DPI Updates COVID-19 Special Education Guidance

By John Forester | May 18, 2021

From The Legal Side . . .

In its most recent School Law FYI, the BoardmanClark Law Firm focuses on recent DPI updates to its COVID-19 special education guidance.

The SAA regularly receives these legal updates and we believe this is valuable information for SAA members.  We are distributing this update to SAA members with the permission of the BoardmanClark Law Firm.  The information in this update is no substitute for consulting with your district legal counsel, and we encourage you to do so.

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Telling Your Budget Story

By John Forester | May 14, 2021

Check out the letter to state legislators in support of our top state budget priorities submitted by Superintendent Kevin Shetler (Siren).

Hat’s off to the Siren team for their advocacy and their leadership in telling their district’s state budget story.  It is critically important for the leadership teams in all 421 school districts to advocate for our shared state budget priorities with their legislators.

Use the information and talking points in the SAA’s State Budget Alert and in the SAA Legislative Agenda to craft your district’s communication to your legislators.  All I ask is that you copy your written or video communications to the SAA so we can post them as examples for your colleagues.

COME ON!  LET’S TELL THE BUDGET STORY!

Siren School District

SAA State Budget Alert

2021-23 SAA Legislative Agenda

 

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Telling Your Budget Story

By John Forester | May 12, 2021

Check out these letters to state legislators in support of our top state budget priorities submitted by Superintendent Dr. Paul Orlich, Business Manager Christine Thelen (Mishicot) and Superintendent Dr. Christopher Hibner (East Troy).

Hat’s off to the Mishicot and East Troy team for their advocacy and their leadership in telling their district’s state budget story.  It is critically important for the leadership teams in all 421 school districts to advocate for our shared state budget priorities with their legislators.

Use the information and talking points in the SAA’s State Budget Alert and in the SAA Legislative Agenda to craft your district’s communication to your legislators.  All I ask is that you copy your written or video communications to the SAA so we can post them as examples for your colleagues.

COME ON!  LET’S TELL THE BUDGET STORY!

Mishicot School District

East Troy School District

SAA State Budget Alert

2021-23 SAA Legislative Agenda

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ESSER Funds for Construction Come With Strings

By John Forester | May 11, 2021

From The Legal Side . . .

In its most recent School Law FYI, the BoardmanClark Law Firm focuses on school district considerations when using ESSER funds for construction.

The SAA regularly receives these legal updates and we believe this is valuable information for SAA members.  We are distributing this update to SAA members with the permission of the BoardmanClark Law Firm.  The information in this update is no substitute for consulting with your district legal counsel, and we encourage you to do so.

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The Latest Guidance on Reasonable Assurance Notices

By John Forester | May 10, 2021

From The Legal Side . . .

In its most recent School Law FYI, the BoardmanClark Law Firm provides a reminder to school districts to issue notices of reasonable assurance at the end of this academic year.

The SAA regularly receives these legal updates and we believe this is valuable information for SAA members.  We are distributing this update to SAA members with the permission of the BoardmanClark Law Firm.  The information in this update is no substitute for consulting with your district legal counsel, and we encourage you to do so.

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GOP Looks to Federal Money to Boost Districts with In-Person Instruction

By John Forester | May 8, 2021

From WisPolitics.com . . .

As Republicans push to reward school districts that have provided in-person instruction over the past year, using federal funds from the latest COVID-19 package has emerged as a possible path to that goal, according to multiple sources.

And Republicans could pair that with an infusion of state aid into a program that distributes money equally among school districts per pupil regardless of how property-rich or poor they are. That would address a GOP complaint that the bulk of the federal money being distributed through the COVID-19 relief packages is benefiting districts such as Milwaukee, which largely didn’t provide in-person instruction this school year while many schools in GOP areas did.

How to reward schools that have been providing in-person instruction is one of the more significant questions facing the GOP-controlled Joint Finance Committee as it begins work on Gov. Tony Evers’ budget in earnest. The committee has already signaled plans to scale back the budget significantly from what Evers has proposed.

Still, with his powerful veto pen, adding language to the budget that would direct state funds to schools that have been in-person would also mean opening up avenues for Evers to redirect the money and use it how he’d like. Two years ago, he used his partial veto pen to increase per-pupil aid payments simply by crossing out some language Republicans put into the budget.

