By M.D. Kittle
MADISON — In a hit piece this week on Republicans, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel claims Wisconsin schools are getting shortchanged by the Republican-written state budget that Gov. Tony Evers signed into law on Thursday.
The story asserts Elmbrook School District, for instance, will see only $202 per-student in federal COVID relief funding.
Fake News, says state Sen. Dale Kooyenga (R-Brookfield).
“It’s wrong. Absolutely wrong,” Kooyenga said on Dan O’Donnell’s talk show Wednesday. “If Poltifact was going to Politifact their own newspaper, they would get a liar, Pants on Fire! The numbers the Journal Sentinel is reporting are wrong.”
Kooyenga told O’Donnell what he told Elmbrook Superintendent Mark Hansen and the school board: Elmbrook will receive $781 per pupil in federal funding — nearly four times more than being reported.
That generous increase has much to do with the Republican-led Joint Finance Committee’s budgeting.
In the infinite wisdom of Congress, about 90 percent of the $2.6 billion in COVID relief for Wisconsin’s K-12 schools goes to the highest-poverty districts through the federal Title I formula. That means most of the school districts that were closed to in-person learning during the pandemic end up getting most of the federal funding.
Republican budget writers used the 10 percent of the federal funding the state has control over to reward districts that remained open, and didn’t go virtual. That helped significantly boost per-pupil funding to district’s like Elmbrook.
“School districts in Wisconsin have never had so much cash,” Kooyenga said.
So why are educrats and Democrats crying poverty?
“No matter how much money they get, no matter how many students they left behind by catering to their employees’ demands rather than students during the pandemic, too many school administrators think they are entitled to more money,” Sen. Duey Stroebel said, adding that Evers has led the “Big Lie’ that schools in Wisconsin are underfunded. “Wisconsin schools got a terrific deal in this budget compared to the deal too many Wisconsin small businesses received from Gov. Evers’ lockdown and power-drunk local health officials.”
Kooyenga breaks it down in his letter to Elmbrook administrators. The budget includes $128 million in new state funding for K-12 — $85.4 million of that earmarked for special education. With the federal assistance Elmbrook can expect to receive:
- $745,158 in special education categorical aid over the biennium
- $1,482,301 in Title I ESSER aid; and
- $781 per pupil in state allocable ESSER aid per JFC’s actions.
These amounts do not include the additional investment made in student mental health; $12 million for mental health categorical aids – doubling the current base funding – and $10 million for school based mental health collaboration grants, Kooyenga notes. And Elmbrook School District property owners will benefit from a share of $650 million in additional state support for school district budgets that will allow the district to hold down tax levies and provide relief to its taxpayers.
Kooyenga said the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel story apparently quoted from a Legislative Fiscal Bureau memo from March. That memo is outdated and does not reflect subsequent action by the Joint Finance Committee. An LFB representative whose expertise is in federal education aid could not be reached Thursday.
Elmbrook School Board Treasurer Glen Allgaier told the Journal Sentinel that the federal stimulus funds will only help in the short-term — and only with expenses related to the pandemic. He said he’s disappointed by the state budget and “misleading” statements from lawmakers.
But it’s the newspaper that’s being misleading, according to Kooyenga.
“I have heard criticism that the use of federal dollars today is reminiscent of the use of federal dollars used to backfill funding shortfalls in the 2009-11 budget cycle. However, the key difference is that today there is no state budget shortfall,” the senator wrote in his letter to the district. “Rather than plugging holes in the state’s education budget and creating the inevitability of future cuts, Wisconsin’s financial situation has never been better, which nearly guarantees another responsible increased investment in education in the 2023-25 budget and beyond.”
More so, the Department of Public Instruction guidance on the federal money allows it to be used on virtually anything a school needs to operate, Kooyenga noted.
A line item in the list of Allowable Uses states the federal aid can be used for, “Other activities that are necessary to maintain the operation of and continuing of services in local educational agencies (schools) and continuing to employ existing staff.”
Kooyenga sent a similar letter to Milwaukee Public Schools, which has also complained about funding. MPS will be receiving nearly $800 million in federal aid. The senator also reminded West Allis-West Milwaukee School District and the School District of New Berlin, also in his senate district, they, too, will be receiving unprecedented amounts of funding over the next two years.