The state’s chief of schools is asking Gov. Scott Walker and Republican lawmakers to send millions to rural schools so they can keep their teachers.

As part of State Superintendent Tony Evers’ $13.6 billion request for the 2017-19 biennium, Evers would direct $5.5 million in the 2018-19 school year to provide schools in rural areas with money to give their teachers retention grants, or $750 per full-time teacher.

Evers first floated the idea in September, saying the money would help to “level the playing field” among school districts by giving extra money to schools in rural areas that have trouble matching salaries offered by wealthier districts.

The grants would be for teacher compensation and tuition reimbursement, the budget request said.

Since Walker and Republicans passed the collective bargaining measure known as Act 10, school districts have been able to abandon salary schedules usually included in contracts with teachers unions.

One result has been wealthier districts having a greater ability to offer compensation packages that include regular bonuses or paying moving expenses to teachers licensed in hard-to-fill subject areas, regardless of their experience or education level.

“We are reviewing the request and appreciate Dr. Evers’ proposal,” said Tom Evenson, a spokesman for Walker. “Governor Walker is committed to investing more to help every child succeed.”

Evers’ budget request notes teachers in rural areas are less likely to have advanced degrees and more likely to be teaching students living in poverty. Students living in rural districts also have performed more poorly than students living in urban and suburban areas.

Rural districts compete with urban and suburban districts for teachers facing the obstacles of not being able to offer high pay, being located in isolated areas, requiring teachers to cover multiple subjects and not being able to offer a lot of training opportunities, the request said.

“In future years, these barriers will be further exacerbated by declining enrollment in rural districts and the overall decrease in the number of college students entering teacher education programs,” the request said.

Overall, Evers is seeking about a $707 million increase in spending including a $525 million increase in general school aid and other changes that would make up a funding formula overhaul. The request seeks a 2.7 percent increase in overall spending in the 2017-18 school year and a 5.4 percent increase in the 2018-19 school year.

Changing the funding formula

The request marks the fourth time Evers has asked the Legislature to change the state’s funding formula.

Part of the overhaul would eliminate a special funding stream to pay for students living in high poverty and factor more money into the main funding formula for the same purpose.

The budget also asks for increases in state-imposed revenue caps and would set a minimum amount of money the state sends to schools, regardless of how wealthy a district is. Each district would get a minimum of $3,000 per student under the request.

Twenty school districts won’t get general state aid in the 2016-17 school year because of the high property wealth in the district, according to DPI.

The same proposals have been rejected in three previous state budgets since they were first introduced by Evers in 2010.

But the Republican lawmakers who control the Legislature and Walker have signaled a shift in attitude toward K-12 funding, which was significantly cut in Walker’s first budget and virtually held flat in the last budget. Walker has repeatedly said this year that more money must be invested in K-12 schools.

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, said last week that K-12 funding will likely be a priority in the upcoming budget.

A spokeswoman for Fitzgerald said Tuesday he is still reviewing the proposal.

“In future years, these barriers will be further exacerbated by declining enrollment in rural districts and the overall decrease in the number of college students entering teacher education programs.” Tony Evers,
state schools superintendent
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Molly Beck covers politics and state government for the Wisconsin State Journal.