Using federal money as part of the approach to rewarding districts for in-person instruction would avoid adding language to the budget that Evers could then veto, budget watchers say. The guv has veto power over Joint Finance plans for the federal money received from the COVID plans, but the 12-4 GOP majority on the committee means Republicans would have enough votes to override it.

Republicans on the Joint Finance Committee have already once used in-person learning as a benchmark for distributing a pot of federal COVID relief sent to Wisconsin.

Still, calls to do more have intensified since figures from the Legislative Fiscal Bureau showed Milwaukee Public Schools in line for more than a third of the $2.2 billion-plus in federal aid Wisconsin districts will receive through the three stimulus packages. The nearly $798 million amounts to $11,242 per student in the state’s largest district.

That’s because the three COVID packages — two signed by President Trump and one by President Biden — required 90 percent of the money to be distributed through a formula that accounts for the number of students in poverty in a district.

The school district in Racine is in line for $85.1 million from the three packages, while Madison will see $70.7 million and Green Bay $72.6 million.

In February, the Department of Public Instruction submitted a plan to JFC to distribute the second pot of COVID-19 federal funds to 172 districts. It was designed to ensure each district got a minimum grant of $395 per pupil. Joint Finance reworked a pot of $65 million to distribute it based on a formula that accounts for the hours of in-person instruction during the 2020-21 school year. Only the 172 districts that were eligible for the grants under the DPI proposal are able to qualify for the money under the JFC approach.

This time around, the committee could rework a pot of $46 million from the third COVID package.

DPI last month submitted its plan to JFC for the money. Dividing up the funds under the formula that accounts for poverty creates varying grant amounts and a handful of districts and charter schools don’t qualify for any money. DPI wants to use the money that isn’t earmarked for any uses to ensure most districts get a minimum grant of $600,000.

The latest round of COVID money also includes nearly $108 million that’s earmarked to address learning loss, pay for summer learning and fund after-school programs. The committee may be able to account for in-person instruction in distributing a portion of those funds, though there are requirements that the money be used to benefit certain groups of students, including those experiencing homelessness or in foster care.

Republicans also could weigh their options on using state money as part of their approach to rewarding districts for in-person instruction.

General school aids, which use a formula that accounts for district property values, are the largest chunk of state aid sent to districts. This category amounted to more than $4.9 billion in 2020-21.

Republicans in 2011 first created a per-pupil categorical aid that distributes money equally to districts regardless of property values. It was nearly $617 million in 2020-21.

With Republicans unhappy at how much Milwaukee is getting per pupil from the federal money compared to schools in their districts, one option would be to rely more on the per-pupil category for whatever increase in state aid is approved this budget.

Evers called for a 6.2 percent increase in general school aids over the biennium compared to a 4.9 percent increase in per-pupil aid.

Utilizing the existing per-pupil categorical aid would mean districts like Milwaukee that make out well under the federal formula would still see a boost in state aid. But it wouldn’t be as significant an advantage for them compared to putting money into the general school aid formula.

Republicans could consider the creation of a new categorical aid solely for districts that provided in-person instruction. But that would also add new language to the budget that Evers could rework to direct the money elsewhere.

Using the existing categorical aid would avoid putting new language into the budget that could be vetoed.

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Telling Your Budget Story

By John Forester | May 6, 2021

Check out the letter to state legislators in support of our top state budget priorities submitted by Superintendent Raymond Przekurat and Business Manager Sara Thiel (Iola-Scandinavia).

Hat’s off to the Iola-Scandinavia team for their advocacy and their leadership in telling their district’s state budget story.  It is critically important for the leadership teams in all 421 school districts to advocate for our shared state budget priorities with their legislators.

Use the information and talking points in the SAA’s State Budget Alert and in the SAA Legislative Agenda to craft your district’s communication to your legislators.  All I ask is that you copy your written or video communications to the SAA so we can post them as examples for your colleagues.

COME ON!  LET’S TELL THE BUDGET STORY!

