Democrats from rural Wisconsin are pledging to assist rural schools. They’ve unveiled a package of bills aimed at addressing the unique challenges faced by rural districts, including declining enrollments and increased travel costs. One proposal would allow consolidation referendums, currently restricted to the November ballot, to be held in April or September, and provides grants to improve efficiencies.

Representative Fred Clark of Baraboo said there’s a lot of talk about the legislature pushing consolidation. “That’s not the case,” said Clark. “And by providing grants to allow districts to improve efficiencies, we want to send a message that there are many solutions that should be available to districts when they look at ways to cut costs.” Representative Phil Garthwaite says that didn’t provide a fix for two of the districts he represents. “Consolidation in and of itself is not the answer,” Garthwaite said.

Senator Kathleen Vinehout of Alma said the Alma Area Schools provide an example of what’s occurring around the state. “In the last eight years, their fuel bill has gone from $18,000 to $87,000, during a time when they lost a quarter of their enrollment,” Vinehout said during a press conference at the Capitol Wednesday. “The response to these problems with rural schools is that they have to cut programs, they have to cut services and they have to cut staff.”

The proposals also include flexibility for the SAGE program, transportation aid, changes in how public schools transport private school students, and adjustment to financial relief for schools with declining enrollment.

Press conference (19:00 MP3) AUDIO: Press conference (19:00 MP3)

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