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Updated Info on JFC Action Changing DPI ESSER II Distribution Plan

By John Forester | February 10, 2021

From WisPolitics.com . . .

JFC 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 in federal COVID relief that schools will receive based on a formula that takes into account the number of low-income students residing in each district.

The GOP motion overhauls DPI’s plan for the more than $65 million. Still, the GOP changes wouldn’t impact the state’s largest districts, many of which have been offering virtual-only instruction so far this school year. That’s because they weren’t in line for any of the $65 million under the DPI plan. Under the GOP approach, they wouldn’t be eligible for the money Republicans now want to use to incentivize schools returning to in-person instruction.

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 and nearly $2.4 million for minimum grants of $100,000 per eligible district and charter schools. The remaining $65 million would’ve gone to minimum grants of $395 per pupil for the 172 districts eligible.

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. Republicans also would keep the pot of nearly $2.4 million for the minimum grants of $100,000 per district and charter school. The remaining $65.5 million would be divided up based on a formula that accounts for the hours of in-person instruction in the 2020-21 school year, and only the 172 districts that were originally in line for the funds under the DPI plan will be eligible. 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 overall plan, Milwaukee will get $225.2 million of the pot of $686.1 million.

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 with 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.

Gov. Tony Evers has the power to line-item veto the plan. But the GOP-controlled committee would have the votes to override such a move.

See the GOP motion here.

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