Wisconsin Rural Schools Banking on Local Voters

Last Updated: March 26, 2010

This article appeared in the March 2010 Rural Policy Matters.

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The fate of many rural school in Wisconsin rests on referenda scheduled for early April as districts struggle to cope with declining enrollments, falling state aide, healthcare costs, and revenue caps. Districts in the state must ask voters’ permission to override these caps, implemented in 1993, when funding runs short. Districts now regularly use the referenda to request funding for maintenance and programming, not for construction or special projects as was originally envisioned when the caps were passed by the Legislature. Of the 34 Wisconsin school districts holding April referenda, 22 will ask for funding for school programs and operations. For some rural districts, the outcome of the vote will determine whether schools will close or districts will be forced to consolidate.

This legislative session, the Rural Democratic Caucus has proposed legislation that could allay some financial concerns, including changes in transportation funding and a one-time adjustment to aid districts with declining enrollment. But districts had hoped Governor Jim Doyle would help push through major school funding reform, especially to address the revenue caps and lagging state commitment to fund school costs. However, the Governor has failed to speak on the issue or propose legislation.

Read more:

Local coverage of rural districts and schools awaiting referendum outcomes and the impact of revenue caps:

Coverage on the Governor’s previous school funding proposals:

Summary of upcoming school referenda:

Read more from the March 2010 Rural Policy Matters.