Northwoods school districts could get sparsity help under state proposal

Written By: Ben Meyer​

 

WISCONSIN - Northwoods public schools face challenges like declining enrollment, tight budgets, and transportation issues every year.

School districts always can use more funding from the state.

A new proposal would give a boost to every district in the Northwoods.

Right now, some districts in our area get thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars from what's called sparsity aid.

A group of mostly Democratic lawmakers wants to make even more districts eligible for that state help.

"The times are tough for these schools in declining enrollment areas and rural areas where they're not getting the aid they need. It's incumbent upon us as state lawmakers to respond to those needs," says Rep. Katrina Shankland, D-Stevens Point.

Right now, districts qualify for sparsity aid from the state if they have a small number of students and they have a low density of students in the district.

About half of the school systems in the Northwoods qualify under that rule.

The new bill would drop the requirement of having a low number of students.

It would make density the only requirement for sparsity aid.

If that happened, every district in the Northwoods would get help.

We talked to Rhinelander GOP Rep. Rob Swearingen.

He said the idea is well intentioned, but the financial impact on the state was just too much.

"I don't think this should be a partisan issue when our schools are hurting and they need additional aid with declining enrollment and high cost of transportation," Shankland said.

A Democratic sponsor of the bill estimates the change would cost the state about $38 million.