New bill would reward teachers for staying in rural districts

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STRUM, Wis. (WEAU) - With class back in session throughout the state Wednesday, a lawmaker said she’s looking to improve education by keeping teachers in small towns.

A bill being drafted would award up to $10,000 toward student loan repayment for new teachers to stay in rural areas.

“A larger district will have a higher beginning salary than a small district like (Eleva Strum), I know Eau Claire does, Menomonie is probably about $3,000 or $4,000 more for beginning salaries, so the first place teachers are going to look is probably with that higher salary area,” Eleva Strum Superintendent Craig Semingson said.

With a smaller tax base and lower enrollments, Rep. Mandy Wright (D) said rural schools see their own set of financial challenges.

“Our rural districts just don't have the resources to really compete so they are really struggling to keep high quality staff, then attracting and filling those positions once they leave them,” Wright said.

Wright said she's making efforts to attract teachers to rural areas by drafting a bill that would reward them for staying in smaller districts.

Semingson said retaining teachers here hasn't been a major issue but it is a problem for many rural schools.

“It's the high needs areas that we have a difficulty retaining. We've lost four or five special ed. teachers to Eau Claire or Chippewa Falls or Menomonie, in the past few years. So that's an area of concern,” he said.

The bill is a welcomed idea by Semingson who said teaching at small schools has its own set of benefits like smaller class sizes and closer relationships with families.

“So I do appreciate this being brought up. I hope it's looked at seriously by the legislature and hopefully something will come out of it where beginning teachers will look at smaller districts first.”

Rural school districts are defined as having ten students or less per square mile. The program would offer $660,000 statewide. Wright said the bill hasn't been finalized, but she hoped it could be voted on during the current session.

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