Wisconsin Targets Wi-Fi, Busing, Teacher Staffing Woes With $30 Million for Underfunded Rural Schools
The Wauzeka-Steuben School District in Wisconsin is facing tight budget constraints, leading the school board to charge students $25 for class registration in an effort to raise an additional $7,000 and close the budget gap. The school district, with only 286 students, is in a financial crisis due to a decline of 10 students per year. As a result, certain classes, such as business education and upper-level Spanish, will now be taught through distance learning. To save money, the district plans to cut a custodian, saving approximately $50,000, and reduce a band teacher to part-time, saving about $24,000.
Governor Scott Walker recently highlighted the financial difficulties faced by districts like Wauzeka-Steuben when announcing his budget proposal. The proposal includes $11.5 billion in total education funding, with more than $30 million specifically allocated to rural schools for broadband, transportation, and teacher hiring. Walker is urging the state legislature to approve an increase of $649 million for K-12 schools, including $20 million in sparsity aid for school districts with less than 1,000 students. He recognizes the unique challenges faced by rural schools, such as high transportation costs, lack of reliable broadband access, and declining enrollment.
In addition to increased funding, Walker is also planning to invest $22 million in technology upgrades for school districts. This includes purchasing mobile hotspots that students can use on buses and take home with them, aiming to address the broadband challenges faced by rural communities. Furthermore, there is a plan to reimburse districts with fewer than 50 students per square mile if their transportation costs exceed 150 percent of the state average. Last year, the reimbursement rate was around 60 percent.
The governor also hopes to develop a program that trains teacher aides to become full-time teachers. This initiative is seen as a step in the right direction by Kim Kaukl, executive director of the Wisconsin Rural Schools Alliance, who acknowledges that there is still much work to be done to adequately fund rural schools.
Walkers shift towards increased education funding may be attributed to his upcoming re-election campaign and the support he received from rural voters in the presidential race. However, Republican Senate majority leader Scott Fitzgerald has expressed caution in regards to the governors spending plan, noting that lawmakers may need to adjust it to address competing priorities. Despite potential challenges, municipalities have started passing referendums to increase education spending beyond the states revenue limits, indicating a growing recognition at the local level that more investment is needed in education.
Overall, the governors proposed budget signifies a shift towards prioritizing education funding in Wisconsin, which has been lacking in recent years. This change has been well received by educational organizations, such as the Wisconsin Association of School Boards, who believe that more investment is necessary to provide a quality education for students in the state.