Eight ‘Standing Up for Rural Wisconsin’ recipients named

From the Department of Public Instruction

Projects that have students learning maple syrup production and career and independent living skills, and encouraging them to consider careers in education are among eight receiving 2018 Standing Up for Rural Wisconsin Schools, Libraries, and Communities awards.

Nominated by educators throughout the state, the projects will be recognized during the 10th Annual Wisconsin Rural Schools Alliance Conference October 29-30 in Wisconsin Dells. The projects are

  • Bringing the Barn to School Project, Medford Agriculture Department.
  • F.I.E.L.D. Corps and Youth Summit, Wisconsin Green Schools Network.
  • Building a Teacher Candidate Pipeline, University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh.
  • Oneida Community Integrated Food System, Oneida.
  • Special Need Students Building Career Skills through Small Rural School-based Businesses, New Auburn.
  • Independent Living Enrichment Project, Grantsburg.
  • Empty Bowls School and Community Service Project, Black River Falls.
  • Owen-Withee School Forest Maple Project.

“These programs are born from the collaboration among schools, libraries, and communities that is vital to keeping rural Wisconsin strong,” said State Superintendent Tony Evers. “Recognizing these efforts showcases the innovation and involvement that define vibrant communities and make them great places to raise kids.”

The awards program begins at 11:45 a.m. Tuesday, October 30, at the Glacier Canyon Conference Center in Wisconsin Dells. Click here for additional information about each project receiving an award.

Evers says his ‘transformational budget’ will fund 4-year-old kindergarten for all students and achieve two-thirds state funding of schools

State Superintendent Tony Evers said Wednesday that he will propose a “transformational budget” that provides full funding of 4-year-old kindergarten and achieve the state’s longtime commitment of funding two-thirds the cost of local public schools “without any gimmicks while holding the line on taxes.”

“No more false choices. There’s a better way, and that is the high road,” Evers said in opening remarks at the Wisconsin Public Education Network Summer Summit at Appleton North High School.

“We need to prioritize mental health, we need to shatter the decade-long freeze on special education funding, we need to reform our broken school funding system, and we need to restore and expand crucial student support services,” Evers said.

WEAC President Ron Martin welcomed Evers’ proposals, adding, “Investing in our public schools is essential to building a strong Wisconsin. For the past seven years we have – under the current governor – experienced extreme cuts to our public schools that have hurt our schools and kids while contributing to the low morale of educators. These proposals by State Superintendent Evers begin the process of turning that around.”

Evers reiterated his proposals to increase student mental health funding tenfold, direct unused school safety funds to student mental health services and shatter the decades-long freeze on special education funding by increasing funding 163%.

“Your leadership on this issue has to happen,” he said. “We need this reality.”

Saying that Wisconsin’ school funding formula has been broken for a long time, Evers said that in order to fix it, “it is time to do more than just shuffle the deck chairs, it has to increase opportunities to close those achievement gaps for kids.”

To address the achievement gaps, Evers said his budget proposal will include:

  • Funds to provide full-day 4-year-old kindergarten for all students in Wisconsin.
  • An unprecedented $20 million state investment in expanding and supporting high-quality after-school programs. “We all know our students need many caring, stable adults in their lives to nurture them, to help them be safe and to reach their full potential,” and these after-school programs will be “difference-makers,” especially in rural areas, he said.
  • Increase the low revenue ceilings so all districts – not just a few – can catch up. “There is no reason that in some districts a kid is supported by $18,000 while in another district by $9,600. That is patently unfair.”

In thanking Summer Summit attendees for their work in support of public schools, Evers said, “Advocacy around public schools has never been more important. We can make a huge difference in our kids’ lives. This is the year we can make that happen.”


Article focusing on Arena, Wisconsin, examines the deep challenges and heartbreak faced by rural schools and communities

A New York Times article focusing on the closing this week of Arena Community Elementary School in the River Valley School District examines the heartbreak felt by students, parents and the community as they lose not only their school but the centerpiece of their community.

