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Voters spoke in April. What did they say?

This month, School Perceptions had the opportunity to author an article for Wisconsin School News (thanks, WASB!). The article (you can read it here) showed some graphs and charts highlighting what percentage of referendums have passed in WI, how much money voters approved, and where that stacks up against previous years.


This article went to print prior to the April elections. So, let’s update those numbers!


All Referendums


The percentage of referendums approved by Wisconsin voters ticked back up from a slight decline in 2020-21. Voters approved 80.2% of referendums this school year, which is the fourth highest since revenue caps were put into place in 1993-94, notable since “4” was already appearing in front of gas prices in April.

What about referendums to update or build new schools? These require debt issuance (or taking out a loan). Interest rates began to tick up right around election date, and cost increases showed no signs of slowing down.


Effect? Not much!


This, too, ticked back up from last school year. Voters approved 71.4% of referendums that focused on updating or building new schools. This is the fifth highest in the last 30 years and only three tenths of a percentage point from the fourth highest.

There’s a second type of referendum in Wisconsin, those for operations. Operations referendums come in two flavors: non-recurring (which increases funding to schools from local property taxes but sunsets after a set number of years) and recurring (which do the same thing but don’t sunset).

If you’re noticing a pattern here so am I.


These, too, increased compared to last year and very nearly set a record. This is the third-highest year ever in terms of the percentage approved. In 1996-97, 100% were approved, but there were only two total in the whole state. In 2019-20, 95.5% were approved by voters, and this year saw 92.3%.


Even in challenging economic times, voters overwhelming supported property tax hikes to further fund their local public schools.


Last but not least is the least common type, the ongoing or forever kind – recurring. Only eight recurring referendum questions were held this year. Five passed (62.5%). This is a bit lower than recent years, BUT… (and this is a large caveat) the approval trend is steep. Over the last 30 years, voters have shown substantially more willingness to support this kind of referendum (see the dashed red line below).

Finally, let’s talk money.


Voters approved nearly $1 billion (that’s a b for you squinters) in extra funding via local property taxes for their public schools.

If you would like to talk to Rob for five to six hours but political behavior in public school referendums – especially those in rural areas – reach out ANY time at research@schoolperceptions.com.


Stating the obvious, this work is fascinating to us at School Perceptions. School-related surveys and education research are our bread and butter.


Conversations over fish fry is preferred.


The School Perceptions Blog and Resource Center features the voices of our team members. This post was written by Rob DeMeuse, Research Director.


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