GOP bill would in­crease fund­ing for ru­ral schools

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel - - NEWS - ANNYSA JOHN­SON

Two Re­pub­li­can law­mak­ers are propos­ing leg­is­la­tion that would boost fund­ing for ru­ral schools by al­most $10 mil­lion af­ter a sim­i­lar pro­vi­sion was carved out of Gov. Scott Walker’s pro­posed 2017’19 bud­get.

Un­der the bill, pro­posed by Sen. Howard Marklein (R-Spring Green) and Rep. Jeff Mur­sau (R-Crivitz), ru­ral schools would see a $9.7 mil­lion in­crease next year in so-called “spar­sity aid” that is awarded to dis­tricts with rel­a­tively few stu­dents spread over large geo­graphic ar­eas.

The amount is about half of the $18 mil­lion in­crease in spar­sity aid the Leg­is­la­ture’s Joint Fi­nance Com­mit­tee re­moved from Walker’s pro­posed bud­get dur­ing de­lib­er­a­tions in late Au­gust.

“This bill will pro­vide small ru­ral dis­tricts with ad­di­tional re­sources to im­prove staffing and tech­nol­ogy and ul­ti­mately im­prove stu­dent out­comes,” said Marklein, who was cir­cu­lat­ing the bill for cospon­sors this week.

Both Walker and Su­per­in­ten­dent of Pub­lic In­struc­tion Tony Evers, one of his Demo­cratic chal­lengers for the 2018 elec­tion, are en­dors­ing the mea­sure — each tak­ing credit for the orig­i­nal idea in their own bud­get pro­pos­als.

“Ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties have unique chal­lenges,” Walker said in an­nounc­ing his sup­port for the bill at school dis­tricts in Marinette, Chippewa and Lafayette coun­ties on Tues­day.

Evers said he was pleased with the bill, but that he would like to see law­mak­ers also take up a pro­vi­sion Walker ve­toed that would have raised fund­ing for dis­tricts that were locked in at lowspend­ing amounts when the Leg­is­la­ture im­posed rev­enue lim­its in 1993.

“I like the bill; I’m happy to see it go for­ward. But I’d like some­one to take up the low-rev­enue fund­ing at the same time,” Evers said af­ter a meet­ing of the state’s task force on ru­ral schools in White­hall on Wed­nes­day.

Ru­ral schools face a host of chal­lenges, in­clud­ing high trans­porta­tion costs and fall­ing rev­enues as en­roll­ments de­cline.

The Marklein-Mur­sau bill would in­crease the per-pupil spar­sity aid for ru­ral dis­tricts — those with 745 or fewer stu­dents and fewer than 10 pupils per square mile — to $400 in the 2018-’19 school year, up from $300 this year.

In ad­di­tion, it would cre­ate a sec­ond tier of schools with 746 to 1,000 stu­dents that would re­ceive an ad­di­tional $100 per stu­dent.

Walker had ini­tially sought an in­crease of $18 mil­lion in spar­sity aid over the bi­en­nium as part of his $76 bil­lion bud­get, but the Joint Fi­nance Com­mit­tee elim­i­nated that pro­vi­sion in Au­gust.

It left in­tact an­other pro­vi­sion that would have raised the rev­enue caps for low-spend­ing dis­tricts, a mea­sure that would have helped many ru­ral schools. But Walker ve­toed that item last month.

Sen­ate Mi­nor­ity Leader Jen­nifer Shilling (D-La Crosse) crit­i­cized the mea­sure as a gim­mick. And she called out Marklein for what she de­scribed as his “mis­placed pri­or­i­ties” for sup­port­ing Walker’s $3 bil­lion in­cen­tive pack­age aimed at lur­ing Tai­wanese man­u­fac­turer Fox­conn Tech­nol­ogy Group to Racine County.

“As school dis­tricts con­tinue to strug­gle with tight bud­gets, teacher short­ages and grow­ing class­room sizes, Re­pub­li­can law­mak­ers ap­proved the largest state tax­payer give­away to a for­eign cor­po­ra­tion in U.S his­tory,” she said.

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