MADISON

Students would be able to earn money for college by building trails, shoring up stream banks and restoring prairies under a bipartisan bill winding its way through the Wisconsin Legislature.

Republican Rep. Jeff Mursau’s proposal would re-establish the Wisconsin Conservation Corps, which operated from 1983 until 2003. Then-Gov. Jim Doyle, a Democrat, and GOP lawmakers eliminated the program that year in the face of a $3.2 billion deficit.

“As millennials struggle to find meaningful, family-sustaining employment, reestablishing (sic) the Wisconsin Conservation Corps is more important than ever,” Mursau and Rep. Cory Mason wrote in a memo to their colleagues seeking co-sponsors.

Under the bill, the state Department of Administration would be allowed to shift up to $400,000 from other state agencies into a fund that would provide grants to organizations looking to complete conservation projects. Examples of potential projects include trail construction and improvements, stabilizing stream banks, prairie restoration, maintaining recreational sites or installing rain gardens, among other things, according to the bill.

The organizations initiating the projects could apply for state grants ranging between $25,000 and $75,000. They would have to match at least 50 percent of the grant and employ workers between 16 and 25. Half the workers would have to be high school students and come from families that make no more than 200 percent of the federal poverty level on the day they’re hired. Organizations also could apply for federal grants through the Wisconsin National and Community Service Board, which administers AmeriCorps community service programs.

Project workers would be eligible for money through the federal AmeriCorps program to pay for student loans or help pay for college, graduate school or vocational training.

The measure has Republican and Democratic co-sponsors and the Senate’s Natural Resources and Energy Committee has scheduled a public hearing on the proposal for Thursday.

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