Rural Wisconsin school districts could soon share grade levels if Gov. Scott Walker’s state budget proposal is passed as written, according to a recent story by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
The proposal, which was released in February, would allow rural districts to consolidate grade levels at a single site beginning in the 2016-17 school year. Students from different districts would attend one site for certain grades, but individual districts would keep other grade levels in their respective districts and schools. Currently, Wisconsin law does not allow schools to share grades.
Advocates say grade sharing could help rural districts save money and offer more courses. Nationwide, rural districts lack access to Advanced Placement courses, and many have had to cut teachers to save money. Others have turned to teacher-sharing or online courses to offer students both required and elective classes.
In neighboring Iowa, more than 70 districts share grades. Those districts receive money from the state for students who are in the shared grade as an incentive to collaborate. Still, some communities are concerned that sharing whole grades is a slippery slope to consolidation. Iowa’s Farragut Community School District superintendent Tom Hinrichs told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that although rural districts need each other, “Losing your school is an emotional issue ... People don’t want to lose their school. They want to hold on.”
In addition to grade sharing, Gov. Walker’s budget proposal also asks to increase the transportation reimbursement rate for school districts that transport students more than 12 miles and proposes additional funding for the state’s Sparsity Aid Program, which provides funding to small, rural, low-income districts.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Rural Education blog.