State of Education: School Trends in Wisconsin | News


MADISON (WKOW) — For 6-year-old Josephine Groeneweg and her 10-year-old sister Isabell, the school day doesn’t start with the ringing of a bell.

“I think that’s been one of the actual biggest blessings for us is that when we wake up, we get to snuggle in bed together,” said their mother, Bethany Groeneweg. “There’s not a rush.”

The Groeneweg family transitioned to homeschooling a couple years ago. They join a growing trend across the state. The first year of the COVID-19 pandemic saw a 47% jump in home-school students. Some made the move out of health concerns. Others were looking for more control over curriculum.

“Well, I would say that every home-school parent is going to have a different answer on this,” Groeneweg said. “And for me, it has been that, you know, we are a Christian family. And so faith is really, really important in every aspect of our learning.” 

Like the Groeneweg family, the majority of those families who shifted during the pandemic decided to stick with homeschooling last school year.

“It has been proven to me that my decision is just, has created even more peace in my heart about, you know, what we’ve decided to do as a family, and the steps we’re taking, and the education that they’re receiving, and the freedom that we have in our learning,” Groeneweg said. “I just I feel more and more comfortable as a home-school teacher.” 

Edgewood High School of the Sacred Heart is also seeing enrollment growth in their recent incoming classes.

“This year’s size is about 160. And that probably compares to, if you compare that to our senior class, we’re about 115,” said school president Kevin Rea.

Edgewood’s growth mimics a statewide trend. After experiencing a drop for two straight year, private school enrollment across the state jumped nearly 2.5% last school year.

“Emerging from a pandemic and still wrestling with the challenges of a pandemic and wrestling with a lot of the things going on in the world at the moment, it’s no surprise to me at all that parents are interested in a safe school with individualized attention and a really strong community. That makes perfect sense to me,” Rea said.

The total number of school-age children across the state has been dropping for decades. That trend combined with an uptick in home-school kids and an increase in private education enrollment has led to a drop in public school enrollment in the state for nine straight years.

“So, to say that those school districts— and ours included— are facing challenges because of you know, either stagnant or even declining enrollment is 100% accurate,” said Dr. Jordan Sinz, the district administrator at Wisconsin Heights School District.

Public school enrollment was already steadily declining when it plummeted 3% in year one of the pandemic. It has continued to decline ever since. Rural districts are particularly hard hit.

Wisconsin Heights saw a 5% drop in enrollment in year one of the pandemic. They have only recovered about half of those numbers since. That drop in enrollment has played a factor in a drop in funding. Wisconsin Heights’ revenue limit fell 12.96%. That was a drop of $246,597.

“It ends up being, ‘Are we going to pass a referendum? Or are we going to be able to make cuts?’ And, as I said before, the cuts are never quite as easy as it seems on the outside. Because it’s never just in one area. It’s spread across so many grade levels for programs, that it’s not like it’s a one for one loss,” explains Sinz.

Instead of cutting staff, a couple years ago Wisconsin Heights did what many school districts have done recently. They passed an operational referendum to exceed revenue limits. It will expire in two years.

“So I mean, we know that there will need to be some sort of operational referendum again in 2024 to provide for resources for 24-25 and beyond for this district,” admits Sinz.

Many public schools across the state are facing the same issues. This November, nine local school districts passed operational referendums. Four other local schools had their operational referendums voted down.

Public schools across the state are waiting to see if the state funding formula will change at some point. Until then, it’s clear that from public school to private school to homeschool— the education picture in our state is changing.