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Wisconsin Task Force Recommends Teacher Licensure Flexibility, Funding Changes

A bipartisan taskforce of lawmakers in Wisconsin has recommended that the state ease up on licensure requirements for some teachers and change a funding formula to benefit rural schools.

The task force, which was created in 2013 to study six aspects of Wisconsin's rural schools, released a report on Monday with more 15 recommendations aimed at addressing the challenges facing rural schools. One recommendation suggested that the state increase flexibility in teacher licensure to make it easier for rural schools to hire teachers in shortage areas or vocational classes. Wisconsin law allows for alternative routes for aspiring teachers, but the task force recommended relaxing requirements so that schools can hire individuals "who have extensive experience or competency in a subject area to receive a license without obtaining a traditional education degree."

The report also recommended a slight change to a funding formula that could possibly allow rural schools to raise more revenue. Currently, the state determines a school district's revenue limit based on a three-year average of the district's enrollment. The task force suggested changing this to a five-year average, which could help some rural districts that have seen declining enrollment in recent years.

Nationwide, rural areas have experienced more population loss in recent years. In some states like Wisconsin, shrinking enrollment in rural districts led to a decrease in state funding, according to an article by Eau Claire's Leader-Telegram.  Vermont legislators are currently considering consolidating districts in the state, which have experienced a loss of more than 20,000 students since the late 1990's according to a recent article in The New York Times. More than 80 percent of districts in Vermont are rural, and advocates say that consolidation could reduce costs.

In Wisconsin, the task force recommended that the state allow school districts to share certain grade levels, like a middle school or high school, to avoid consolidation.

Other recommendations from the report:

  • Forgive loans and grants for teachers in rural areas
  • Explore incentives that would encourage Internet providers to expand service in rural areas
  • Increase funding for transportation assistance
  • Provide grants for virtual learning and distance education 

The Associated Press reported that Democrats from the task force have criticized the final report, which was released by committee chairman Rep. Rob Swearingen, a Republican. The Democrats said the report does not provide a "blueprint" to actually fix some of the chronic issues facing rural schools, like declining enrollment. 

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