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Rural schools (copy)

A school bus drives along a rural road in La Crosse County. Lawmakers have agreed to send more money to districts that spend less on their students than the state average. 

Schools in rural Wisconsin and in districts with low-spending levels would see millions in new funding under measures approved Thursday by the Legislature’s budget-writing committee.

More than 100 school districts would be able to raise their property taxes without voter approval to pay for programs and teachers under the proposal approved by the Joint Finance Committee.

Those districts typically spend less per student than other districts.

The proposal from committee chairman Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette, and committee member Sen. Howard Marklein, R-Spring Green, also would send nearly $7 million to more than 100 rural schools next school year.

In 1993, the Legislature imposed revenue caps on school districts, which limited the amount of money the districts could spend and raise through local property taxes without a referendum.

Many districts that were spending less per student at that time have been locked in at lower per-pupil spending levels, and leaders of such districts have said this has made it difficult to keep up with other districts that can spend more.

If approved by the full Legislature, school districts with the low-revenue caps would be able to increase the amount they spend from the current $9,100 per student limit to $9,400 per student next school year. The limit would increase by $100 each school year until it reaches $9,800 per student by the 2022-23 school year. If all school districts chose to use their full taxing authority, the districts would collectively raise about $22 million, according to a recent analysis from the Wisconsin Association of School Boards.

The proposal would apply to about 120 of the state’s 422 school districts, including Mount Horeb, Baraboo, Milton, Portage, Prairie du Chien, Watertown, Westfield, Sparta and Tomah.

Lawmakers also approved two bills in Gov. Scott Walker’s slate of changes to the state’s welfare programs.

One bill would create a pilot program for 100 recipients of the Earned Income Tax Credit to receive monthly payments instead of one annual payment after taxes are filed. The payments would be limited to two-thirds of the recipient’s annual credit eligibility. The tax credit provides low-income families tax relief and costs about $100 million to the state.

The second bill allows the Department of Administration to contract with a private provider for payments to provide social, employment or correctional services to individuals and create a “pay for success trust fund” of up to $20 million.

Lawmakers also approved a bill aimed at providing relief for individuals in the foster care system by requiring the University of Wisconsin System’s Board of Regents and the state’s technical college system district boards to give tuition forgiveness to students who were in foster care.

The bill also requires the Department of Children and Families to give UW and technical colleges $120,000 in grants for programs designed for children who had been living in foster care.

The committee also on Wednesday approved a bill that would increase the amount of tax credits developers can claim for redeveloping historic properties. The Legislature set the amount at $5 million in the 2017-19 budget, but Walker used his partial veto authority to remove a zero from that amount to make it $500,000. The new bill would increase the amount to $3.5 million.

The committee has also approved Walker’s proposal to spend $6.8 million to expand a Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. advertising campaign from Chicago to other Midwestern cities. Part of the package would fund an effort to recruit veterans transitioning to the civilian workforce.

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