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MADISON — Small rural districts across the state will share $17.7 million in sparsity aid for general school
operations, which will be paid on the third Monday in September.
For the 2016-17 school year, 141 districts qualified for sparsity aid based on enrollments of 745 or fewer students and membership of less than 10 pupils per square mile of the district’s geographic area. Four school districts will receive aid in the coming school year that didn’t qualify last school year: Boyceville Community, Chequamegon, Montello, and Shiocton. Two districts — Erin and Spring Valley — received aid in the 2015-16 school year, but were not eligible for the coming school year.
Sparsity aid is computed on prior year membership and paid at $300 per member. Combined, the eligible school districts had pupil membership of 60,702, which is about 7 percent of Wisconsin’s total public school membership for the 2015-16 school year. Because district eligibility for aid for the 2016-17 school year exceeds the aid allocation from the 2015-17 state budget, each district will receive $291.16 per student, or 97.05 percent of eligible aid.
“In rural areas throughout Wisconsin, the local school provides value that extends past the classroom doors.
Our public schools are a major employer, a gathering place, and the heart of the community,” said State Superintendent Tony Evers. “The sparsity aid program helps rural districts meet those important needs.”
Sparsity aid was enacted as part of the 2007-09 state budget and based on recommendations from the ate Superintendent’s Rural Schools Advisory Council. The council stressed that declining enrollment and escalating fixed costs along with the lack of economies of scale were issues that put added pressure on small rural districts.
Changes to the aid program over the years have eliminated the requirement that at least 20 percent of students qualify for subsidized school meals; if funds were sufficient, paid aid to districts that qualified the year prior but had enrollment that exceeded the membership cap; and increased the membership cap from 725 to 745 students. With the exception of the 2015-16 school year, sparsity aid has been prorated each year.