Walker rural funding plan would help some districts more than ot - WQOW TV: Eau Claire, WI NEWS18 News, Weather, and Sports

Gov. Walker's budget proposal would increase funding for rural schools

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Stanley-Boyd (WQOW) -- Rural school districts across the state can often face some unique challenges when it comes to funding. Governor Scott Walker  (R-WI) is hoping a 2017 budget proposal will change that.

On Thursday, a full room of Stanley-Boyd students sat down to listen to Gov. Walker's proposal, which includes a $20 million bump in sparsity aid.  That money would be available to schools with fewer than 1,000 students, which includes Stanley-Boyd.

Gov. Walker said, among other things, the boost in funding is aimed at improving technology and internet access. One example is to add hot spots to buses, or making hot spots available to take home if kids don't have access to the internet.

"A student who might have a long ride to and from school, that's a lost opportunity to work on stuff for their class or their homework assignments, and so a hot spot allows them to do that, and even sending them home in some cases. Our goal in the next two years is to make sure every part of the state has access to broadband and to high-speed internet connections, but in the duration we want to make sure that every student doesn't have to wait for that," said Gov. Walker.

Gov. Walker's proposal is not equal to all rural districts, as those with larger enrollments won't qualify for some of those additional dollars. He plans to present his state budget next week.

SPRING GREEN (WKOW) -- Rural schools in Wisconsin would get more money from the state under a budget proposal unveiled by Gov. Scott Walker (R-Wisconsin) Wednesday.
It includes an increase of $20 million sparsity aid.

Currently 142 districts with ten or fewer students per square mile that have enrollments of 745 students or fewer get an additional $300 per pupil. That amount will be increased to $400 for those districts, while districts between 745 and 1,000 students meeting the sparsity factor would get $100 per pupil.

37 rural school districts would fall under that new 775 to 1,000 student enrollment window, including Wisconsin Heights.

But 47 larger rural districts won't see any of that money.

River Valley School District serves just 4.5 students per square mile, but has an enrollment of over 1,300 students.

"The issue is - how do you define sparsity? And we believe sparsity should be defined based on the students that you serve per square mile and it shouldn't necessarily be based on a total enrollment cap," said River Valley Superintendent Tom Wermuth.

River Valley is running at a $700,000 deficit annually and will close two elementary schools by the end of the 2018 school year.

Another $25 million will go to rural districts that pay 150 percent or more than the average cost for transportation, with another $92,000 going towards hikes in regular transportation funding.

While Supt. Wermuth said his district would get an additional $5,000 for regular transportation costs, they also won't qualify for that so-called "high cost" transportation aid.

"So, although we spend more than the average - we don't spend 1.5 times the average. So, we won't qualify for that aid at all and that's a sizable chunk.," said Supt. Wermuth.

$35 million would go towards IT and broadband infrastructure grants.

Along with the financial incentives, the plan would also allow para-professionals in rural districts - such as teacher's aides - to take advantage of the UW flex degree option to become full-time teachers.

Recruiting and retaining teachers in rural districts is a big challenge.

Supt. Wermuth said that provision would help all rural districts.

The proposal also calls for allowing multiple districts to share certain specialists.

"We just empower them and make it easier to use some of our resources we're providing to do shared services," said Governor Walker. "So, for example - it could be in nursing, could be - probably most typically in rural school districts it would be reading specialists."

The Governor's plan also includes an additional $1 million for hands-on technology classrooms called "fab labs".

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