Budget proposal aims to help rural schools

Gov. Scott Walker on Wednesday announced a series of budget decisions aimed at increasing fiscal aid to small school districts in rural communities.

“Rural schools often face challenges that other schools don’t,” said state Rep. Joel Kitchens, R-Sturgeon Bay. “While serving as president of the Sturgeon Bay School Board, I became very familiar with the challenges rural schools face. Rural or suburban, all students deserve the same outstanding education that Wisconsin educators provide.”

Features of the governor’s proposal include a $20 million increase in sparsity aid, which is for small rural districts that have less than 745 pupils and a population density of less than 10 pupils per square mile of district attendance. The increase brings the budget for sparsity aid to $55 million, $12.3 million more than the state Department of Public Instruction had requested.

Walker also said his budget plan will increase school districts’ reimbursement for transportation costs, including additional funding to school districts with a density of 50 pupils per square mile or less and per-pupil transportation costs totaling more than 150 percent of the state average.

Other aspects of Wednesday’s announcement include $35.5 million in additional aid for broadband and technological infrastructure in rural areas; greater flexibility for teacher’s aides and other school paraprofessionals to become full-time teachers; more sharing of specialized services among school districts; and $1 million for the Fabrication Laboratories Grant Program, which supports hands-on science, technology, engineering, arts, and math education by helping public school districts with equipment purchases used for instructional and educational purposes in fabrication laboratories.

Details of the budget proposal are spelled out in this press release from the governor’s office.