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Checking Evers’ ed spending orgy

By M.D. Kittle

MADISON — Wisconsin’s K-12 schools have received more than $2.6 billion in federal COVID relief over the run of the pandemic — an unprecedented amount of funding.

With that in mind, Republican members of the Joint Finance Committee on Thursday hit the brakes on Gov. Tony Evers’ massive state education spending plan. At the same time, the GOP-controlled JFC passed a K-12 budget that rewards school districts that actually incurred the costs to hold in-person classes while districts like Madison and Milwaukee, pushed by their powerful teachers union overlords, locked students out.

State taxpayers would only be on the hook for about $130 million in new state funding for K-12 education, with another $350 million held in reserve, to be used if needed.

Democrats were apoplectic at proposed state education funding that comes in at about one-tenth the size of Evers’ bloated biennial spending plan.

At a press conference before the Finance Committee meeting, Republican lawmakers pointed to a bar graph that drove home just how much money is pouring in from the federal government.

“We are certainly in unprecedented times, and we are also seeing an unprecedented amount of federal money in our K-12 schools,” said Sen. Duey Stroebel (R-Cedarburg), a member of the JFC. He noted the $2.6 billion in federal money is separate from the “blank checkbook that Tony Evers has” with about $2.5 billion in the latest round of federal COVID relief.

With so much federal money coming in, Republicans argue, why put Wisconsin taxpayers on the hook for an unnecessary level of state funding?

As JFC co-chair, Rep. Mark Born, notes, the average school district in Wisconsin will receive nearly $2,900 per pupil from the federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund alone.

“This is over 10 times larger than the largest per-pupil adjustment since 1993,” the Beaver Dam Republican said.

The brunt of that federal money is going to the poorest school districts in the state, as demanded in the federal legislation. That means Milwaukee Public Schools and other districts that continued virtual learning through much of the current school year will get a boatload of cash for, in most cases, delivering an inferior product.

JFC Republicans, with the 10 percent of federal funding they do have control over, are trying to even the scales. They’re guaranteeing a minimum $781 per pupil to all school districts that operated in-person for more than 50 percent of the school year.

“As we’ve said in the past, these schools have incurred significant expense to make sure students can safely learn in the classroom and they deserve our support,” Born said.

It brings some balance back to the funding stream.

“It’s unbelievable the amount of money MPS is receiving (in federal money) even though they’re closed,” said Sen. Howard Marklein (R-Spring Green), JFC co-chair. MPS is expected to receive nearly $800 million in ESSER funding, all told.

State Rep. Jessie Rodriguez (R-Oak Creek) said residents around the state have called for more funding for mental health services and special education. The Republican budget includes $86 million over the biennium in special education categorical aid. That meets the 30 percent state reimbursement rate to districts, a level Evers urged when he was superintendent of the Department of Public Instruction. Now he wants more. His budget calls for special education reimbursement of 45 percent in the first year of the budget, and 50 percent in the second year.

The Republican proposal also would increase school mental health program funding by $12 million and target another $7 million in mental health collaboration grants. That’s a 54 percent increase over the current two-year budget.

“I think we will see new challenges in mental health in our schools because of the fact that so many of these schools were closed, and the challenges that put kids in,” Born said. “We need to help kids transition back int class.”

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2 thoughts on “Checking Evers’ ed spending orgy

  • Citing all these numbers is great, but the Democrat math (you know, where it’s okay to say 2+2=5) says: if you ask for a 50% increase but only get a 45% increase then the Republicans cut your budget by 5%. Thus, complaining by the left will continue.

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