Wisconsin schools task force releases final report

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File photo (MGN Online/halfdozenmama.com)

MADISON (AP) – An Assembly task force that researched Wisconsin’s rural schools recommends more spending on some programs in those locations, as well as a small overall change in the state’s funding formula.

Superintendents from across the state told lawmakers the rural schools were cash-strapped and that any additional money would help. Some said their students didn’t receive the same quality education as students in suburban districts. The report, delivered to Assembly Speaker Robin Vos Tuesday, calls for tweaks to the state funding formula in order to address those concerns.

“Every child in Wisconsin, regardless of where they live, should have the best education possible,” Vos said. “I look forward to reviewing the report and working toward long-term solutions to address the needs of our rural schools.”

The report also urges allowing school districts to share resources and school boards to exempt themselves from state mandates in order to save money. It calls for an expansion of funding for technology and transportation programs.

In the report, committee chairman Rep. Rob Swearingen, a Republican from Rhinelander, recommends more money for bilingual programs and tweaking funding formula criteria that would allow more schools to qualify for money.

Swearingen also said the state should re-evaluate the current state funding formula that limits how much schools can levy per student. The formula is widely viewed as outdated and has tied the hands of schools in need of more money.

The Legislature is adjourned for the year, so the soonest any of the recommendations could be acted upon is January.

Some Democrats on the bipartisan committee say they’re pleased with most of the report, but said they hadn’t seen the final report before its release.

Rep. Fred Clark, D-Baraboo and vice chair of the task force, released his own draft version of the report hours before Swearingen released his.

“What’s missing is a substantive change to school funding and finance,” Clark said.

Rep. Mandy Wright, D-Wausau, said she supports aspects in the report that address funding issues but said she strongly opposes the recommendation that the state let certain qualified teachers bypass certification from the Department of Public Instruction.

“My opinion is the Republicans are kicking the can down the road. They have some nice ideas in there,” Wright said, “but they don’t have any actual bills, there’s no actual money or sources of funding tied to any of their recommendations.”

Democrats introduced a bill that would forgive students loans for teachers last session, but the bill stalled and failed. Wright, a former teacher, tried last-ditch efforts to force Republicans to vote on school issues in the waning days of the session.

“They are using some of the bills that we’ve proposed, some that we even proposed and pulled to the floor and they voted against. So their integrity in some of these issues is really lost.”

Democrats scheduled a press conference for 9 a.m. Wednesday to voice concerns about the report.

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