K-12 Investment Largest in State History
With the new school year here and our kids headed back to class, I wanted to take a little time to share with you how the newly approved K-12 education budget will affect our area schools. As you may have heard, the $639 million increase in education funding is the biggest in state history and includes several new programs to help our area, including our rural schools.
Rural schools face unique challenges, like the high cost of transporting students long distances and low or sometimes declining enrollment. With most state aid tied to the number of students enrolled, these and other challenges quickly add up and can lead to tight budgets for rural districts. Thankfully, the state budget has several provisions to help rural schools deal with these challenges, including maintaining extra funds for districts with less than 10 students per square mile and expanding aid to those that need to spend more on getting kids to and from school.
Another challenge for rural schools is finding and keeping great teachers. The budget strengthens local efforts to recruit teaching staff by providing $1 million to help rural districts partner with colleges to increase student-teacher placement, internships and practicums for undergraduate students in rural schools. Research shows that whether it’s doctors or teachers, if professionals spend time training in rural Wisconsin, they are much more likely to settle down and raise their families here.
With fewer students than their urban or suburban counterparts and most state aid tied to enrollment, rural budgets for administration can get stretched pretty thin. This budget provides more than $2 million to reward schools that share certain services like human resources, information technology or administrative services. In addition to the cost savings these districts will get from sharing, they will get between $17,500 and $40,000 in state aid for each shared staff member for three years. For districts with declining enrollment or small grade sizes, the budget provides more than $750,000 to help districts with whole-grade sharing agreements, in which school districts teach students from both districts in one location.
The budget also takes an important step toward solving a long-standing problem for districts with lower than average spending ceilings. Since 1993, school spending has been held in check by state-established revenue limits. These limits, meant to hold down the out of control education costs of the mid-eighties and early nineties, were based on district spending at that time and have meant that districts spending less in 1993 still receive less in state aid today. The budget corrects this by incrementally raising the district’s spending limits over the next few years.
Additionally, the budget takes several important steps to improve mental health services in schools, including an increase of more than $7 million to improve access to mental health services, train staff to deal with such issues, and employ more school social workers. The budget also includes more than $600,000 in new medical assistance funding for consultations with mental health professionals.
Lastly, something parents across the state can celebrate, is a provision designed to cut down the time and money it takes to earn a degree by helping high school students get a jump start on their college coursework. The program would allow high school students to enroll part-time at a college or university and be reimbursed for part of the costs. Students enrolled in a UW System school would have up to 50% of their tuition covered, while those enrolled in a private college could receive up to one third of what a student attending UW-Madison would be reimbursed.
So as you gear up for another season of weekend football games and packing the kids’ lunches, know that our area schools are gearing up for the largest increase in education funding in state history.