In August, the Joint Finance Committee made changes to Gov. Scott Walker’s budget proposal as it related to education. The package included a historic $639 million increase to per-pupil aid, flexibility for school districts, a Rural School Teacher Talent grant program and Mental Health Collaboration grants.

However, at the time, I also expressed concerns about changes that were made to the governor’s sparsity aid plan. I worked with my colleagues throughout the budget process to try to maintain the governor’s plan for an increase to sparsity aid, which primarily benefits rural school districts.

By eliminating the sparsity aid increase in favor of more money for low-spending districts, 25 of the 33 school districts in the 17th Senate District received less categorical aids than they would have received with the governor’s plan. I understood the intent of this change, but I didn’t agree with it. However, the major per-pupil funding increases, maintenance of sparsity aids and high-cost transportation aids made the changes palatable, and I voted for the package as a whole.

Following the governor’s vetoes of several pieces of the legislature’s budget, we recognized that there may be funding available to take another run at the sparsity aid increase. As a result, I have authored a bill with a $9.7 million increase to the sparsity aid program for rural schools. The bill mirrors the increase that was removed from the governor’s budget proposal by the Joint Finance Committee during budget deliberations. The bill is co-authored by Representative Jeff Mursau, R-Crivitz, and is currently circulating for co-sponsorship.

Sparsity aid is an important funding program that helps small, rural school districts. My bill invests an additional $9.7 million for the 2018-19 school year and will increase sparsity aid from $300 to $400 per pupil. It also creates a second tier for slightly larger school districts who will receive $100 per pupil. This is a good investment in schools that need our support.

School districts with fewer than 745 students and less than 10 pupils per square mile currently qualify for $300 per pupil in sparsity aid. This bill increases the reimbursement to $400 per pupil and creates a second tier for schools with 746-1000 students, which will receive $100 per pupil. If this bill is successful, funds will be distributed for the 2018-19 school year.

Our children deserve a quality education regardless of zip code. This bill provides rural schools with support that they desperately need. I am proud to champion this bill and look forward to working with my colleagues to move it through the legislative process.

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 input, ideas or need assistance with any state-related matters.

Republican Howard Marklein, Spring Green, represents the 17th state Senate District.

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