school funding to give tax breaks," May 31, 2012

PolitiFact Wisconsin, "Recall candidate Kathleen Falk says Governor Scott Walker enacted "the biggest cuts to education in our state's history," Feb. 19, 2012

PolitiFact Wisconsin, "Wisconsin Rep. Jennifer Shilling says the state’s 2011-’13 state budget cut public school funding by $1.6 billion," July 25, 2011

Interview, Wisconsin Legislative Fiscal Bureau director Bob Lang, April 11, 2018

Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, "Comparative Cost Per Member," accessed April 12, 2018

Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, "Comparative Revenue Per Member," accessed April 12, 2018

Interview, Wisconsin Policy Forum research director Dale Knapp, April 18, 2018

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Did Scott Walker take $1 billion from Wisconsin schools, as governor candidate Tony Evers claims?

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