Iola-Scandinavia School District

SAA State Budget Alert

2021-23 SAA Legislative Agenda

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AEF Releases Funding Equity Data Dashboards

By John Forester | May 6, 2021

The Association for Equity in Funding (AEF) is releasing Funding Equity Data Dashboards on dozens of Wisconsin school districts.  We believe this is interesting work, and it is also consistent with the SAA’s priorities for the 2021-23 State Budget.  For more information, check out the AEF news release.

AEF Announces Data Dashboards (thewheelerreport.com)

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JFC Begins Reworking Evers’ Budget Today

By John Forester | May 6, 2021

From WisPolitics.com …

The Joint Finance Committee today begins the process of reworking Gov. Tony Evers’ budget.

One of the GOP-run committee’s first actions will be to approve a motion that would strip more than 380 items out of the Dem guv’s proposal. According to the Legislative Fiscal Bureau, some of the impacts of that action would be to forgo $2.4 billion in federal aid and to nix $1 billion in proposed tax hikes. The motion also would axe Evers’ plans to legalize marijuana and expand Medicaid.

The committee also expects to introduce a substitute amendment taking the bill to base to reflect current levels of state spending. Base year doubled, regularly used as a starting point for budget comparisons, amounts to $83 billion in all funds for 2021-23. Evers proposed spending more than $91 billion in all funds in the budget he released in February.

The committee plans to work off current law as it puts together its version of the budget.

The committee also will take up standard budget adjustments for agencies to cover costs such as staffing and leases over the next two years. It also will address sum sufficient appropriations, which include payments on principal and interest for borrowing as well as some business tax credits.

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GOP Joint Finance Motion Would Forgo $2.4 Billion in Federal Aid, Nix $1 Billion in Tax Increases

By John Forester | May 5, 2021

From WisPolitics.com …

A motion Republicans on the Joint Finance Committee plan to approve tomorrow would mean forgoing $2.4 billion in federal money while nixing $1 billion in general fund tax increases, according to the Legislative Fiscal Bureau.

The memo the agency prepared at the request of JFC member Rep. Evan Goyke, D-Milwaukee, summarizes the $2.4 billion impact of the motion to remove more than 380 items from the budget compared to what Gov. Tony Evers proposed.

In addition, the state would pass up $1 billion in additional federal aid for states that approve expanding Medicaid that was included in the latest COVID-19 federal stimulus package President Biden signed. That money wasn’t accounted for in Evers’ budget, which was released before the package was signed.

The move means there will be less state funding for schools, Medicaid and other areas compared to what Evers had proposed.

Still, Republicans have made clear they plan to spend and tax less than what Evers proposed. A separate motion they plan to take up tomorrow would amend the budget bill to base levels rather than working off Evers’ proposal, which included a nearly $8.2 billion spending increase in all funds.

Goyke, D-Milwaukee, stressed the move will pass up $2.4 billion in federal funds that would’ve freed up state money to be spent elsewhere.

“In June when Republicans don’t match the governor’s increase to special education reimbursement that will impact every school district and they say that we can’t afford it, it’s because of the actions that we take on Thursday, May 6,” Goyke said. “It’s not just because of the federal money coming in. But the federal money coming in allows us to use GPR elsewhere.”

Evers proposed a $1.6 billion GPR increase in the Department of Public Instruction budget, including a $709.6 million hike for special education funding.

In January, the LFB projected the state would finish the current fiscal year on June 30 with a nearly $1.9 billion GPR surplus. It also expected general fund tax revenues to grow an additional $1 billion over the 2021-23 biennium. Since then, the guv signed a series of tax changes with a more than $594 million reduction in tax collections through mid-2023.

LFB is expected to do another projection on tax collections for the upcoming biennium after the May 17 filing deadline.

Joint Finance Co-chairs Mark Born, R-Beaver Dam, and Howard Marklein, R-Spring Green, said in a statement that Wisconsin is in solid fiscal position and they are focused on “what Wisconsin really needs rather than the Governor’s Madison, campaign wish list.”

“The Governor sent the Legislature an unworkable budget proposal full of pet projects, excessive spending, tax increases and divisive non-fiscal policy,” they said. “Removing these items from our deliberations on the first day enables us to begin crafting a realistic, responsible state budget that addresses the priorities of the people of Wisconsin.”

Read the memo here.

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