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Area high school robotics teams will receive grants from the state Department of Public Instruction thanks to a bill passed last year.

The teams learned during the last two weeks that they will receive grants of $2,671 from the state, in part due to a bill introduced by state Assembly Rep. Adam Neylon (R-Pewaukee) and 14 other representatives, and passed by the legislature last spring as Wisconsin Act 280. The bill appropriates $250,000 for the grants over two years. Eligibility is determined by whether the school can provide matching funds from the private sector or no-profits, according to Neylon. So far, the grants are limited to just high schools.

Pewaukee HS robotics team leader Mike Spoerke was thrilled his team would be receiving the grant.

"I think the school's funding to run robotics programs — because funding can be a issue for a lot of districts — is a great investment in the kids' future," Spoerke said.

Oconomowoc High School robotics coach Bob Blersch spoke of the impact the grant would have on his robotics team, in particular with travel costs.

"We do get some support from the schools, but budgets are really tight, so anything that we can get helps," Blersch said. "We have 52 members on the team, so if we get a little extra money like this, that just means more kids that we can have travel to the two regionals that we're going to. Travel costs are pretty high, and then, of course, if they stay overnight, there's a lot of expense in that. Getting extra money like this means more kids can be involved, and we can take more kids with us."

Act 280, signed into law by Gov. Scott Walker on March 25, 2016, provides funding for "allowable expenses," which covers "fees, kits, and supplies required to participate in a robotics competition, travel expenses to a robotics competition for eligible team members, and a stipend for the mentor of an eligible team."

Up to $5,000 could be awarded to schools,under Wisconsin Act 280. Neylon said legislators are still waiting on information from the DPI on the number of applications sent in and how many were accepted or were denied. They said they gave the DPI a deadline of December 2016, which Neylon said hasn't been met, but he is willing to be patient as its the first time they have had to do it.

"We do know that the amount that was requested far exceeded what we had put in the budget," Neylon said.

Arrowhead robotics team leader Scott Brookes said that the team had applied for a grant, but was not aware whether his school would receive one. Brookes said the school would likely learn about it by the end of April.

Brookes said that the grants would be a good thing for his team in its fundraising goal. He also emphasized the benefits of robotics for students, saying it goes beyond students building and programming a robot. There's also business, sales, marketing, human resources, safety and media relations aspects that go into it.

"It's a business, and we're trying to figure out how to attract students that want to do business, students that want to get involved in website design or animation design, students that want to get into sales and marketing, fundraising, grant writing," Brookes said.

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