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011018frontgovwalker.jpg

Mr. Tate's Tech Ed class with Gov. Walker and Rep. Nygren.

Gov. Walker Visits Coleman To Support School Aid Increases

Governor Scott Walker visited Coleman on Monday, Jan. 8 to announce his support for legislation authored by Representative John Nygren (R"Marinette) that will provide additional Sparsity Aid and a Low Revenue Ceiling increase for rural schools.

Nygren, co-chair of the powerful Joint Committee On Finance, accompanied Walker on his visit to the Coleman School to make the announcement on Monday, as did Rep. Jeff Mursau (R-Crivitz). They toured school facilities and talked with administration, staff, and students at elementary, middle school and high school levels.

Coleman District Administrator Doug Polomis said he was first notified at about 1:30 p.m. on Friday that the governor would be visiting on Monday.

He said while in the building the governor and legislators visited second grade, special education rooms, woodworking and metals labs, and the governor spoke to the high school students. He noted that news media representatives were also on hand.

Polomis also briefed the board on what the proposed changes would mean to Coleman for the 2018-2019 budget year. The added $100 per pupil sparsity aid would add $68,000 to their revenue. However, for that first year the increased revenue limit would allow them an increase of only $21.80. They would see the benefits from that provision at the rate of $100 per pupil over the next several years if the state continues to provide the funding.

Polomis felt one reason the governor chose Coleman to make his announcement is that their district will benefit from both the sparsity aid and revenue ceiling facets of the proposal.

However, based on comments district administrators have made over the years, most school districts in Marinette County will benefit from one of both of the changes proposed in Nygren's legislation.

If approved, the revenue limit rule changes could correct what some define as a problem that started in 1993. A state law passed at that time limited how much districts could raise in property taxes and state aid per student each year, but those amounts were locked in at different rates for different districts, depending on how much - or how little - the district had been spending at the time.

Leaders of the most frugal districts, including nearly all districts in Marinette County, have complained repeatedly that they have been punished for years with lower revenue limits because they were frugal while other districts with more liberal spending habits have been allowed to continue spending at higher levels for nearly 25 years.

According to the news release announcing the governor's visit, the increased aid now being proposed for rural schools will come in addition to the historic $11.5 billion investment in K-12 funding, increased support for High-Cost Transportation Aid in rural areas, new support for mental health services and expanded efforts to provide broadband access statewide included in the state budget.

"Our top priority is driving student success and ensuring our children receive a quality education, regardless of where they live," said Governor Walker. "This legislation provides additional support for our rural school districts to address their unique circumstances."

Representative Nygren's proposed legislation increases Sparsity Aid by $6.4 million for the 2018-19 school year. The bill provides an increase from $300 per pupil to $400 per pupil for districts that currently qualify for Sparsity Aid.

Additionally, the bill includes an increase to the Low Revenue Ceiling from $9,100 to $9,400 for the 2018-19 school year, with the Low Revenue Ceiling rising by $100 per year thereafter up to $9,800 by the 2022-23 school year. In order to ensure accountability to local voters, districts where a referendum to raise the revenue limit was rejected by the voters within the past three years would not be allowed to raise their revenue limit.

The Sparsity Aid Program aims to offset the challenges faced by low-population school districts through providing an additional $300 of per-pupil funding for school districts with 745 students or less and a population density of less than 10 students per square mile.

Current initiatives supporting rural school districts include increased funding for High-Cost Transportation Aid to help offset the increased cost of transporting students to schools in rural areas; Broadband Expansion grants providing schools and students access to fast, reliable internet service in underserved areas, as well as mobile hotspots for school buses; and $6.65 million to address students' mental health needs. These initiatives are in addition to the historically-high $11.5 billion investment in K-12 education included the 2017-19 state budget that provides a $200 per student funding increase for every student in every school in the state this year and, on top of that, an additional increase of $204 per student next year.

"I am very proud to be joining Governor Scott Walker at Coleman High School today to announce a proposal to provide significant additional resources for public schools across Wisconsin. In the shadows of a historic $600 million increase in spending for our public schools, these new K-12 investments will provide an additional $25 million in the 2018-19 school year for public schools all throughout Wisconsin," Nygren said of the visit.

 He said under the proposed bill, over the next 6 years schools will see an additional $130 million in resources. The aid for low revenue districts will provide over $18 million in 2018-19 and $92 million to over 200 school districts in the next 6 years. Historically, these districts are frugal, low-spending districts who have been locked into spending limits for over 20 years.

 "As a result of locked spending, these districts must play on an unlevel playing field, competing with higher spending districts. This has a negative impact on the students and educators in those districts. Affording all students the same educational opportunities, regardless of geographic location is of utmost importance."

 "Additionally, this bill increases sparsity aid payments to our rural districts that face unique challenges," Nygren added. He said the per pupil payments to sparsely populated districts, currently at $300 per pupil, will be increased to $400 for next year. "This increase will provide over $6 million in 2018-19 and $30 million over the next 6 years to nearly 150 school districts," Nygren said.

 He concluded, "This bill will have real-world impacts on the lives of our students and educators. These reforms will provide more resources for the classroom, increased educational opportunities for students, and will foster an environment for rural schools to flourish. I would like to thank Governor Walker for his collaboration and leadership on this issue. I look forward to continuing to work to ensure that all students get the world-class education that they deserve, regardless of their zip code!"

Nygren's proposal appears to resolve budget issues that split Republican officials in the Assembly, but whether or not the Senate will agree to the multimillion-dollar deal to help schools in rural areas and districts with fewer funds remains unclear.

In the state budget last year, Walker proposed helping the thinly populated districts, but Republican leaders in the Assembly acted instead to help schools that have been locked into tight budgets by state law. The governor subsequently vetoed that provision, which left schools without either proposal.  The legislation Nygren now has introduced addresses both issues, perhaps not to the extent some legislators would have liked to see, but as Nygren noted, "It's a step in the right direction."

Wisconsin Association of School Boards supports Nygren's plan, as does State School Superintendent Tony Evers, who has publicly praised the bill. Evers is a Democratic candidate for governor, hoping to become Walker's opponent at the polls in November.


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