School districts statewide seeking $1.4 billion from voters

This year could see the most referendums and the highest amount of total referendum funding approved since 2001, according to a report earlier this month by the Wisconsin Policy Forum.

All told, 61 school districts in the state are using a total of 82 questions to request $1.4 billion in debt and revenue limit increases. Of those, 44 are asking to issue debt totaling $1.25 billion, according to WPF’s count.

Twenty-four districts are also asking to temporarily exceed state revenue limits to generate up to $157 million, while an additional 14 are asking for permanent exceptions to state revenue limits to raise about $26.1 million per year.

Since 1999, there’s been some correlation between a growing economy and the willingness of school districts to propose — and their voters to approve — referendums. Districts have also tended to ask for bigger referendums during good economic times.

WPF, a nonpartisan policy research organization, points to a number of factors that influence referendums, including aging facilities and declining enrollments, especially in rural areas, that result in less state funding.

Also, “school funding decisions made by state officials do play a role in how common referenda are or aren’t,” said WPF research director Jason Stein. “But the overall health of the economy and the individual district’s situation clearly play important roles as well.”