Empower Wisconsin | Feb. 19, 2020
By M.D. Kittle
MADISON — With just two in five Wisconsin students able to read and solve math problems at grade level, two liberal lawmakers want the state to spend a half million dollars in taxpayer money on a grant program for student video game competitions.
Reps. Kalan Haywood (D-Milwaukee) and Tip McGuire (D-Kenosha) are looking for co-sponsors for their bill creating a pilot program in which the Department of Public Instruction would award grants to eligible teams for expenses related to participating in so-called esports, or video gaming, events.
The bill calls for $250,000 in grants for the upcoming school year and another quarter-million dollar allocation for the 2021-22 school year. The program would fund student matchups on popular video games such as Fortnite, Call of Duty and Madden NFL.
Eligible grant recipients must organize a team comprised of students and at least one esports mentor. School teams must “demonstrate to DPI” that they will provide matching funds equal to the amount of the grant, according to the Legislative Reference Bureau.
“I am excited to introduce legislation today that creates an opportunity for Wisconsin schools to offer esports to our students,” McGuire said in a statement. “Esports allows students to play and compete, building useful skills like strategic problem-solving and teamwork.”
No doubt esports has exploded in popularity, and competitive leagues are growing in public schools. As of January, 17 states and the District of Columbia have rolled out formal video gaming teams, according to NPR. And more than 170 colleges and universities are offering a combined $16 million in esports-related scholarships.
But with proficiency scores in math at 40 percent, and under 40 percent for reading and writing, a half million dollars in state funding for video games and equipment in schools may be a tough sell for fiscal conservatives in the Legislature.