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.”
This Summary 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 software.
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 example.
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.