MADISON — Small, sparsely populated districts across the state have received $18.5 million in sparsity aid. Unlike most categorical aids, which are targeted to a specific program or service, sparsity aid may be used for general school operations.
For the 2017-18 school year, 144 districts qualified for sparsity aid based on membership of 745 or fewer students and density of less than 10 pupils per square mile of the district’s geographic area. Five school districts received aid this year that didn’t qualify last school year: Dover #1, Erin, Glenwood City, Iowa Grant, and North Cape. Aid was paid on the third Monday in September.
Sparsity aid is computed on prior year audited membership, which includes all students receiving services from a public school district and is different from enrollment. Combined, the eligible school districts had pupil membership of 62,377, which is about 7 percent of Wisconsin’s total public school membership for the 2016‑17 school year. The membership total from eligible school districts required that the statutory sparsity aid payment of $300 per member be prorated at 98.84 percent this year for an actual payment of $296.52 per member.
“Across the state, the local school is the heart of the community. Its activities extend past the classroom as a gathering place for academic, athletic and other social activities that hold communities together. As a major employer, schools also support the local economy,” said State Superintendent Tony Evers. “The sparsity aid program is an important support to our small school districts.”
Sparsity aid was enacted as part of the 2007-09 state budget and based on recommendations from the State 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, sparsely populated districts. With the exception of the 2015-16 school year, sparsity aid has been prorated each year.
NOTES: A list of public school districts receiving 2017-18 sparsity aid can be found in the official news release. More information about the sparsity aid program can be found online.