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Hillman, Goff discuss Walker’s education budget plans with WPR’s ‘Central Time’

February 13, 2017

UW-Madison’s Nicholas Hillman and Peter Goff appeared on Wisconsin Public Radio’s “Central Time” program last week to talk about Gov. Scott Walker’s newly released 2017-19 state budget proposal that calls for more money –- and reforms –- for education in Wisconsin.

Hillman is an associate professor with the School of Education's Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis who researches higher education finance and policy. Hillman also is a faculty affiliate with UW-Madison's La Follette School of Public Affairs, and is a Wisconsin Center for the Advancement of Postsecondary Education (WISCAPE) faculty affiliate.

WPR logoGoff is an assistant professor with the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis who is an expert on K-12 educational policy, leadership evaluation and development, and hiring and selection practices.

Among other things, Walker’s two-year budget proposal cuts University of Wisconsin System tuition by 5 percent in the 2018-19 school year and provides $100 million in new funding for the System. This would fulfill UW System officials’ request for $42.5 million of new state funding.  However, Walker’s proposal calls for that money to be distributed based on how campuses perform on an array of metrics.

More than two-thirds of states are either developing or using some sort of performance-based funding for public colleges and universities, with performance being tracked in areas such as graduation rates and degree production numbers, particularly in areas of high-demand workforce needs.

Hillman explains to Wisconsin Public Radio how performance-based funding has been used in Wisconsin’s technical college system for the past couple of years, with some state dollars following different performance metrics. 

“There are some opportunities and some challenges with this approach,” says Hillman, who has studied performance-based funding extensively. “For instance, when you start to measure graduate rates, they become really slippery because you have a numerator and a denominator. So a college could improve its graduation rates by reducing the denominator (or number of students it admits). So you have to be really careful and make sure you don’t design a system that’s easy to game or work against some of the state goals … that might actually restrict access for college.”

Adds Hillman: “The devil is going to be in the details of the design. In particular, they could learn some lessons from other states that use input adjusted performance metrics so you can account for the background of the students.”

Under Walker’s two-year budget proposal, the state would also put $509 million more into a form of K-12 school aid that doesn't account for the poverty of school districts or their students. In other words, each district would get the same amount per student regardless of how much district residents could afford to pay for schools through the property tax. In addition, the governor’s proposal would also require school district employees to pay at least 12 percent of their health insurance costs as a condition to receive extra money.

Peter Goff
These new funds, under the governor’s budget proposal, would go to districts in the form of a flat per pupil payment. Walker’s plan would increase the per student payment from $250 this year to $450 in the 2017-18 school year and $654 in the 2018-19 school year.

“The infusion of money will benefit schools,” Goff tells Wisconsin Public Radio. “But the flat grant funding is one of the most problematic elements of the budget, I think. … It’s overly simplistic. It doesn’t help promote the democratic ideals of education.”

Goff adds that he is concerned that the flat grant trend will then continue in the years to come.

“And my guess is this will come at the expense of equalization across the sate,” says Goff.

But to learn much more about this important but nuanced topic, check out an archive of the entire “Central Times” segment featuring Hillman and Goff on this web page.

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