By M.D. Kittle
MADISON — Gov. Tony Evers, the Biden administration and state educrats have put liberal policies and political payoffs to their teachers union allies before the needs of Wisconsin’s students.
The U.S. Department of Education has rejected a Republican-led Joint Finance Committee plan to use $77 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act funds to reward schools that stayed open last year during the pandemic. It’s a fraction of the approximately $1.54 billion in total ARPA funds for schools — the vast majority of that money sent out to school districts with the highest number of low-income students.
“The Joint Committee on Finance (JFC) and Republicans in the legislature designed our plan for the ARP ESSER III funds to put kids first by rewarding the school districts that worked very hard to keep kids in the classroom for in-person instruction during the pandemic. Governor Tony Evers even signed this plan!” wrote JFC co-chairs Rep. Mark Born (R-Beaver Dam) and Sen. Howard Marklein (R-Spring Green) in a letter to Department of Public Instruction Superintendent Jill Underly.
But the Biden administration decided the plan wasn’t inclusive enough for its liking.
“This directive will explicitly exclude the students who lost the most in-person instructional time as a result of the pandemic from receiving much needed services, conflicting with the ARP Act’s statutory requirement that the State reserve address the disproportionate impact of the coronavirus on certain student subgroups,” U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona demanded in a letter to Underly.
Of course, the students who lost the most instructional time were generally the state’s largest school districts — Milwaukee, Madison, Racine and other urban areas. Those students were failed by their school boards and administrators who put irrational fear and their allegiance to teachers unions ahead of the academic and emotional needs of children, not to mention the science they constantly invoke.
Even the Department of Education has acknowledged what the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention has stressed: that the risks of COVID-19 to kids were far less dangerous than continuing disastrous remote learning. The “Lost Year” of education was hard on all schools. But those that re-started in-person learning fared much better, studies show.
Re-opening schools came with additional expenses to make sure students, teachers and staff were safe. The Republican-controlled Legislature wanted to reimburse and reward those schools for doing the right thing.
“Rather than reward the school districts that worked hard to return kids to the classroom, the DOE and DPI are intent on sending these dollars to school districts that kept kids out of the classroom,” the JFC co-chairs wrote. “Our legislative intent for this funding is to reward the districts that spent the time and resources to put our kids first and get them back in the classroom.”
Born and Marklein directed Underly and her staff to “immediately propose an alternative plan that addresses our legislative intent.”
“We are very disappointed that this politically-motivated denial is holding up $77 million for our schools and sending a strong, negative message that politics is more important than supporting the districts that spent considerable time, money, effort and resources to get kids back into our local schools,” they wrote.
Underly, who owes her position as DPI superintendent to the state’s teachers unions and the flood of money they contributed to her campaign, fired off a snotty letter to the lawmakers. She called the legislators’ demands “disappointing, disingenuous, and nakedly political.”
“Despite numerous warnings about how the intent of parts of your motion was in direct conflict with the language of the American Rescue Plan Act – including from the United States Department of Education – you forced DPI and our schools into a game of high-stakes chicken. And you lost,” wrote the woman in charge of Wisconsin’s public education system.
Underly’s self-righteous response notes how “troubling to me as a parent, an educator, and a taxpayer” is the lawmakers’ use of the word “reward.”
“COVID did not come about for you to hand out political favors. Federal dollars, which are not yours to decide on how to use, are also not yours to reward those who meet your favor,” she wrote.
It is an audacious assertion when considering that her liberal pal, Gov. Tony Evers, controls billions of the federal pandemic aid dollars and he has used that money to politically reward constituencies he desperately needs to vote for him if he hopes to be re-elected next year. And Joe Biden’s administration has done the same.
Because of the funding mechanisms in place, failing school districts like Milwaukee Public Schools have received some $770 million in federal COVID aid over the run of the pandemic. That’s about 60 percent of MPS’ total annual $1.3 billion budget.
Meanwhile, rural districts, by no means overflowing in resources, get stiffed. And now those districts that delivered in-person learning are being locked out of funding because their parents aren’t as likely to vote for Democrats.
Born and Marklein have reason to believe Evers, the liberal-led DPI and the Department of Education coordinated to deprive these schools of the funding they have earned. They told Underly to stop playing political games.
“Do not collude with the DOE to further obstruct these funds,” the lawmakers wrote. “Our local school leaders, teachers, school boards, legislators and parents have been working very hard to do what is best for our kids, while government bureaucrats have been playing games with the funds that should be available to educate our kids, especially after a lost year of learning. It’s time to do the right thing.”