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Walker gets behind funding boost for low-spending schools

By SCOTT BAUER
Associated Press

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Gov. Scott Walker is getting behind a proposal to boost aid for rural schools and allow low-spending districts to raise their property taxes without a vote, a proposal similar to one he vetoed from the state budget.

Walker told The Associated Press in an interview on Monday that he’s worked on the latest proposal with state Rep. John Nygren,  budget committee co-chair and a vocal critic of the veto. Walker said he will ask the Legislature in his State of the State speech later this month to pass the bill.

The measure will give Walker another pro-education talking point as he campaigns for re-election this fall. The budget he signed in September increased funding for schools, but the new bill would target both rural and cash-strapped districts.

The proposal would increase by $6.5 million the amount of sparsity aid available to schools that have 745 or fewer students and membership of less than 10 students for each square mile of the district’s geographic area.

“I want to make sure children in the state get a great education no matter where they live,” Walker told the AP before joining Nygren to tout the proposal at Coleman High School in northeastern Wisconsin, about 20 miles west of Marinette.

Nygren, a Republican from Marinette, said he expects the GOP-controlled Legislature to pass the measure.

“To me, it’s really about fairness and kids having opportunities no matter where they live,” Nygren said.

The proposal would increase the maximum that qualifying low-spending districts can spend using a combination of local property taxes and state aid per student from $9,100 to $9,400 for the 2018-2019 school year. It would increase by $100 each year to a maximum of $9,800 in the 2022-2023 school year.

Walker struck that idea from the latest budget, citing concerns about circumventing the will of voters. So under the new idea, schools where voters have rejected a referendum to increase property taxes to pay for school operations could not qualify within three years of such a vote.

Nygren, who has worked for years to help the roughly 200 low-spending school districts that could benefit under the bill, said he approached Walker about finding a solution within weeks of his veto.

“It’s just a lesson in don’t take your toys and go home,” Nygren said.

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