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GOP Asks Evers to Prioritize In-Person Instruction With GEER II Funding

By John Forester | March 2, 2021

From WisPolitics.com …

GOP lawmakers today asked Gov. Tony Evers to prioritize schools that have offered in-person instruction with $20.8 million in federal funding that the governor has sole discretion to distribute.

It’s the latest attempt by Republicans to place an emphasis on funding schools that have offered in-person instruction over those that haven’t, citing the additional costs they’ve incurred for cleaning, safety measures and transportation, among other things.

Joint Finance Committee Co-chair Mark Born, R-Beaver Dam, told a news conference the issue likely will be part of the upcoming budget discussion on school aids.

Evers’ budget calls for a more than $1.6 billion increase in state funding for the Department of Public Instruction. Of that, Evers wants to pump $612.8 million into the general school aids formula, which is based on district property values and enrollment.

“Certainly in the current environment, part of the discussion will certainly be additional costs that are brought into schools in the pandemic,” Born said.

An Evers spokeswoman didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

State Dem Chair Ben Wikler said Republicans want the state’s hardest hit schools to “do more with even less” and questioned why they were trying to pressure districts into having in-person instruction rather than leaving the decision to local officials.

“Safely reopening schools should be a priority for all, but this hypocritical GOP approach would punish the very schools with the greatest safety concerns,” Wikler said. “Budgets are a reflection of values, and this stunt from Republican legislators makes clear they continue to value political games over our kids and teachers.”

Last month, the GOP-controlled Joint Finance Committee directed the state to use $68.6 million to reward districts that are providing in-person instruction this year. It was part of a larger $686.1 million federal package from a bill former President Trump signed in December with $617.5 million divided up based on a formula that accounted for the number of low-income students residing in each district.

The money Republicans targeted today is through the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief fund created under the federal CARES Act. Wisconsin received $46.6 million in the first round of GEER funding, and Evers prioritized districts based on their remote learning needs and how much they’d been affected by the pandemic, according to a Legislative Fiscal Bureau memo. The criteria used to dole out that money included the percentage of students: scoring below basic on the state English language arts assessment, from economically disadvantaged families, and with no computer or Internet access.

The state is receiving a second round of GEER funding with $77.5 million going to private schools. That leaves $20.8 million that Evers can distribute to local educational agencies, institutions of higher learning or other education-related entities. In a memo to Born, LFB said the criteria for that second round of funding hasn’t been announced, and the guv would be allowed to award the money based on whether districts are offering in-person instruction.

Of the money schools received from the December bill Trump signed, Milwaukee got the lion’s share at $225.2 million.

Rep. Cindi Duchow, R-Town of Delafield, said with other federal aid, the state’s largest district has received more than $292 million even though it hasn’t offered in-person instruction. She said that works out to $4,000 per student, while Kettle Moraine School District in her Assembly seat has received $330,000, about $91 per student, even though it’s been in the classroom since September. She said the district has spent more than $2 million on costs associated with getting kids back into the classroom.

“We need the governor to help schools like that out. They can’t afford a $2 million hit to their budget because they aren’t getting that sort of crazy money that some of these other schools are getting,” she said.

Read the letter here.

See the LFB memo here.

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