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Wisconsin Lawmakers Create Task Force to Help Rural Schools

A bipartisan taskforce of Wisconsin lawmakers will be meeting for the next year to discuss how to address its rural schools' problems.

The assembly's speaker asked the 12-member group to study six areas:

  • Creating partnerships among school districts;
  • Exploring new avenues to share innovations, efficiencies and best-practices;
  • Addressing future transportation needs;
  • Mapping out strategies for long-term financial stability;
  • Developing tactics for handling declining enrollment; and
  • Maximizing opportunities to incorporate advanced technology.

"With 44 percent of the state's public school students going to school in a rural community, I thought it was imperative that state lawmakers examine the challenges facing our rural schools today," said state Assembly Speaker Robin Vos in a press release. "We know that our rural schools are facing declining enrollments and have real transportation needs. That's why in this state budget, Assembly Republicans added $10 million for high-cost transportation. However, more needs to be done to develop additional efficiencies and partnerships."

Some superintendents seemed to welcome the news. Superintendent Craig Semingson, of the Eleva-Strum school district in Strum, Wisc., in an interview with WEAU 13 News in Eau Claire, pointed to challenges such as the state's school funding formula, a lack of Wi-Fi, and increasing transportation costs.

"Every time we have to add another mile on the bus route, because we have a new student that we have to move back into the valley, that's $300 over the course of the year," he said.

It's worth noting that Wisconsin has been named one of 10 states that account for 68 percent of $1 billion in "lost" annual capacity, or money that might not have had to be spent if the districts were larger, according to a recent Center for American Progress report. Wisconsin "loses" $37 million annually because of its large number of small, non-remote districts (the report defined "small" as districts with less than 1,000 students and are located in populated areas). The report made a number of recommendations for managing districts to ensure dollars are spent as effectively as possible.

The Wisconsin task force is expected to produce a report on its findings and recommendations by early 2014.

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