How does the state determine the amount of state aid to give schools and how much money should be levied from local property taxes?  The answer is complex, even to those that serve as a business manager for schools, due to the complexity of the state’s equalization aid formula.  An attempt to simplify the equalization aid formula follows. 

First, a historical perspective is helpful.  The Wisconsin Constitution on Education states in Article X, Section 2, “The legislature shall provide by law for the establishment of district schools, which shall be as nearly uniform as practicable; and such schools shall be free and without charge for tuition to all children between the age of 4 and 20.”  Section 4 continues, “Each town and city shall be required to raise by tax, annually, for the support of common schools therein. . . .”

In layman terms the state has a responsibility to create district schools as nearly uniform as practicable.  The district schools are to be free and funded by local property tax.  The Wisconsin Supreme Court has defined uniformity as “character of education” and not the total amount of dollars spent.  However, funding “character” cannot result in too great of a disparity of cash or districts will be deemed not to be uniform.

In modern-day Wisconsin, the primary funding source for public schools is the property tax, however, property values across the state are not uniform.  Therefore the state is challenged to define “uniformity”.

Uniformity does not mean the same amount of state aid for all districts.  Buse verses Smith stated that the state couldn’t recapture aid from local property taxes and redistribute to schools.  However, the state can use state aid to uniformly distribute dollars to schools if it is related to local property value

 As a result, the more local property value the less aid a district receives from the state.  Likewise, the inverse relationship is true whereas the less local property value in a district the more aid a district receives from the state.  The property tax base is used to determine a district’s ability to support expenditures.  Therefore the state uses an equalized value or fair market value for calculations and NOT assessed value. 

But that is not all.  The state equalization aid formula, in addition to property value, takes into account the number of children to educate.  But that too is not all.  The equalization aid formula is a ­cost-sharing formula that incorporates property value, number of students to educate, AND spending.  The equalization aid computation is actually three individual computations that are summed together to get the district’s total equalization aid.

The three district factors that determine how much state aid is received are shared costs (spending), membership (students), and the property tax base (ability to pay).  The three state factors that determine how much state aid a district receives are cost ceilings, guaranteed property valuations per member, and the amount of money available to distribute.  The state’s equalization aid formula becomes more complex once primary, secondary, and tertiary aid is introduced. 

For now, equalization aid takeaways are as follows:

  1. One (1) pot of money is split over 424 school districts based on district values, membership, and expenditures.  Changes in individual district’s data affect each other’s aid.
  2. Equalization Aid membership (resident students) is an average of the September and January full time equivalency counts for students, plus 100% of summer school full time equivalency.
  3. Depending on district value-per member, some districts increase their aid by increasing expenses, while others decrease their aid by increasing expenses.  It is important to know where your district is in the formula.  (Mineral Point increases aid when increasing expenditures)

The state’s break down of expenditures that are funded by state general aid and property tax are as follows:  State General Aid 44%, Local Property Taxes 43%, Federal Aid 5%, Categorical State Aid 3%, and Local Miscellaneous Receipts make up the balance or 5%.

 If you have questions regarding Mineral Point’s Equalization Aid formula, more information is available at or by contacting Superintendent Luke Francois.

 Article contributor:  Karen Kucharz Robbe, DPI