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Capitol Update
By Senator Howard Marklein
March 15, 2019

Leading Blue Ribbon Ideas on School Funding Reform


The legislative members of the Blue Ribbon Commission on School Funding Reform recently met to discuss which bills we are each going to author and champion this session. As we look toward the budget process, it is important that we address many of these issues right away.
I have volunteered to author and champion four of the ideas that were derived from our months of work on the issue of school funding reform. These four ideas were not included in Governor Evers’ budget and I believe that they are necessary and important to address some of the real issues we face in our rural schools.  In fact, several of the ideas were provided by administrators and school districts in the 17th District and I am proud to continue moving these initiatives forward.
Following is a summary of each of the bills I will be leading in the legislature:
Declining Enrollment Calculation Reform – this legislation will account for long-term declining enrollment by changing the calculation for the declining enrollment adjustment.
Declining enrollment is the single-largest problem for our small, rural school districts. The numbers of children in our schools has declined and will continue to decline in many of our communities. Because the number of students in our schools has declined does not mean that their costs are reduced. Most school district costs are fixed. This change will have a significant impact on the majority of schools that I represent.
Negative Tertiary Aid Reform – school funding utilizes an Equalization Aid formula to distribute general aid to public schools.  It is a tiered formula. There is a primary, secondary and tertiary tier in this model.
This legislation will reform the formula to prevent adverse consequences for tertiary aid districts.
Sparsity Aid Reform – last session, I worked very hard to increase sparsity aid for small, rural school districts. This legislation will create an additional tier for sparsity aid for school districts with between 1,001 and 2,700 students and a population density of less than seven pupils per square mile. These districts would qualify for a payment of $100 per pupil. The estimated cost for this tier would be $16.5 million. 
This legislation will help school districts like River Valley. They have a higher head count than other sparsity aid-eligible school districts, but a low density in pupils per mile.
School District Consolidation Incentive – this legislation will soften the blow of increased property taxes for communities whose school districts are considering consolidation. My proposal, which was suggested by Jamie Nutter at CESA 3, will reduce the mill rates for consolidating districts that have disparate property tax rates by setting the new district’s mill rate equal to the lowest mill rate among the consolidating districts.  There would be a five-year phase-in, with state support, to provide relief to the property tax payers of the consolidating districts.
Again, I will be authoring and leading these bills in the State Senate and in the budget process. These ideas were not included in Governor Evers’ budget proposal. The Blue Ribbon Commission on School Funding Reform worked very hard over the last year to research and deliver ideas that will make a difference in our state. I believe these ideas will have a strong, lasting impact.
For more information and to connect with me, visit my website http://legis.wisconsin.gov/senate/17/marklein and subscribe to my weekly E-Update by sending an email to Sen.Marklein@legis.wisconsin.gov. Do not hesitate to call 800-978-8008 if you have any questions or need assistance with any state-related matters.