Update: the version I submitted to the Herald-Independent can be found here. The links to the data I reference are here:
WI pK-12 spending as a % of GDP:
WI pK-12 spending in inflation adjusted dollars:
1998-99 School year expenditures per pupil:
FY2008 Expenditures per pupil:
Total Wi school funding in 1998 was $7,527, not the $4,956 reported by Sunny in her recent column. Corrected for inflation that's $9899. In 2008 average spending was (correctly reported) $10,791. In real dollars that's an 8% increase, less than 1% per year, not the whopping 64% increase reported by Sunny.
So were did that 1%/year go? Not into the pockets of teachers, who have been losing ground to inflation in the last decade, and not into smaller class sizes (average class size has been creeping up in Wisconsin.) No, any employer will tell you that health care costs have been increased by more than 50% over this period - and school districts feel the same effects. The fact that cost increases are slowly squeezing the life out of our schools is another reason we need to fix the broken health care system in this country.
On with the facts: In 1998 scores on the NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress) ranked WI in the top 3 among states- but Wi scores have stagnated while the rest of the nation has (on average) been improving significantly. In the latest results WI ranks 15th and falling. These results mirror the funding situation: In 1998 WI had schools among the best funded in the nation, but since then funding has stagnated while on average other states have increased spending. Between 2000 and 2009 average spending in the US on education has increased 17.9%, while in Wisconsin spending has been flat since 2003. As Wisconsin funding for schools sinks to the national average, our test scores have also.
More facts: spending on schools has been sinking as a share of GSP (Gross State Product) for more than a decade. The education "piece of the pie" is smaller than it has been. That means public schools are more affordable now than in 1998, and educational professions are becoming less attractive compared to other endeavors. The recent changes to WI school funding will probably put us below the national average - we should not be surprised when our test scores follow.
These facts reinforce something simple I learned long ago: You get what you pay for. Education is not exempt. I wish our politicians could learn it too.
PS: Apparently Sunny got taken in by CNS news- a Conservative "news" organization which falsely reported the 1998 number - using a slight of hand to link to the wrong report from NCES.