Wisconsin Public Television

Series: Challenges To Wisconsin's Rural Schools

Years of budget cuts, increased state funding for private schools, Act 10, an increase in teacher retirements and a decrease in young educators entering the workforce have reshaped the face of public education in Wisconsin over the past decade. But these changes are amplified in rural school districts around the state. Many of Wisconsin's rural counties are slowly losing population, which results in shrinking school enrollment numbers and local tax bases, putting pressure on districts budgets. With a growing teacher shortage nationwide, schools in sparsely populated areas struggle to attract new staff. At the same time, districts across the state are increasingly turning to referendums to fill the funding gap.
 
In Wisconsin, a desire for quality education and the costs of making such an investment has led to a funding system that can vary significantly by where a school is located.
When you have a small school district and a limited budget, it comes down to choices, according to Kickapoo Area School District district administrator Doug Olsen.
Since the 2013-2014 school year, Wisconsin school districts have seen a 1.5 percent decline in pre-K-12 enrollment, with some districts seeing gains and others even bigger losses.
As students returned to classes around Wisconsin, uncertainty among school districts that rely on state funding lasted right up through the end of the Legislature's much-prolonged biennial budget process.
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Governor Scott Walker issued vetoes to the 2017-19 Wisconsin state budget, one of which eliminated funding for low-spending schools districts that have had revenue caps since 1993. Adams-Friendship School District administrator Jim Boebel discusses its impact.
Schools in rural areas of Wisconsin with decreasing populations also face a decline in student enrollment, a trend causing budget anxieties for district administrators.
The amount of money a school district in Wisconsin receives from the state in a given year depends on a series of funding equations that factor in enrollment, student poverty, local property values, transportation needs and other criteria.
A budget proposal would provide more money to rural school districts depending on the population density of their students. But districts like Adams-Friendship, in rural areas but with more than 1,000 students, might not see as much funds as others.
School districts in western Wisconsin, along with their counterparts across the state, are increasingly finding it hard to recruit and retain teachers.
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Gov. Scott Walker's 2017-19 budget proposal would boost funding by $31 million for rural school districts to help cover gaps related to declining enrollment and other issues. Hurley School District administrator Chris Patritto discusses what this would mean for the northern Wisconsin district.