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JFC Co-chairs Take Issue with USDE Action on State ESSER Plan

By John Forester | December 7, 2021

From WisPolitics.com . . .

The GOP Joint Finance Committee co-chairs are calling politically motivated the U.S. Department of Education’s issue with how the committee approved using some COVID-19 relief money for schools.Meanwhile, the state Department of Public Instruction says it will work with the Biden administration and lawmakers to resolve the issue.DPI announced yesterday the feds had signed off on most of the state’s plan for $1.5 billion in COVID-19 funds under ARPA. But it placed a hold on 5 percent of the money that the Joint Finance Committee directed to small, rural schools that had provided in-person instruction during the pandemic.The feds had required states to use the disputed money to support students most severely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. That included a requirement that the money be used for learning loss, after school programs and summer schools address the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on underrepresented student groups such as those who are homeless or are in foster care.In May, the committee reworked DPI’s plan for $154 million in federal money to create a pot of grants that were earmarked for districts that had provided in-person instruction for at least 50 percent of the 2020-21 school year. The committee also voted along party lines to give a priority to small, rural districts.The feds’ concern impacts $77 million of that money.At the time, the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau said it was unclear whether the feds would sign off on the JFC plan. Still, the agency noted federal guidance on COVID funds had been constantly evolving and if the Biden administration decided the state plan was inadequate, it would be up to DPI to try amending it until a proposal was approved.“We at the DPI are committed to working with legislative leaders and the USDE to address this issue,” said state Superintendent Jill Underly. “We all share a mutual interest in doing what is best for Wisconsin’s students, and that means supporting our learners as thoroughly and expediently as possible.”JFC Co-chairs Mark Born, R-Beaver Dam, and Howard Marklein, R-Spring Green, accused DPI of working “behind the scenes with their political counterparts in Washington D.C. to find ways to deny our efforts to reward schools that did the hard work of educating our kids in person during a pandemic.”“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. It’s time to do what is right,” they said.See the DPI release here.

See the Born and Marklein statement here.

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