Governor Scott Walker is visiting schools in Wausaukee, Cadott, and Belmont today to announce his support for new legislation to increase Sparsity Aid for rural schools, an idea he championed earlier this year.
Currently, the Sparsity Aid Program aims to offset the challenges faced by the smallest, most rural school districts in the state through providing $300 in per-pupil funding for districts with enrollments of 745 or less and a density of less than 10 pupils per square mile.
The new bill being touted by the governor, will be put forward by state Sen. Howard Marklein (R-Spring Green, pictured at left) and state Rep. Jeff Mursau (R-Crivitz, pictured at right below), both of whom represent school districts that would benefit from additional Sparsity Aid. Their bill would increase and expand Sparsity Aid for the 2018-19 school year by an estimated $9.7 million and would distribute the increased funding in the same manner the governor had proposed in his 2017-19 state budget bill.
The legislation would increase Sparsity Aid payments by $100 in 2018-19 from $300 per pupil to $400 per pupil for districts that currently qualify for Sparsity Aid, and it would add a new second tier of Sparsity Aid by providing $100 per pupil in 2018-19 for “sparse” districts with between 746 and 1000 pupils and fewer than 10 pupils per square mile. (As of this writing the bill has not yet been given a number. The draft (LRB 4432/1) is currently being circulated for co-singers.)
Editor’s Note: During debate over the 2017-19 state budget, GOP lawmakers scrapped the Sparsity Aid expansion that had been proposed by Gov. Walker, in part to provide low-revenue districts with some flexibility to raise additional revenues locally. In the end, however, Gov. Walker vetoed those provisions inserted by legislative Republicans that would have raised the low revenue ceiling from $9,100 last year to $9,300 this year, and then increased it $100 in each following year until it reached $9,800 in 2022-’23.
In his veto message, Gov. Walker said he was knocking out the low-revenue ceiling adjustment “because the result is a substantial increase in property tax capacity that school districts may exercise without voter input.”
By contrast, the proposed Sparsity Aid expansion would provide qualifying districts with additional revenues supplied entirely by the state and with no impact on property taxes. Because these additional state-provided resources would be outside revenue limits, they could be spent by receiving districts with no limitations.