Small rural school districts, including Mineral Point, will receive a sparsity aid payment of $300 per student for the 2015-16 school year that can be used to support school district programs.
“The necessity of providing quality instructional and educational services to small numbers of students presents a fiscal challenge to our rural school districts,” said State Superintendent Tony Evers. “This aid supports these schools, which are so often the backbone of their community.”
Most of the 137 districts that are eligible for aid for the 2015-16 school year also received sparsity aid last year. Six public school districts gained eligibility based on 2014-15 enrollment of no more than 725 students and fewer than 10 students per square mile. New sparsity aid districts for 2015-16 are Barneveld, Elkhart Lake Glenbeulah, Erin, Mineral Point, Oakfield, and Stockbridge. Two districts lost eligibility for aid that they received last year: Crivitz and Spring Valley.
Sparsity aid, originally created as part of the 2007-09 budget, was a recommendation of the State Superintendent’s Rural Schools Advisory Council. In each of the previous years, the budgeted appropriation was less than eligibility so districts received a prorated per pupil payment. The 2015-17 budget provided $17.32 million per year for sparsity aid, which fully funds the program for the 2015-16 school year at $300 per student. The state superintendent requested full funding for sparsity aid in his proposed 2015-17 education budget. Both the governor and Legislature kept that request in the final budget.
“The Mineral Point School District received $216,300 in state aid to support rural districts with high per pupil costs due to low enrollment,” said Mineral Point Superintendent Luke Francois. “This aid assists greatly with fixed costs such as transportation, insurance, and utilities that increase every year without similar increases in overall state aid. The district just qualified for sparsity aid for the first time as the student population dropped to 721 (under the 725 threshold).”
“I am pleased that the Legislature and governor have targeted fiscal relief to rural Wisconsin schools,” Evers noted. “Fully funding sparsity aid is an important first step toward keeping these communities strong. I continue to work with my Rural Schools Advisory Council to seek out interested partners throughout Wisconsin and to pursue ways that we can help support our rural schools and the communities they serve.”
“The district would prefer increasing enrollment, however, five more students is financially problematic,” added Francois. “An enrollment number of 726 students gains the district $10,000 in new revenue per student (or $50,000) but costs the district over $200,000 in sparsity aid. Being on the enrollment bubble of 725 makes it very difficult to budget from year to year not knowing if schools will or will not have an additional $200,000 sparsity aid.”
The Department of Public Instruction calculated 2015-16 school year sparsity aid using 2014-15 membership of 57,728 students in the 137 eligible districts. Student enrollment in these schools represents roughly 6.8 percent of total public school enrollment. Sparsity aid will be paid on the third Monday in September to each district’s general fund.