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JFC Approves Motion to Use ESSER II Minimum Aid to Incentivize In-Person Instruction

By John Forester | February 10, 2021

From WisPolitics.com . . .

The Joint Finance Committee voted along party lines today to use more than $65 million in federal COVID funds to reward districts that have been offering in-person instruction and encourage others to get kids back in the classroom.

But the plan wouldn’t impact the $617.5 million that schools will receive based on a formula that takes into account the number of low-income students residing in each district.

What’s more, many of the largest districts that have been offering virtual-only instruction so far this school year won’t lose out on money under the GOP plan vs. the one originally proposed by the Department of Public Instruction.

Madison, Milwaukee and Racine, for example, have yet to offer in-person instruction this school year, though they are taking steps toward that. While none would lose money under the GOP plan compared to what DPI suggested, they could earn additional funding by getting kids into the classroom.

Rep. Evan Goyke, D-Milwaukee, knocked the proposal, saying Republicans were putting a perverse incentive before districts to get kids into classrooms regardless of spikes in COVID cases in their communities. He also noted Republicans just voted to overturn Gov. Tony Evers’ public health declaration in an attempt to end his mask mandate, suggesting the GOP wasn’t taking the pandemic seriously.

“You’re making a political point showing how tough you are by wanting everything to go back in person,” Goyke said.

Co-chair Howard Marklein, R-Spring Green, countered it was about rewarding districts that have incurred costs for in-person instruction such as cleaning and safety precautions that others haven’t had while virtual. He added offering in-person instruction is the right thing for kids.

“We know it’s good for our kids. It’s the right thing to do, I believe,” Marklein said. “It also provides an incentive to those schools that are not open to open to in-person instruction.”

The stimulus bill former President Trump signed in late December included $686.1 million for Wisconsin elementary and secondary schools. Of that, $617.5 million must be distributed to districts and independent charter schools based on a formula that accounts for the number of low-income students residing in each district, according to the Legislative Fiscal Bureau.

The money can cover costs between March 30, 2020, and Sept. 30, 2023, for things like responding to the pandemic, training and professional development related to sanitation and preventing infection diseases, purchasing equipment, and providing mental health services.

Of the remaining $68.6 million, DPI had called for using $1.2 million for administrative costs. The agency wanted to use the rest of the money to establish minimum grants of $100,000 per district and charter school with an additional minimum of $395 per pupil. That would’ve impacted 172 districts. But dozens weren’t in line to receive money from that pot of funds, including many of the state’s largest districts.

Under the GOP motion that was approved 11-4, DPI’s administrative costs were cut to $700,000. The remaining $65.5 million will be divided up based on a formula that accounts for the hours of in-person instruction in the 2020-21 school year. The amount of the grants wouldn’t be known until the end of the school year, when in-person instructional hours are reported.

Under the plan, Milwaukee will get $225.2 million of the overall pot of $686.1 million with the opportunity to earn more for in-person instruction.

The other biggest beneficiaries are: Racine, $23.6 million; Kenosha, $20 million; Green Bay, $19.9 million; and Madison, $18.9 million.

Of those, Green Bay, Madison, Milwaukee and Racine have been providing virtual instruction and are making moves to have in-person learning in the coming months. Kenosha began the year in-person instruction, but went virtual in November amid an outbreak of cases. The district late last month began moving back to in-person classes.

See GOP JFC Motion here.

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