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Wisconsin Task Force Considers Rural Educator Retention Plan

Wisconsin lawmakers are paying close attention to their rural schools this school year, and that includes a proposal to retain new teachers and a taskforce that's considering more sweeping changes.

Teacher recruitment and retention are among the biggest challenges faced by rural schools, and lawmakers are talking about a plan that would give rural teachers up to $10,000 to retire college loans if they stay in those districts for five years, according to a story on the website for The Park Falls Herald & The Bee in Phillips, Wisc.

State officials estimate it could cost $660,000 more, depending on whether additional incentives would be offered. They hope that those teachers would become more invested in those communities and more likely to stay.

That's one of the ideas that's come out of  a new Task Force on Rural Schools that was established by the Wisconsin Assembly last fall. That group is traveling across the state visiting rural schools and holding public hearings in an effort to hear more about their challenges and potential solutions.

Forty-four percent of Wisconsin students attend a rural school, and the state has seen a relatively large increase in its students' poverty during the past decade, according to the Rural School and Community Trust.

In addition to teacher recruitment and retention, rural districts cited challenges such as transportation—one district spends roughly $2 million annually to bus students 540 square miles—broadband access, students' poverty, and steadily declining state funds as challenges they've faced, according to a story by WSAW-TV in Wausau, Wisc.

Rep. Rob Swearingen, R-Rhinelander, said in the story that rural schools are doing the best they can with what they have, but the answer isn't more money.

"It always boils down to more money, but the state can't afford to keep throwing money at what we have," he said in the article.  "We want to make sure they're implementing good best practices so if they're able to share resources in these rural school districts they can do that.  Consolidation really hasn't come up, but that's something on everybody's mind."

The task force is slated to turn in its final report with recommendations in March.

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