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JFC Begins Budget Process – DPI Agency Briefing

By John Forester | April 6, 2021

From The Wheeler Report…

Media Availability By Co-Chairs Prior To Hearing

JFC Co-chairs Sen. Marklein and Rep. Born held a media availability prior to the start of the JFC hearing today to discuss their thoughts on the Department of Public Instruction and the Department of Workforce Development.

Marklein started the briefing with a discussion of Governor Evers’ 2021-23 budget proposal and how the budget as proposed would return the state to a deficit after eliminating the deficit over the past 10 -12 years. Marklein then went on to comment on how the federal funds coming into the state are impacting the state budget and the budgeting process. He said the state has received $12.4 billion not including the stimulus payments to individuals, the enhanced unemployment payments, and the enhanced FMAP payments. He was clear the federal funds will be taken into consideration as the budget committee moves forward.

Born began his comments with a discussion of the K-12 funding and the need for students to return to in-person classes. He also emphasized his commitment to providing choices for families in schooling options.  Born then turned to the Department of Workforce Development and what he called a ‘failure’ of DWD to provide unemployment benefits.

Both co-chairs reiterated the impact the federal funds will have on the budget, and the desire they have for the Governor to allocate the federal funds so they can begin to see what needs still need to be met after the federal funds are distributed.

Co-Chair Release.

Department of Public Instruction

The Department of Public Instructions was the first agency to testify to the Joint Finance Committee on the 2021-23 state budget. In her testimony, DPI State Superintendent Carolyn Stanford Taylor said the federal government has appropriated $2.4 billion to K-12 schools in Wisconsin through the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Funds which are available to be used through September 30, 2024. She was clear in her statement, “The receipt of these funds does not change the recommendations I made last fall to address the ongoing needs of schools. While these federal dollars will help our education system recover from the effects of the pandemic, they are one-time funds.”

Stanford Taylor said the state needs to return to its commitment of two-thirds funding for education. She discussed that the commitment was originally made by then Governor Tommy Thompson who she said made the commitment to equalize the financial resources available to school districts while decreasing the dependence on property taxes.

Stanford Taylor went on to discuss things her administration had worked to address opportunity caps (directly from her testimony):

Stanford Taylor discussed the achievement gap saying, “There is no simple solution, but rather a number of strategies that must focus on supporting the whole child.” From there she quickly shifted to discussing the special needs education in Wisconsin.  She highlighted that the state currently reimburses only 28 cents of every dollar spent on special education, highlighting that the remaining funding requirements must be funded by the local school. The Governor’s budget proposed reimbursing costs at 45 percent in FY22 and 50 percent in the following year with sum sufficient appropriations. During questioning Stanford Taylor said special education funding was a top priority for schools across Wisconsin.

The need for mental health services was addressed during Stanford Taylor’s testimony when she said, “This is why I am asking for $28.5 million in first year of the budget and $30 million in the second year to expand state support for services beyond school social workers to include school psychologists, school counselors, and school nurses. In addition, other school professionals need to be trained to help address student mental health needs, which is why the DPI is also asking for $1 million over the biennium to expand training available to schools on bullying prevention, school violence prevention, and trauma-sensitive schools.”

When questioning by JFC members began it started with questions about DPI staff and who was working from home and who was working in the DPI office. It was asked when they planned to return DPI staff and Stanford Taylor said they will begin April 19.

Next came questions pertaining to in-person instruction of students, and Stanford Taylor was clear that those decisions are made at the local school level and not controlled by DPI.

Several questions came regarding school choice options in Wisconsin. Questions were asked about why the DPI budget request did not request changes to the school choice program, and the Governor’s budget proposed a “pause” to the choice program.

While most members recognized that the federal funds being distributed to schools were done through the Title I formula, meaning the state had no say over how the funds were sent to different districts, many members asked about equity for districts and how funding was being prepared for in future years as student enrollment was continuing to decline.

Stanford said in her tenure as State Superintendent DPI has put a focus on mental health services for schools and students, offering training and opportunities to help students rather than simply disciplining students.  She went on to say while Superintendent the agency has focused on reading.

When asked about the legalization of marijuana, Stanford Taylor said she has not had a discussion with the Governor on the issue.

As to questions pertaining to in-person attendance, some were asked about the decline in student attendance and what guidance Stanford Taylor was giving to schools to go out and find those students and bring them back to the classroom.  DPI and Stanford Taylor said it is an issue they are aware of and some of the federal funds are available for schools to use in addressing attendance issues going forward. While student attendance has been down during Covid, one DPI staff member said some of the decreased attendance appears to be due to declining enrollment, and that many 4-year-olds and 5-year-olds were not sent to kindergarten because of concerns by their parents. Stanford Taylor confirmed there are concerns about child abuse reporting going down because students are not in the classroom. Stanford Taylor said the child abuse issue is another reason behind her drive to ensure mental health training for teachers and staff as well as additional resources available for mental health demands in the schools.

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