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Rural schools

A school bus drives along a rural road in La Crosse County. Lawmakers have agreed to send more money to districts that spend less on their students than the state average. 

Lawmakers writing the next state budget are considering a plan for education spending that includes a funding increase for schools proposed by Gov. Scott Walker and allows school districts that spend less on their students than the average district to raise property taxes to pay for school costs.

Under the plan being discussed, school districts that are currently allowed to raise revenue up to $9,100 per student — more than a thousand dollars less than the state average — may increase that amount in the upcoming school year to $9,300 per student and to $9,400 in the 2018-19 school year, according to sources with knowledge of the plan but not authorized to speak publicly.

The districts’ limits increase by $100 each school year after that. The new revenue and spending authority for districts with low limits because of revenue caps the state imposed more than two decades ago would be paid through property tax increases in those districts, but lawmakers also would put more money in the budget aimed at reducing the tax impact on district residents.

And all school districts would receive an extra $200 per student in the first year of the 2017-19 state budget and another $204 per student in the second year, which was proposed by Walker earlier this year in his state spending plan, under the framework lawmakers have tentatively agreed to use.

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Spending on schools is one of the remaining big-ticket items still unresolved in the state budget-writing process, which is supposed to be complete by the end of June. The Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee — which writes the budget — has been on hiatus as lawmakers figure out how to address K-12 education, transportation and taxes and is not expected to meet the deadline.

Joint Finance Committee co-chairman John Nygren, R-Marinette, said last week the Republican caucuses in the Assembly and in the Senate still remain divided on key proposals but are closest on education spending.

Walker has for months been promoting his proposal for K-12 spending, which gives schools $649 million in new money. Senate Republicans have said they wish to work from Walker’s proposal, but Nygren and other Assembly Republicans introduced their own proposal earlier this month emphasizing their desire to find more funding for low-spending districts.

The school districts that the proposed plan would help have been limited on how much they can spend because of state-imposed limits on how much money districts could receive through property taxes and state funding, and were set in the mid-1990s based on how much districts generally spent per student up until that point.

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