Rural school districts react to Walker-backed funding bill

Evers praises Walker while others criticize
Rural school districts react to Walker-backed funding bill

Gov. Scott Walker is backing a provision that would allow low-spending school districts to raise their property taxes without a vote.

Walker appeared with budget committee co-chair Rep. John Nygren at an event Monday at Coleman High School to tout the proposal. Nygren said he’s been working with Walker on a solution after the governor vetoed a provision of the state budget that would have allowed low-spending districts to raise property taxes without a referendum vote.

The proposal would increase the maximum that qualifying low-spending districts can spend on a combination of local property taxes and state aid per student from $9,100 to $9,400 for the 2018-2019 school year.

Kim Kaukl, executive director of the Wisconsin Rural Schools Alliance, said the proposal won’t help every school, but he called it a “positive move” for low-spending schools.

The bill would allow revenue-limit increase if there hasn’t been a failed referendum vote within the past three years.

It would also increase from $300 per student to $400 per student aid that goes to districts that qualify as being sparsely attended, a cost of $6.5 million.

Brett Stousland, district administrator for Barneveld School District, said rural schools face a number of challenges with the funding formula.

“No one’s really catching a break because, if the revenue to the schools goes down, the tax for the local community goes up because you always have to be 100 percent funded,” Stousland said.

Walker’s also calling for increasing sparsity aid for rural schools by $6.5 million a year.

State superintendent Tony Evers praised the bill Monday. Evers, a Democratic candidate for governor who hopes to take on Walker in November, has backed such increases before.

Democratic Senate minority leader Jennifer Schilling, however, called the proposal a “hollow campaign gimmick.”

Walker said in his State of the State speech later this month, he will ask the Legislature to pass the proposal. Nygren said he’s confident it will pass this year.