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Wisconsin Voices Reflect on Rural Summit

Rural advocates from around the U.S. recently gathered to lay out policy priorities at the state and federal levels in hopes of making smaller communities better. The summit included representatives from Wisconsin.

Dozens of advocates took part in the 2023 Rural Policy Action Summit. One of them was Heather DuBois Bourenane, executive director of the Wisconsin Public Education Network.

She pointed out that while most of the state's public school students reside in urban areas, the majority of school districts are rural. She said schools across Wisconsin are under-resourced, and the need is definitely felt in smaller districts.

"In some ways," said Bourenane, "it specifically impacts rural schools, which tend to have sparse populations, very high transportation costs and challenges with staffing, finding child care for educators."

She said districts remain handcuffed by a 30-year-old state law that imposes revenue limits. A special legislative committee has been looking at solutions.

Meanwhile, Bourenane said summit attendees found common ground on many issues - including keeping the federal Inflation Reduction Act in place.

Congressional Republicans want to scale it back over opposition to certain climate provisions.

But organizers say public polling indicates rural and small-town voters support the Inflation Reduction Act.

The Wisconsin Farmers Union's Director of Special Projects, Lauren Langworthy - who was also at the summit - said there was discussion about giving these communities more of a voice in carving out solutions as policies such as the new Farm Bill take shape.

"Those things for Wisconsin farmers union members include climate change," said Langworthy. "We also talked a lot about consolidation issues, especially in agriculture, and how that lack of competition is really causing harm to rural communities."

According to the 2022 Midterm Election Voter Poll, 82% of independents from rural areas said they would support a candidate who would be vocal about placing moratoriums on factory farms and corporate monopolies in food and agriculture.

Mike Moen is a radio news reporter with nearly two decades of experience in the field. He has covered much of the upper Midwest, including Minnesota, Illinois, Wisconsin and the Dakotas. Many of his stories have aired nationally, including several public radio programs.
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