Wisconsin lawmakers try again with education transparency website

PStudents may soon see how their children’s school spends its money.

The Assembly’s Committee on Government Accountability and Oversight held a public hearing on a project to create a portal on expenditure transparency.

“Spending on kindergarten to grade 12 education represents more than a third of our state budget,” Senator Mary Felzkowski, R-Irma, told lawmakers on Wednesday. “Our school districts receive funding through a complex network of categorical grants, the school funding formula and, increasingly, referendums. School districts also have a wide array of costs that many people don’t even think about, such as IT, maintenance, administrative jobs, and transportation.

Felzkowski is one of the authors of the plan.

The other, state representative Gae Magnifici, R-Dresser, said school districts and the state’s education ministry are already tracking all of these costs. But she said there was no easy way for parents or the public to find it all.

“Numerous [people] I spoke to are really frustrated when they try to find information about their school budget, ”explained Magnifici. “So they end up calling the superintendent or the school finance officer and in many cases they never find what they’re looking for. ”

Magnific is quick to add that because local schools and the DPI already have the expense information, there is no additional cost or reporting mandate.

There will be some cost to create the new portal, but that money will come from the legislature.

Parents and advocates say putting all of the state’s education spending information in one easy-to-use place will help parents understand when their local schools are in need of money. And when they don’t.

Chris Reader, executive vice president of the Institute for Reforming Government, points out that Wisconsin is spending more money than ever on education and that very few people know where it is all going.

“Schools have little responsibility for how they spend taxpayer money, and far too many schools are ending up with students who cannot read and are ill-equipped for today’s jobs,” Reader told the legislators. “More transparency in school spending will improve K-12 education in two ways. First, it will help locate and stop unnecessary and fraudulent spending, and second, it will highlight initiatives that save money and achieve better outcomes for students, which in turn will allow other classes to imitate what works.

A similar plan was passed by the State Assembly in the last session, but failed in the Wisconsin Senate. Lawmakers are hoping for better luck this time around.

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