Normal School Fund
Wisconsin became a state in 1848. Wisconsin’s newly adopted constitution contained a clause which established a “school fund” for the support and maintenance of “common” (public K-12) schools and “normal” schools (the French name for teacher colleges). The constitution provided that any fund income that was not needed for common schools would be used for normal schools. At that time, common schools were just being started and there were no normal schools in the state. 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 Normal School Fund.
Wisconsin received title to more than 3 million acres of land pursuant to the Swamp Land Act of 1850, which directed that the land be sold and the proceeds be used to the extent necessary for the purpose of drainage and reclamation of “swamp and overflowed lands.” In 1865, the state legislature decided that Wisconsin did not need half of the swamp land for drainage purposes. The legislature further decided that the common schools were already adequately funded so a law was passed which placed half of the swamp lands and half of the proceeds from swamp land sales into the school fund for the benefit of the normal schools. This established the trust fund principal for the Normal School Fund.
In 1866, Wisconsin established its first state normal school in Platteville providing two years of post high school training for aspiring teachers. This normal school in Platteville was the first beneficiary of the Normal School Fund. Over the years, more normal schools were added and the curriculum was broadened to include an additional two years of liberal arts and science classes. The names were also changed from “normal schools” to “state teacher colleges” and then to “Wisconsin State Colleges.” In 1964, they became the Wisconsin State Universities and in the early 1970s, they were merged into the University of Wisconsin System.
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.
Today, the University of Wisconsin System is the successor to the normal schools of years ago and is the beneficiary of the Normal School Fund earnings.