School Trust Funds > Common School Fund
This Fund is as old as Wisconsin. The framers of our state Constitution
established this permanent “school fund” and required that its income be applied
exclusively “to the support and maintenance of common [public K-12] schools
… and the purchase of suitable libraries and apparatus therefor.”
of Trust Assets provides an overview of the origins, investments, earnings,
and distributions of all four Trust Funds, including the Common School Fund.
The Fund was established with proceeds from the sale of the 16th Section of
each township—nearly 1 million acres of land granted by the federal government
to Wisconsin when it became a state. Like other states joining the union at that
time, Wisconsin received another grant from Congress of 500,000 acres of land
for the purpose of making “internal improvements.” Wisconsin’s early leaders
petitioned Congress for permission to dedicate these lands for public education,
as well. Except for about 5,200 acres that remain in trust, all of the
lands from these original grants were sold to establish the Fund.
The principal continues to grow, however, because the state’s constitution
provides that the Fund receives clear proceeds of all fees, fines and
forfeitures (including unclaimed and escheated property) that accrue to the
state. In addition, the principal of the Fund is used to provide loans to
Wisconsin's school districts and municipalities for public purpose projects
through the State
Trust Fund Loan Program.
In April of each year, available net earnings are forwarded to the Department
of Public Instruction for distribution as public school library aid. These
monies are the sole source of state funding for public school libraries and for
many school districts is the only money available to them for library books,
newspapers and periodicals, web-based resources, and computer hardware and
What was for over 100 years a rich source of principal growth and public
education support is being eroded as “clear proceeds” is redefined and governing
bodies impose “surcharges” in lieu of fines. Today, the Common School Fund
receives less than 10% of the revenue from a typical speeding ticket, for
We recognize our responsibility to sustain this constitutionally established
form of public education financing and have built strong partnerships with the
Fund’s beneficiaries in this effort.
From the Department of Public
Instruction, a complementary perspective on the Common School Fund, library
aids, and the benefit to public education.