Rural schools have reached a breaking point, southwestern Wisconsin school officials say

More than a dozen southwestern Wisconsin school district superintendents joined rural school supporters and labor advocates in Platteville Tuesday (October 14, 2014) to focus on the state’s increasing school funding crisis and how it impacts rural Wisconsin school districts in particular.

All school districts in Wisconsin are affected by local school district revenue caps and drastically reduced state funding. In small schools, those difficulties are compounded by declining enrollment, limited flexibility, voucher school expansion, increasing transportation costs, rising special education needs, and increased competition for fewer teachers.

Rural schools are struggling to keep the doors open, hire and retain highly qualified teachers and offer equal opportunities to students. Throughout the state, rural schools are experiencing larger class sizes, insufficient textbooks, buildings in disrepair, fewer teachers, and reduced programs and courses. 

“It definitely makes a difference where you go to school in Wisconsin,” said Luke Francois, the superintendent for the Mineral Point School District. Francois says teachers, school principals and other administrators are required to fill multiple roles because the district can no longer find or afford specialists. When several English Language Learner students enrolled in the school district this year, a teacher of another subject was required to create an ELL program and add it to her workload because the district could not hire an ELL specialist.

Richland Center district administrator Rachel Schultz called upon state government to halt the expansion of private school vouchers as one immediate solution that would restore tens of millions of dollars to rural schools.

“We can’t afford to fund two school systems,” Schultz said.

Nancy Hendrickson serves as the district administrator for two southwestern Wisconsin districts, Highland and Pecatonica. Enrollment is increasing in Highland and decreasing in Pecatonica, but both districts face school funding crises. In both districts, teachers are leaving for larger school districts or more lucrative opportunities in the private sector, and they are increasingly difficult to replace.

“It is ever more difficult to get teachers to serve in our classrooms,” Hendrickson said.

Advocating for State Superintendent of Public Schools Tony Evers’ Fair Funding for Our Future plan and a halt to voucher expansion, WEAC Region 6 Director Joyce Bos said there are solutions to the rural school funding problem if there are elected officials who are willing to address them.

“The rural school funding problem has gone from a preventable problem to a fixable problem,” Bos said. “But it can still be fixed.”