MADISON — The state’s small, sparsely populated school districts are sharing $25 million in aid payments that can be used to offset any costs the district incurs in educating its students. Sparsity aid is paid on the third Monday in September.
The 145 districts receiving $400 per member sparsity aid payments include two new districts: Manawa and Union Grove Union High School. Two districts are receiving new stopgap payments equal to 50 percent of the prior year’s aid. These payments are for districts that lost eligibility because student membership exceeded 745 but continue to have less than 10 members per square mile of district property. Chequamegon has membership of 772 students but has just 1.05 members per square mile. Crivitz has audited membership of 783 and 2.74 members per square mile. The 145 districts receiving aid have total membership of 63,701 students, which is about 7 percent of statewide membership for the 2017-18 school year.
The Department of Public Instruction’s 2019-21 budget request seeks to revise the sparsity aid program to include any school district that has less than 10 members per square mile even if district membership is more than 745. Based on membership projections, approximately 85 school districts would be eligible for the second tier sparsity payment of $100 per member. The budget request would require an additional $9.79 million in each year of the biennium for a total allocation of $70 million for sparsity aid.
“Sparsity aid helps small school districts keep the lights on, the buses running, and staff employed,” said State Superintendent Tony Evers. “Rural school districts face combined challenges of having a sparse student population spread over a large geographic area, fixed costs that don’t go down with declining enrollment, and resident families of modest means that makes referenda to raise local property taxes extremely difficult.”
Sparsity aid was enacted as part of the 2007-09 state budget and based on recommendations from the State Superintendent’s Advisory Council on Rural Schools, Libraries, and Communities. The aid program has been revised in subsequent budgets, but retains the intention of providing support to small public school districts that lack economies of scale and experience declining enrollment and escalating fixed costs. 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.