Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Rural Schools Task Force Releases Final Report, Recommendations

The Rural Schools Task Force, chaired by Representative Rob Swearingen (R-Rhinelander),  released its final report and recommendations Tuesday afternoon.

“I would like to thank the members of the task force for their hard work and dedication,” said Rep. Swearingen in a statement released by his office. “I have high hopes that the end result will produce positive legislation that will prove beneficial to rural Wisconsin.”

One of the task force’s charges was to “maximize opportunities to incorporate advanced technology” in rural school districts.  WEMTA provided testimony to the task force on December 17 in Madison, and several recommendations related to technology are included in the final report. They are:

Create a New Version of the TEACH Program: The chairman recommends that the Legislature enact legislation that establishes a new TEACH II grant program that incorporates the following elements:

Statewide broadband access that would provide broadband circuits to all school buildings in a district;

Block grants to rural districts for technology-based purposes, such as upgrading networks, purchasing hardware, and paying for online course content;

State-led digital learning program that would provide funding for a digital learning program of online and blended learning services for public, charter, and private schools;

Professional development provided on a statewide basis for professional development related to digital learning resources and classroom management to all districts.

Provide Grants or Other Funding to Encourage Virtual Options for Public Schools: The task force recommends that the Legislature consider offering grants or other aids to provide assistance and incentives for school districts to implement virtual learning options.

Exempt One-Time Technology Costs from the Revenue Limits: The task force recommends that the Legislature consider exempting one-time technology costs from the revenue limits, which means that a school district could raise additional funds for purchasing technology without having to obtain approval from voters in a referendum. The task force recommends the exemption be limited to purchases like netbooks or software.

Encourage Internet Providers to Extend High-Speed Internet: The task force recommends that the Legislature explore incentives to encourage Internet providers to extend service to rural areas that do not have current access to high-speed Internet.

Allow Flexibility in Teacher Licensing: The task force recommends greater flexibility in teacher licensure,  specifically in areas of shortage, such as technology and vocational education; to “allow individuals who have extensive experience or competency in a subject area to receive a license without obtaining a traditional education degree.”