We recently challenged state lawmakers and Gov. Tony Evers to work together to tackle the problem of increasing student debt.

Wisconsin ranks sixth, as we pointed out, with 64 percent of 2019 graduates of four-year colleges carrying student loan debt. Of these students, the average loan was nearly $30,000.

Partisan disagreements on how to deal with this — offering refinancing by a state authority or by private institutions — should be compromised in Madison.

At the same time, state lawmakers and the governor should pay attention to Wisconsin’s abysmal ranking in state funding for higher education, as seen in per-student spending.

Only Mississippi, West Virginia and Oklahoma have larger decreases in per-student spending from 2013 to 2018 than Wisconsin.

Take a look at this list again.

The analysis, released by the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association, reviewed higher education finances since the Great Recession. It found that educational appropriations fell by more than 24 percent nationwide, but they started rebounding in 2013.

Wisconsin’s funding has lagged behind, however. The report showed that state appropriations per student fell by 8 percent, from $7,002 to $6,435, between 2013 and 2018.

Oklahoma saw the biggest decline, 19.8 percent, over that period. By contrast, New Hampshire showed a 47 percent increase in state aid during that period.

In an interview with Wisconsin Public Radio, Sophia Laderman, senior policy analyst of SHEEO, said Wisconsin had historically followed closely with national higher education trends.

“But all of the sudden that changed since 2013,” Laderman said. “When the rest of the country or most states in the country started to see increases in funding, Wisconsin started seeing declines.”

Laderman said that Wisconsin spent about $1,500 less per student than the national average of $7,853 per student in 2018.

University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Chancellor Mark Mone told WPR that his campus has had to reduce costs significantly prior to the 2017-19 state budget, which included $35 million in new funding for the UW System while continuing a freeze on tuition increases.

Evers is calling for a $150 million increase for UW campuses in his proposed 2019-21 state budget, along with a $2.5 billion capital budget for new construction and renovations.

But his capital budget already has run into stiff opposition, as majority Republicans on the state Building Commission in March rejected every project included. That action makes you wonder about the recommended higher education funding boost, too.

Legislators should pay attention to the state’s low ranking in per-student spending, as outlined in this recent report, and ask whether Wisconsin should do better.

Should it stay ranked next to Mississippi, West Virginia and Oklahoma at the bottom? We think not.

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