By George Mitchell
The financing of Wisconsin’s “Chapter 220” program needs to be reformed. Here are the reasons why:
- The per-pupil cost of the city-suburban program is nearly twice the cost of education in the average Wisconsin school district.
- Chapter 220 costs are growing at a rate much faster than student participation.
- The majority of funds paid to local school districts represents financial incentives - payments which exceed actual education costs.
- City-suburban busing costs exceeded $2,100 per pupil in 1986-87. This is nearly half the entire per-pupil cost of education in the average state school district.
The Wisconsin Legislature enacted Chapter 220 in 1976 to encourage metropolitan school integration in Milwaukee. Financial incentives were included to encourage local district participation. Under existing law, the incentives are paid from state funds that otherwise would be distributed to districts throughout Wisconsin.
The program is the primary means for implementing the Federal Court settlement reached early in 1988 in the school integration lawsuit. At the time of the settlement, some officials expressed concern as to its future cost. Those apprehensive included Governor Thompson (who played a major role in reaching the settlement), Assembly Speaker Loftus, and others.
Their concerns are justified. Without reform, total program costs might triple in five years, from about $32.5 million in 1986-87 to $90 million by the 1992-93 school year. Per-pupil costs could rise from about $8,700 to more than $10,000.
These high costs are due to the substantial financial incentives created in 1976 to encourage school district participation. At that time, the program was controversial. Today, however, there is increasing support from parents and school districts. This indicates the cost of Chapter 220 incentives can be reduced greatly, with savings used for other educational purposes.
This report recommends that local school officials work with the Governor and Legislature to develop financial reforms for Chapter 220. The parties to the lawsuit settlement might need to modify the agreement to reflect the new financial structure.