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Report: 60% of Wisconsin school tax hike questions have passed this year

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(The Center Square) – Most voters in Wisconsin support their local schools’ requests for more tax money.

A new report from the Wisconsin Policy Forum says a little more than 60% of the local school referendum questions that were on the ballot so far this year have passed. But the Policy Forum says that number is low.

“Voters across Wisconsin approved 62 of the 103 school district referenda placed on primary and general election ballots this spring. The 60.2% approval rate was the lowest in a midterm or presidential election year since 2010, with the most ballot questions for spring elections since at least 2000,” the report stated.

The report covers the local school tax increases that were on the ballot in February and in early April.

The report also notes that the 60.2% passage rate is higher than what Wisconsin schools saw in 2022, but the Policy Forum says the 2024 number so far are “the lowest in a midterm or presidential election year since 2010.”

Many schools are planning to ask taxpayers to raise taxes in November as well.

The Policy Forum says the referendum questions from Wisconsin schools are also different than in the past.

“Across ballots from February and April, 66.0% of all referendum questions asked voters to raise property taxes to support school district operations. This represents the highest share of operating referenda since at least 2000,” the report stated.

In 2000, just 43% of school referendum questions were for day-to-day operations. So far this year, that number is 66%. Similarly, in 2000 57% of school tax hike questions were for building needs. So far this year, that number is down to 34%.

The largest local school tax increase in Wisconsin this spring was the $252 million referendum question from Milwaukee Public Schools.

The Policy Forum report makes a note that it barely passed.

“The most notable spring referendum took place in Milwaukee. By fewer than 2,000 votes, voters approved an operating referendum that allows Milwaukee Public Schools to permanently exceed its revenue limit by $252 million over four years,” the report stated. “This referendum comes just four years after voters approved a permanent revenue limit increase of $87 million, although these are the only two referenda that have been approved by district voters going back to the 1990s.”

The report ends with a warning about the “perfect storm” of school funding that many districts in Wisconsin will see going forward.

“The inflation rate in 2022 and much of 2023 was at its highest in nearly 40 years. Responding to these pressures, many school districts raised teacher salaries to keep real incomes stable, compete with other districts, and incentivize teachers to stay in the field. As schools’ costs increased, their major sources of revenue did not keep up,” the report concluded. “Next year is also the first in which schools will be without the federal pandemic aid that began flowing in 2020, which amounted to an additional $2.4 billion for Wisconsin schools. While some districts used these funds only for one-time expenses, others used them to plug ongoing budget holes or fund permanent new spending.”

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