“After classes let out last Monday, the school was shuttered permanently by the River Valley School District, whose administrators say that unforgiving budgets, a dearth of students and an aging population have made it impossible to keep the school open. For the first time since the 1800s, the village of Arena has no school,” the article states.

It is a scene being played out in rural Wisconsin and small towns throughout the nation.

“Officials in aging communities with stretched budgets are closing small schools and busing children to larger towns. People worry about losing not just their schools but their town’s future — that the closing will prompt the remaining residents and businesses to drift away and leave the place a ghost town.”

Read the entire article:

School’s Closed in Wisconsin. Forever.

ARENA, Wis. – Ten-year-old Lola Roske grabbed her backpack and headed to elementary school for the last day of class, the final check on her to-do list before the unstructured bliss of summer. At drop-off, her mother, Kellie Roske, was determined not to linger. All around her, parents were hugging their children.

Legislative Update – February 14 – Assembly OKs rural schools bill

After lengthy debate, the Assembly passed a bill 91-2 to help rural schools. The two members voting against the bill were Reps. Andre Jacque, R-De Pere, and Adam Jarchow, R-Balsam Lake. An amendment allows districts with a failed referendum to present another one to voters. If successful, they would then qualify. This provision in the bill, even with the added amendment, received sharp criticism from Democrats. Rep. Sondy Pope, D-Mt. Horeb, the ranking member of the Assembly Education Committee, voted for the bill, but said she was still troubled over its retroactive provision. “Now that the majority party has finally decided to take meaningful action in funding education, they want to punish districts who did what they had to do just to survive,” Pope said. Here’s more about the bill, from a recent WEAC Legislative Update:

Low Revenue Ceiling and Sparsity Aid. The Joint Finance Committee (JFC) amended Senate Bill 690 before unanimously passing it. The amendment allows for nine school districts that would have been frozen under the proposal the ability to go to advisory referendum to use the low revenue ceiling increase. If the referendum passes, districts could raise the local levy using the low revenue ceiling adjustment. If the referendum fails, a new three-year freeze wouldn’t be enacted but the district would still have to wait the three years since the operational referendum failed to use the low revenue ceiling. The Assembly Education Committee has already passed companion bill AB 835, so the next stop for this one is in the full Senate. Here are the details of the bill:

  • Low Revenue Ceiling: Would increase the low revenue ceiling from $9,100 to $9,400 in 2019. The bill also would increase the low revenue ceiling by $100 each school year, beginning in 2020, until the ceiling reaches $9,800 in 2023. The DPI estimates the statewide cost of this bill to be a maximum of $21.8 million in 2019, depending on whether nine additional school districts going to referendum this spring are successful.
  • Sparsity Aid: This would, beginning in 2019, increase the sparsity aid per pupil amount from $300 to $400. Under the bill, the appropriation for sparsity aid would be increased by $6.5 million in 2019. Sparsity aid was vetoed by the governor in the 2017-19 state budget, but he has said he supports the provisions now.

Meanwhile, voucher lobbyists continue to do their thing at the Capitol, looking for more ways to siphon funding meant for the majority of Wisconsin kids who attend public schools. In fact, SPECIAL NEEDS VOUCHERS ARE SET TO TRIPLE NEXT YEAR.

This week:

Dual Enrollment. The Assembly Education Committee approved AB 851 / SB 711, which requires the University of Wisconsin System to award grants to school districts, independent charter schools and voucher schools to support dual enrollment programs taught in high schools. Under the bill, grants are awarded to assist high school teachers in meeting the minimal qualifications necessary to teach dual enrollment courses. The grants would end after June 30, 2022.

Career and Tech Ed Grants. The Joint Finance Committee meets Tuesday to take up AB-872 / SB-746, which establishes career and technical education incentive grants for school districts and completion awards for pupils.

Workers Comp Changes. The Senate Labor Committee meets Wednesday to take up SB 665, with changes to the worker’s compensation law.

