Wisconsin’s public school libraries will receive a record $52 million from the state’s Common School Fund for the 2022-23 school year. This amount is not only the largest-ever annual Library Aid distribution but represents a 27% increase from the 2021-22 distribution.
The money to be distributed comes from the investment proceeds of Wisconsin’s Common School Fund, established 174 years ago when Wisconsin became a state. Back in 1848, the framers of the state Constitution established what is now known as the Common School Fund and required proceeds to be distributed to public schools.
The initial deposits into the Fund came from sales of lands granted to the state by the federal government. Since 2019, the Fund has distributed nearly $160 million to public schools to help defray the costs of maintaining school libraries and to help buy books and technology. For many school libraires, the Common School Fund and the Library Aid it generates is the is the primary, and often only, dedicated source of support.
Library Aid from the Common School Fund may be used only be used for the purchase of library books and instructional materials for school libraries, and school library computers and related software for use in the school library provided that the computers and software are purchased after consultation with the district’s DPI licensed library media specialist. In addition, schools may use these funds to purchase instructional materials from the state historical society for use in teaching Wisconsin history.
The Common School Fund is overseen by Wisconsin’s Board of Commissioners of Public Lands, comprised of the State Treasurer, Secretary of State and state Attorney General. Since 2019, the BCPL has diversified the Common School Fund’s investments to include startup companies and real estate, helping to boost the Fund’s investment returns to achieve the record levels seen this year.
The earlier-than-usual announcement of Common School Fund distribution in November should provide school librarians, library media specialists and school boards with more accurate budget information, allowing earlier spending decisions and bringing more resources to students during the school year. This, in turn, should lessen the need to use restricted fund balance accounts.
According to the Department of Public Instruction, the estimated distribution amounts for individual school districts will be shared by January 10, 2023. The payments to districts will be made no later than May 1, 2023.