- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 6, 2014

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

Superintendents from across the state told lawmakers that 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 on Tuesday, calls for tweaks to the state funding formula 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 recommends allowing school districts to share resources and school boards in order to save money and increasing 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, which limits how much schools can levy per student. The formula is widely viewed as outdated and as a burden on underfunded schools.

The Legislature is adjourned for the year, so the soonest it could act on the recommendations would be January.

Some Democrats on the bipartisan committee say they were pleased with most of the report, but that 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 of 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, but they don’t have any actual bills, there’s no actual money or sources of funding tied to any of their recommendations,” Wright said.

Democrats introduced a bill last session that would forgive teachers’ students loans, but it stalled and failed. Wright, a former teacher, unsuccessfully tried 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 plan to discuss the report at a 9 a.m. Wednesday news conference.


Follow Taylor W. Anderson on Twitter at https://twitter.com/TaylorWAnderson

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