See All the Bills We’re Watching

Legislative Update – November 13, 2017

Sparsity Aid. A sparsity aid package designed to help rural schools won’t clear the house in this session, the Assembly Majority Leader told a statehouse insider news publication. The $9.7 million package would have provided rural districts with 745 students or less with $400 per pupil through sparsity aid rather than the current $300. There also would have been a second tier in the program for districts with between 746 and 1,000 pupils of $100 per student. Read the Legislative Reference Bureau Memo. In saying that the proposal wouldn’t move, Representative Robin Vos said the budget has made “historic” investments in schools, and school funding won’t be revisited. Public school advocates counter the “historic” notion – noting that the per-pupil increase in the budget, made outside of the funding formula, doesn’t restore the nearly billion dollars cut from public schools since 2011.

In the Assembly last week:

  • Montessori Teaching License. AB-423 (companion bill SB-299),which would grant an initial teaching license based on completion of a Montessori teacher education program, passed the Assembly.
  • Human Trafficking + Drivers Ed. AB-540 (companion bill SB-444), which would require education instruction on human trafficking in drivers education courses, was placed on the Assembly calendar.
  • Pupil Exam Information. AB-300, which would increase/expedite the information about mandatory pupil examinations available to families, passed the Assembly.
  • Pupil Exam Opt-Out. AB-304, which would allow a pupil’s parent or guardian to opt out of certain statewide examinations, except the civics exam required to graduate, passed the Assembly.

The full Assembly and Senate are now recessed until January, but here are a number of legislative meetings planned this week, including:



Don’t forget to take action on the proposal to eliminate Wisconsin FMLA!

Kay McLain of Florence is named Wisconsin Rural School Teacher of the Year

Florence County High School business education teacher Kay McLain, a member of the Florence County Education Association and WEAC Region 3, has been named the 2017 Rural School Teacher of the Year by the Wisconsin Rural Schools Alliance (WiRSA).

The award was presented at WiRSA’s annual conference in Wisconsin Dells. WiRSA annually recognizes one rural teacher statewide who makes significant contributions to their school district, most importantly to the students they serve. McLain is automatically a semifinalist for the National Monsanto Fund Rural Teacher of the Year competition sponsored by the National Rural Education Association.

McLain was nominated by Florence School District Administrator Ben Niehaus who said she far exceeds criteria for the award. “This award acknowledges the devotion of Kay, along with her supporting colleagues, to never be satisfied with the status quo in the interest of student success and opportunities. The persistence of Kay’s leadership is contagious throughout the high school,” Niehaus said.

Report urges policy-makers to make rural schools a higher priority

A new 50-state report urges state and federal leaders to make rural students and their communities a far greater priority.

The new edition of Why Rural Matters, from the nonprofit, nonpartisan Rural School and Community Trust, provides an overall “priority” ranking of the 50 states, showing the greatest needs in rural education. The report also ranks the states and includes state-by-state data on demographics and poverty, student achievement, state resources, and college and career readiness.

“While some rural schools thrive, far too many rural students face nothing less than a national emergency. Many rural schools and districts face vastly inequitable funding and simply cannot provide the opportunities that many suburban and urban schools do,” said Robert Mahaffey, the executive director of the Rural School and Community Trust, based in Washington, D.C.

The report places Wisconsin 40th on the rural school “priority” ranking and cites both positive and negative aspects of rural education in Wisconsin. Most significantly, it notes, Wisconsin’s rural schools receive far less in state support than schools nationally (77 cents per local dollar versus $1.24 nationally).

“Just over one in three Wisconsin schools is located in a rural area. Although the state has a lower than average percentage of non-White students in rural districts, the rate is increasing and now more than 10% of rural Wisconsin students are of a different race. Funding is more heavily dependent on local revenue than in most other states, and rural teacher salaries are just above the national average. Wisconsin’s rural students are on par with their counterparts in other states on English assessments, but perform significantly better on math and science tests. Nine in ten students who begin high school in a rural district end up graduating, and this rate is only slightly lower for minority students.”

Rural schools offer many attributes of quality schools that parents want for their children: smaller settings, personal attention, and a strong sense of community and identity. But many rural schools and students face serious challenges, the report shows.

