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Wisconsin Rural Transportation Aid Rules Unfair, Districts Say

Rural school districts across Wisconsin will lose out on extra transportation aid this year due to a formula that some school officials say is unfair, reports Milwaukee's Journal Sentinel.

The majority of rural schools in the state will not receive any additional funds, even though Wisconsin's Department of Public Instruction is providing an additional $7.5 million to rural districts for transportation costs, which are often higher than those in urban districts due to the size of service area. Wisconsin adjusted the formula this year after many urban and affluent districts received a large amount of extra funding last year. Under the new funding rules, 128 schools will receive up to $410,000 in extra transportation funds because they have 50 students or fewer per square mile and they spend 150 percent or more of $418.87 per student on transportation, which is the state's average.

The formula also takes into account whether a district lacks sidewalks or has "hazardous areas" that make it difficult to walk to school. 

Officials from some rural districts told the Journal Sentinel that the formula is still not comprehensive enough, and punishes districts that have already tweaked their own budgets or reworked bus routes to be more efficient and spend less on transportation. District leaders said a district's poverty rate should factor in, as well as other factors like whether a district has resorts or vacation homes with high property values in its boundaries that impact it's apparent need for funding.

The cost to transport students to rural schools in the Midwest often pulls money away from instructional expenses, according to an article published last year by the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Many of these rural districts face exorbitant transportation costs as students sit on buses for an hour or more to get to school in remote districts, or rely on alternative options like wind sleds to cross frozen bodies of water. Wisconsin's rural schools are already facing budget shortages due to declining student numbers, which impacts enrollment-based state funding.

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