DIGGING DEEPER: Wisconsin school funding formula overhaul to be - WKOW 27: Madison, WI Breaking News, Weather and Sports

DIGGING DEEPER: Wisconsin school funding formula overhaul to be examined

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SPRING GREEN (WKOW) -- A top Wisconsin lawmaker wants to help the roughly 70 percent of Wisconsin school districts with declining enrollment get more money, but to do that the state legislature would have to replace a nearly 25 year-old funding formula.

Nowhere is a solution needed more than in the River Valley School District.

"Looking at the grades, the slice of grades between Kindergarten and 5th grade, we're serving approximately 120 less students today than than we were a year ago," explains River Valley Superintendent Tom Wermuth.

As a result, the district will close two of its four elementary schools in the next few years.

Declining enrollment is a trend that's hitting rural districts across the state, which is a problem when it comes to funding programs for those students who remain.

"Our entire school aid formula is based on the idea of per pupil funding - which says that the more pupils you have the more money you get, the less pupils you have the less money you get," explained State Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Burlington).

"The difficulty is trying to maintain the quality programs that districts have spent years building in a situation where you don't have as much funding to do so," said Wermuth.

Some districts - primarily in suburban areas of the state - are thriving with the current formula. But Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) said he sees the inequities within his own Senate district.

"It's a good example of one size does not fit all when it comes to this discussion," said Sen. Fitzgerald.

That's why Speaker Vos wants to spend part of the new legislative session trying to find a more equitable form of funding.

"Because everything that I have seen and read from the state's demographers - this is not gonna change anytime soon," said Speaker Vos.

While there is widespread acknowledgment a problem exists, finding a solution won't be easy.

"The reality of getting that piece of legislation through either house, I think, would be very difficult," said Sen. Fitzgerald.

"I'm not saying today that I have a magic answer to solve the problem, but we have to figure it out long-term," said Speaker Vos. "My hope is that we could partner with the Senate, that we could partner with outside organizations that care about this - so as an example - with schools you'd want to talk to the school boards association, all of the individuals who are involved in the teaching profession."

Supt. Wermuth said giving local school districts more flexibility on raising revenue limits would help, but that could be a non-starter with the Republicans who control the legislature. Either way, Wermuth wants to be a part of the discussion.

"Would welcome the opportunity. I can't think of a more important issue that's facing our state at this point in time," said Supt. Wermuth.

Sen. Fitzgerald also said he's open to an alternative.

Speaker Vos hopes to announce the formation of the group to look at a new funding formula by February.

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