Rural Wisconsin and agriculture are vital to our state's economy. Wisconsin is among national leaders in the production of corn and other feed crops, vegetables, cattle, and other animals and animal products, including dairy products such as milk and cheese. The diversity of our agricultural production and agricultural-related businesses is one of our great strengths.
While farming as a way of life and livelihood is shrinking, Wisconsin has more than 76,000 farms scattered across its rural landscape. Those rural communities are home to families and children, and the local school is often the social center of the community. However, many rural communities struggle with economic, land use, and other policies that threaten their stability and their ability to educate their children. Yet, as a result of technological and scientific advances in agriculture, agribusiness, and other areas of work, education is increasingly important for today's youth.
The Advancing Rural Wisconsin Initiative seeks to improve education, commerce, and quality of life for rural residents so that Wisconsin's rural communities stay strong. The initiative has resulted in some important transportation aid and low revenue ceiling changes. Sparsity aid, adopted as part of the 2011-13 budget, is providing additional financial help to pay the cost of educating students who live in less populated areas. For the 2011-12 and 2012-13 school years, $13.4 million will be available annually for sparsity aid. The Advancing Rural Wisconsin Initiative also promotes efforts for greater collaboration, focusing on helping rural schools and communities build on their strengths.
About 44 percent of the state's 860,000 PK-12 public school students attend schools in rural communities. We need to build on our tradition of collaboration and cooperation as we work to grow our economy. Let's work together to keep rural Wisconsin strong.