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State’s school libraries to reap record payout from public lands investments

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State’s school libraries to reap record payout from public lands investments

Nov 18, 2022 | 4:43 pm ET
By Erik Gunn
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State’s school libraries to reap record payout from public lands investments
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Flanked by State Superintendent Jill Underly, at left, State Treasurer Sarah Godlewski announces a record $52 million distribution of earnings from the Common School Fund to Wisconsin school libraries at a news conference in the Capitol Thursday. (Wisconsin Examiner photo)

Wisconsin public school libraries will share in $52 million next year from the state’s Common School Fund, paid for with investments by the Board of Commissioners of Public Lands. 

State Treasurer Sarah Godlewski, who leaves office at the end of this year, and State Superintendent Jill Underly announced the record payout to the fund for 2023 at a Capitol news conference Thursday. 

State’s school libraries to reap record payout from public lands investments
A facsimile check representing the latest Common School Fund payout to school libraries. (Wisconsin Examiner photo)

The money comes from earnings on a dedicated fund that was created with the sale of most of Wisconsin’s federal land holdings in the 19th century. The Board of Commissioners of Public Lands — established in the Wisconsin Constitution and consisting of the secretary of state, the attorney general and the state treasurer — oversees an investment management team that manages the Common School Fund and other funds.

At Thursday’s announcement, Godlewski, who was named chair of the public lands board when she stepped into the treasurer’s office in January 2019, said that investment policies changed after she took office to allow more aggressive investments that earned higher rates of return. 

“A lot of this was previously invested in just pure fixed income,” she said, such as U.S. Treasury securities. “And if we were only in fixed income today, when the Treasury was not even producing below 1% [returns], that would have really hurt our schools.”

Godlewski said the board investments have also expanded to include infrastructure and real estate in Wisconsin. The investment program has also adopted screens that consider corporate environmental practices, governance and social responsibility standards, she said.

The school fund distributes its money on the basis of school district enrollment.