iPads in classroom

Sandburg Elementary School students Ally Fisch, left, and Bethany Evans use iPad tablets in Madison last fall to complete a project.

JOHN HART — State Journal archives

Despite significant cuts to school funding, the amount of money spent on each Wisconsin public school student largely matched spending levels across the country between 2008 and 2012, according to a study released Monday by the nonpartisan Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance.

The study, which reviewed how school funding fared during and after the Great Recession, said when tax revenue dropped between 2007 and 2009, school funding and revenues decreased, spending was cut, and staff and compensation were reduced.

Wisconsin’s reductions were concentrated in 2012 — with a peak drop of 6 percent — the study said, but overall matched other states that made cuts during the study period.

The 6 percent drop in per-pupil spending, from $11,774 to $11,042, came at a time 19 other states were seeing similar decreases. That year, Wisconsin dropped to 21st from 15th among states in per-student spending.

Overall, Wisconsin school aid was cut by 8 percent in 2012 — the largest in the nation, according to the study. But between 2008 and 2012, the state’s growth in school spending matched the U.S. average and ranked 30th among states, the study said.

The 2012 spending reductions were largely in school employee benefits, the study said, driven by Gov. Scott Walker’s signature legislation known as Act 10 that all but eliminated collective bargaining for most public employees.

Benefit spending per student fell 17 percent in 2012, from $2,294 to $1,898. Only West Virginia and Florida had larger drops that year, according to WISTAX, but costs fell in 11 states in 2009, 13 in 2010 and 18 in 2011.

The report also said the state’s public schools shed staff between 2008 and 2012 like many other states but at a higher rate than the national average.

After increasing 1.5 percent in 2009, staffing levels fell for the next three years. Staffing levels in 2012 were 3.3 percent below the 2008 level. Over the same period, 13 of the 26 states that reduced staff made larger cuts than Wisconsin, according to the study.

Enrollment in public schools also dropped .5 percent over the five-year period, the study said.

Total compensation, which includes salary and benefits, for Wisconsin teachers and school staff was reduced by Act 10 by 5.4 percent from $80,853 in 2011 to $76,520 in 2012, according to the study, but over the total five-year period, total compensation rose

6 percent, compared to 4.9 percent nationally.

Wisconsin ranked 12th nationally in staff compensation in 2012, even after the higher pension and health insurance contribution requirements took effect.

However, average benefits in Wisconsin over the five years were basically unchanged while they increased 11.8 percent nationwide.

Wisconsin ranked 10th in average benefits in 2012, down from sixth in 2008.

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Molly Beck covers politics and state government for the Wisconsin State Journal.