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Sic Semper Tyrannis

Thursday, April 03, 2008

On the road to average?

The Journal Sentinel reports that Wisconsin is becoming average on school funding:

For better or worse - and you could get heated arguments about it - Wisconsin appears to be well on its way to becoming a middle-of-the-pack state when it comes to the amount of money put into grade school and high school education.
The gist: we ranked 11th in taxes per student ten years ago, but have fallen to 17th with no end in sight.

I just love rankings. Well, not really. Here’s what I wrote last year, when Wisconsin’s tax ranking fell from 6th to 8th:

…the rankings don’t really mean anything. The numbers do. According to WTA, state and local governments took 12.13% of our personal income in 2005, down from 12.18% the year before.

A whopping cut of 0.4%. Don‘t spend it all in one place!

But that’s not what brought our ranking down. Alaska and Rhode Island leapfrogged past us, because their taxes went up more than ours went down.

This demonstrates a weakness in this particular measurement. If every other state doubled their taxes tomorrow, our ranking would plummet, but the real numbers would remain.
See, we could increase our school spending by 10% a year, but if other states are growing by 20% a year, our ranking will drop. We’ll still be spending like Congressmen, but our ranking will fall.

So let’s run those numbers: according to the MJS sidebar, school spending nationally has grown by an average of 5.12% a year. Wisconsin has averaged 4.43% per year.

That’s less, which some people will point at and scream like Great Aunt Petunia just shambled in the front door after digging her way out of her own grave.

It’s also about twice the rate of inflation, and about a half-point below Wisconsin’s historical growth in personal income. Others might think otherwise, but if you ask me, that’s a great place for government spending growth to be!

So: if other states want to increase spending faster, more power to them. If that makes our ranking drop because our increases are lower (albeit still generous), so be it.

Spending will rise, rankings will fall, and at the end of the day us pundits and bloggers will have something to argue over, which is all that really counts anyway.