Some of the Why Rural Matters report’s key national findings:

  • Lots of students are rural: Nearly 8.9 million students attend rural schools—more than the enrollments of the New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago—and incredibly, the nation’s next 75 largest school districts combined. More than one in four schools are rural, more than one in six students attend schools in rural areas, and more than one in four rural students is a child of color. At least half of public schools are rural in 13 states.
  • Many districts are very small: Half of rural school districts in 23 states have enrollment smaller than 485 students (the national median enrollment for rural districts)
  • States with greatest rural needs: The top 10 national “priority” states—those with the greatest needs in rural schools across an array of measures—are: 1) Mississippi, 2) Arizona, 3) Alabama, 4) South Carolina, 5) South Dakota, 6) Georgia, 7) Nevada, 8) Florida, 9) Oklahoma and 10) Alaska.
  • Most rural students live in big states: Half the nation’s rural students live in just 10 states. The largest rural enrollments are in Texas, North Carolina, Georgia, Ohio, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Alabama, Indiana, and Michigan.
  • Achievement impressive overall—but low in some states: On average, student achievement in rural schools is comparable to those in suburban areas on the Nation’s Report Card (the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP). Even still, scores are lowest for rural students in New Mexico, Mississippi, Alabama, Hawaii, and Louisiana.
  • Rural readiness varies: Measures of students’ preparedness for higher education and career paths are mixed nationally. A majority of rural 11th and 12th graders in Ohio take one or more Advanced Placement course, but only 5 percent do in Louisiana. Fewer than one in four rural juniors and seniors take the SAT or ACT in California and Oregon.
  • Diversity is substantial: Rural America’s demographics are changing like those of many places across the country: The majority of rural students identify as nonwhite in several states, including California. In New Mexico, 85 percent of rural students are children of color, the highest rate in the U.S.; the state also has the highest rate of students from low-income families at 85 percent. Nevada has the nation’s highest mobility rate for rural students at 17 percent—followed by Oregon and Colorado.
  • Resources, equity elusive: Resources for rural schools often are still a major problem. Per-student investment for rural students is lowest in Idaho and Oklahoma, each spending less than $4,400 per rural student, and highest in Alaska and New York, each spending roughly $12,000 per student. Rural educator pay is often low, despite challenges in finding and keeping quality educators. Salary averages are lowest in Kansas, Missouri, and Arkansas, and highest in Alaska and New York.
  • Lack of early childhood programs: Most of the top 10 overall “priority” states enrolled no more than 12 percent of their 4 year olds in public pre-K classes—including South Dakota, Nevada, Alaska, Mississippi, and Arizona, all of which enrolled 6 percent or less of eligible preschool students.

The full report is available at www.ruraledu.org and www.instituteforchildsuccess.org.

Rural teachers share perspectives with UW–Madison education researchers

WEAC President Ron Martin takes notes at the ‘Teacher Speakout!’ on rural schools.

WEAC members were front-and-center on a panel of public school teachers representing Wisconsin rural districts at the first-ever Teacher Speakout! at UW-Madison.

The teachers provided researchers with a first-hand look at what it’s like to live and work in rural schools.

“WEAC’s rural school educators are dedicated to bringing opportunities to their students and communities,” said WEAC President Ron Martin, an eighth grade teacher who attended the panel and talked with panelists. “Educators in rural communities know what works and what doesn’t for their students, so it’s refreshing to see attention being brought to the unique needs of these professionals.”

Seventy-seven percent of Wisconsin school districts are considered rural, yet Martin – who graduated from a rural Northern Wisconsin school – said oftentimes it’s difficult for rural educators to get their voices heard in state decisions about education. Their local and state associations help amplify their voices so they can better advocate for their students and profession.

The teacher-panelists described the ups and downs of working in a rural school – where they wear multiple hats and teach a wide span of students. They described a close connection with the community, where the school is the center of activities.

“I work with the same families for years and years,” said Duane Draper, a social studies teacher and member of the Barneveld Education Association. “I feel like I’m part of a big family.”

But the teachers also addressed the lack of funding from the state in making it difficult for districts to afford professional pay that attracts and keeps highly qualified teachers, and also barriers to professional development and mentorship when a school may only be one science or business teacher.

