Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker signed a bill today that will increase sparsity aid and low ceiling revenue to Chippewa County school districts and about 150 districts across the state.
The bill increases sparsity aid per student from $300 to $400 in the 2018-2019 school year, increasing available aid to the Cornell, New Auburn and Lake Holcombe districts by $43,200, $29,800 and $31,000, respectively. The state aid provides extra funding to rural schools with less than 746 students in a district.
All three schools received less actual funding than their eligible amount last year, according to the Wisconsin Department of Instruction (DPI), but funds were no less than $1,500 short of eligibility.
Cornell’s eligibility will increase from $129,600 to $172,800. The New Auburn district will see a jump from $93,000 to $124,000, and Lake Holcombe will see an increased eligibility from $89,400 to $119,200.
Cornell School District Superintendent Paul Schley said the aid will cover about half of the school’s transportation costs for the 100 miles in its district but said the low revenue ceiling increase included in the bill will have more of an impact on the district than the sparsity aid increase.
The new ceiling, also going into effect during the 2018-2019 school year, will increase the bottom maximum spending revenue from $9,100 to $9,400 and another $100 every year until 2022-2023 when it reaches $9,800, according to a press release from the governor’s office.
Enacted in the 1993-1994 school year, the ceiling capped the amount a low-spending district could spend per student from taxes and state aid per student. The limit for the ceiling, according to the state DPI, is based on enrollment, inflation and the previous year’s levy.
Schley explained the ceiling has been frozen for a number of years, which meant districts like Cornell that were conservative and tight with their budgets were locked into the same rate as natural changes in economics flowed.
“While it may be equal, it wasn’t equitable,” Schley said.
Local government officials Rep. Rob Summerfield (R-Bloomer) and Sen. Terry Moulton (R-Chippewa Falls) were both in support of the bill that passed 90-3 in the Wisconsin Assembly and 31-1 in the Senate.
“Anytime we add additional funding for rural school districts, I feel that’s a positive step in the right direction,” Summerfield said.
Moulton was in favor of adding similar funding changes to the budget before the most recent budget was completed.
“What happened in the past, these conservative school districts were being penalized and locked in at historical low spending amounts,” Moulton said. “(It) increases that ability to generate more revenue… increases their levy authority.”
In a press release, Walker, who signed the bill at Riverdale High School is Muscoda, Wis., cited the impact the bill will have on rural schools.
“Every child deserves access to a quality education, no matter where they live,” Walker said. “The increased funding will provide the necessary resources for rural school districts to address the unique needs they face like enrollment and transportation.”
In terms of other K-12 education laws and bills, Moulton said school safety has been a high priority and concern in the legislature. Allowing schools to add more cameras or security guards are a few of the options Moulton said have been discussed, but the legislature is looking to find “some kind of dollar amount and ideas in that direction to strengthen that aspect.”