Bills Reflecting Blue Ribbon Commission Recommendations Are Being Advanced

Nearly nine months ago, the Blue Ribbon Commission on School Funding issued its recommendations. Ever since, school leaders have been waiting patiently for those recommendations to be put forward as legislation.

Recently, however, a number of bills have been put forward to implement recommendations made by the Commission.  Several are described below:

Sparsity Aid
Senate Bill 182 and Assembly Bill 196, a pair of companion bills authored by Sen. Howard Marklein (R-Spring Green) and Rep. Jeff Mursau (R-Crivitz), would expand eligibility for sparsity aid in a way that mirrors the recommendations made by both the Blue Ribbon Commission and the Rural Schools Task Force (2013). (See Recommendation #2 under Sparsity Aid on page 7 of the Commission Report.)

Under current law, districts qualify for $400 per pupil if they meet the following criteria: (a) an enrollment in the prior year of less than 745 pupils; and (b) population density of less than 10 pupils per square mile of district attendance area. Under these bills, districts with enrollments of more than 745 but less than 1,000 and population density of less than 10 pupils per square mile would qualify for the current ($400 per pupil) aid payment and districts with a membership of between 1,001 and 2,700 and a population density of less than seven pupils per square mile would qualify for a payment of $100 per pupil.

Declining Enrollment
Senate Bill 327, authored by Sen. Howard Marklein (R-Spring Green) and Rep. Romaine Quinn (R-Cameron) would modify the way school district revenue limits are adjusted for declining enrollment. (See Recommendation #2 under Declining Enrollment on page 1 of the Commission Report.)

Under the bill, a district’s 2018-19 three-year rolling average enrollment would serve as the comparison for all subsequent years when calculating a declining enrollment adjustment. In other words, each year’s three-year rolling average enrollment would be compared to the 2018-19 average (i.e., the three-year average of pupil enrollment for the 2016-17, 2017-18, and 2018-19 school years).

A declining enrollment district would receive an adjustment to its revenue limit equal to the allowable revenues that 90 percent of the decline in enrollment would have generated. However, this adjustment is limited to a maximum 10 percent decline. If a district loses more than 10 percent of its 2018-19 three-year rolling average enrollment, the declining enrollment adjustment would be calculated as if the enrollment decline had equaled 10 percent.

Because the 2018-19 year would become the new base upon which subsequent adjustments are calculated, the bill would delete the existing prior year base revenue hold harmless adjustment for the 2019-20 school year and each school year thereafter.

General Aid Payment Schedule
A draft bill being circulated by Sen. Luther Olsen (D-Ripon) and Rep. Rob Hutton (R-Brookfield) would modify the disbursement schedule for general equalization aid so that school districts would receive four equal payments of 25% in September, December, March, and June by the 2023-24 school year.  (See Recommendation #2 under Timing of School Aids Distribution on page 3 of the Commission Report.)

Currently, school districts receive their state aid in four quarterly payments: 15% in September, 25% in December and March, and the remaining 35% in June. Under this proposal, in each of the next five years, the September payment would increase by two percentage points and the June payment would decrease by two percentage points until all four of the quarterly payments are equal.

Counting Pupils Enrolled in Four-Year-Old Kindergarten (4K)
A draft bill being circulated for co-signers by Sen. Luther Olsen (R-Ripon) and Rep. Joel Kitchens (R-Sturgeon Bay) would allow four-year-old kindergarten (4K) programs that require full day attendance by pupils for five days a week to be able to count these pupils as a whole one pupil (1.0 FTE) for state aid and revenue limit purposes. (See Recommendation #1 under Early Childhood on page 9 of the Commission Report.)

Under current law, districts may choose to operate a 4K program, but are not required to do so. For those that do opt to offer a 4K program., 4K pupils are counted in the equalization aid and revenue limit calculations as 0.5 FTE (if the child attends for at least 437 hours) or 0.6 FTE (if the program provides at least 87.5 additional hours of outreach activities) even if the pupil participates in a full-day 4K program five days a week.

Whole Grade Sharing Incentives
A draft bill being circulated for co-signers by Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills) and Rep. Mary Felzkowski (R-Irma) would create a new categorical aid (or incentive) for school districts that enter into whole grade sharing agreements and adopt a resolution to consider school district consolidation.  (See Recommendation #2 under School District Consolidation on page 8 of the Commission Report.)

Under current law two or more neighboring school districts may enter into a whole grade sharing agreement under which they agree to share students. Many school districts around the state, especially smaller, rural districts, could potentially benefit from whole grade sharing agreements with neighboring districts. However, districts have not found whole grade sharing to be an especially attractive option because no additional aid is currently provided for districts that enter into such an agreement.

Under the bill, DPI would provide a categorical aid payment of $150 per student enrolled in a grade participating in a whole grade sharing agreement. This aid would be received outside the revenue limits for up to five school years so long as the whole grade sharing agreement remains in effect.

Grants for Feasibility Studies of School District Consolidation or Whole Grade Sharing Another bill being brought forward by Sen. Olsen and Rep. Kitchens would create a grant program to assist districts to conduct consolidation or whole grade sharing feasibility studies.

Such feasibility studies allow school districts the chance to see if consolidation or whole grade sharing is something that would be worthwhile for them or not. The studies often review a number of factors in addition to cost savings that include which schools to keep, how to configure the grades at those schools, as well as additional academic programs that could be offered if a merger or sharing took place.

Under current law, districts seeking to explore ways to expand educational opportunities or reduce costs often must take funds from educational programs to pay for such feasibility studies.

The 2007-09 State Budget created a one-time grants program available during the 2008-09 school year for school districts that were interested in conducting consolidation feasibility studies. The resulting studies led to several consolidations, while in other cases districts opted not to consolidate but made that decision with the benefit of information that otherwise might not have been available to them.

Incentives for Sharing Administrative Positions
Another bill being offered by Sen. Darling and Rep. Felzkowski would incentivize school districts to share administrative personnel by creating a categorical aid for school districts that enter into an agreement with other school districts or local units of government to share administrative personnel services adopt a resolution approving participation in this new shared services aid program. (See the Recommendation under Incentives for Shared Services on page 9 of the Commission Report.)

Under the bill, each school district sharing an administrative position would receive the following annual aid payments during the first three years of the agreement:

  • For a shared school district administrator: $40,000
  • For a shared HR director, IT director, or business manager: $22,500
  • For any other shared administrative position (other than principal or asst. principal): $17,500

The aid would be received outside the revenue limit and would be awarded to eligible school districts in the order that their applications are received. A school district could receive this aid for up to 5 years so long as the agreement remains in effect. In the fourth and fifth years of an agreement, each school district would receive half of the above amounts. Aid payments would be pro-rated if the number of eligible applications exceeds the amount of funding allocated.