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Federal lawmakers demand accountability from Evers, DPI

MADISON — Wisconsin’s Republican House delegation is demanding Gov. Tony Evers and the state Department of Public Instruction open the books on how schools are spending the $2.4 billion in federal COVID-19 relief, money reportedly being used by some K-12 schools as a “slush fund.”

The Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funding is supposed to be used to “minimize the learning gap after the pandemic.” Overly broad guidelines have resulted in the money being spent on projects unrelated to student learning.

The letter urges the governor to work with DPI to create a public database so taxpayers in general, parents in particular, can see how school districts are spending ESSER funds — and whether the money is being devoted to the law’s intended purposes.

“In the months ahead, as the scale of the learning loss faced by Wisconsin students becomes clear, Wisconsinites deserve to know how their government and school leaders are utilizing resources available to support their children,” states a letter to Evers, penned by Mike Gallagher (R-Allouez), Glenn Grothman (R-Glenbeulah), Rep. Bryan Steil (R-Janesville) and Tom Tiffany (R-Minocqua).

“While smart investments could help get our students back on track, inefficient use of these resources could further set back hundreds of thousands of students, particularly when it comes to some of our most vulnerable populations.”

The lawmakers say some districts are treating the unprecedented federal education aid “like a lottery windfall.” Milwaukee Public Schools, for instance, has proposed spending more on carpet and locker replacement than on direct academic services like tutoring or extended school time, the letter notes.

MPS, of course, caved to its teachers union and kept its schools closed to in-person learning for much of the school year. A raft of data shows remote learning over the pandemic has left a lot of students behind — academically, emotionally, socially.

“After a year of lost academic opportunities from remote learning, families deserve to know how schools will make up for time lost in the classroom,” the lawmakers write.

Read the letter to Evers here.

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