“We put high pride in doing well. If [another teacher] needs help, somebody’s going to be there to help them out,” said social studies teacher Paul White of the Markesan Education Association. Rural school teachers are often left to develop their own professional networks across rural districts for support and problem solving.

“Our rural teachers go above-and-beyond to get what they need to stay on top of their profession,” Martin said. “It’s one of the reasons WEAC has beefed up the WEA Academy, a place where members can go to get high-quality PD taught by Wisconsin teachers at their convenience.”

Over-testing was also a common theme, something rural teachers have in common with educators from any size school. “You have to help us. I feel like I’ve become a test prep academy,” said Sue Benzel, an English teacher and member of the Mercer Education Association. “April and May are basically gone, that’s all we do is test. I used to use test results to improve my instruction, to identify kids who need special ed. Now I feel like it’s a hidden monster out there. What are they going to do with my scores? This strange test fear has permeated our building. It’s awful.”

Teachers agreed that, as students often have to leave school as early as noon or 1 o’clock to travel to extracurricular activities, time lost to testing has a huge impact on learning and teaching. “Tell us how to use our time with the amount we’re required to eat up with testing,” Benzel said. “It’s ridiculous.”

All teacher-panelists were alumni of UW-Madison representing the districts of Barneveld, La Farge, Markesan, Mauston, Mercer, Phillips and River Valley. Other WEAC members on the panel included Marc Peterson and Barb Meyers of Philips and Yvonne Butterfield of Mauston.

The event was a first step in work around rural education by the UW–Madison Wisconsin Center for Education Research and School of Education.

Walker’s budget proposes to cut Wisconsin’s pioneering farm-to-school program

Two happy little kids with vegetables . Concept of healthy food.


From the Public News Service

In 2009, Wisconsin was one of the first states in the nation to create a full-time farm-to-school coordinator, whose job was to connect local farmers with cafeterias in local schools. Supporters of the program call it a huge success by any measure.

But Governor Scott Walker’s proposed budget cuts both the position of farm-to-school coordinator and the advisory council. In the state House, Madison Democrat Melissa Sargent says this proposal is extremely shortsighted.

“Cutting $86,000 a year from our state budget, which is such a small amount of the largest budget that has been seen by the state of Wisconsin in our state’s history, the investment of these dollars brings back over $9 million worth of revenue into our communities,” she said.

Supporters of the cut say the existing program will be absorbed by another state program, the Wisconsin Foods Program, and that the cuts will make it a more efficient way to run the program. Sargent and others including the Wisconsin Farmers Union disagree, saying the farm-to-school program is indispensable in connecting local farmers with school children and what they eat.

Nineteen states have full-time farm-to-school coordinators and more than a dozen have part-time coordinators. This proposed cut would make Wisconsin among the first to ditch the program. Sargent says she’s seen its success first-hand.

“I myself have made it a priority to spend time in the schools in my district and I can tell you because of the farm-to-school program that kids are excited to share with me the fact that they’ve tried sweet potato for the first time,” she continued. “We have kids that are becoming healthy lifetime eaters because of the farm-to-school program.”

As of 2015, more than 150 Wisconsin school districts are participating in the farm-to-school program, according to the USDA.

From the Public News Service

Two local association leaders discuss challenges faced by rural schools

Two local association presidents from WEAC Region 6 participated in a television panel this week to discuss the challenges facing rural schools. Marshall Education Association President Michael Jansen and Fennimore Education Association President Jon Buslaff joined Fennimore Superintendent Jamie Nutter on a “For the Record” panel hosted by WISC-TV Channel 3 Editorial Director Neil Heinen in Madison.

“We have a very diverse group of students that we need to meet the needs of every day,” Jansen said.

“Our entire school district is smaller than some graduating classes in Madison and the staff we have has to do a lot more diverse things than some of the more specific things they do in a larger school district,” Buslaff said.

The panel also discussed issues that included scarce resources, funding inequities and transportation challenges and costs. The program is available online and is being aired on Channel 3 this Sunday, February 19, at 10 a.m.