Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Legislators Aim to Delete Secretary of State, State Treasurer. What does this mean for the Common School Fund?

State Representatives Tyler August (R-Lake Geneva) and Michael Schraa (R-Oshkosh) have drafted a constitutional amendment to eliminate the positions of secretary of state and state treasurer, both of whom serve on the Board of Commissioners of Public Lands which administers the Common School Fund. 

"The duties performed by these officials are obsolete and are already performed by other areas of government, but yet the taxpayers pay over $2 million for their salaries, benefits, and staff,” said Schraa in a press release issued by the legislators“This bill is a common-sense reform that the legislature should adopt immediately.”

Currently, the Board of Commissioners of Public Lands is comprised of the secretary of state, the state treasurer and the attorney general. If the proposed  constitutional amendment takes effect,  the lieutenant governor and state superintendent of public instruction will become members and the attorney general will remain a member. 

Concerns have been raised over the decision to make the lieutenant governor a member of the Board of Commissioners of Public Lands, since the position is more political than secretary of state and state treasurer. The change in membership is especially concerning since the Common School Fund is frequently the target of "fund raids" that attempt to divert money away from the Fund to finance other programs. 

In a recent op-ed featured in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Secretary of State Doug La Follette, State Treasurer Kurt Schuller and Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen highlighted the important work the Board does for public school libraries. 

They wrote:
Through the programs we manage, Wisconsin's public school libraries are annually provided funds for the purchase of books, newspapers and periodicals, web-based resources, computer hardware and software and other library assets. We have generated enough money from our investments to put a book in the hand of every child in Wisconsin.
To take effect, the amendment would need to pass both houses of the legislature in two consecutive legislative sessions and receive the approval of voters in a statewide referendum. This means that August and Schraa's proposal would need to pass both the Assembly and Senate during the 2013-14 session and again in the 2014-15 session. 

The proposed amendment has not been formally introduced yet, and we will update you with more details as they become available. 


  1. The Board of Commissioners of Public Lands and the Commons School Fund is an example of a well designed program where everyone wins. The Fund provides low interest loans to schools and municipalities and the interest from those loans fund school libraries in Wisconsin. Executive Director Tia Nelson and Tom German, the Deputy Executive Director, have done an amazing job in administering and promoting this program.

    I agree with this blog post, but do want to note that I think the inclusion of the State Superintendent of Schools as a Commissioner is a good thing. He can represent the recipients of the funds as well as schools borrowing from the fund.

  2. P.S. The Board of Commissioners of Public Lands website is worth a look: http://bcpl.wisconsin.gov


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