GOP Plan Puts Students, Teachers At Risk?
Legislators require federal education aid to be used to push in-school instruction.
A Legislative committee’s decision to tie federal COVID relief aid to in-person instruction strips control from local elected officials and could make it more difficult for schools to plan for safe re-opening, according to education advocates.
“This is a partisan attempt to punish public schools and override local control by playing political games with the federal dollars our schools have been desperately waiting for all year in the absence of any COVID-related support for our public schools from the GOP-controlled state legislature,” Heather DuBois Bourenane, executive director of the Wisconsin Public Education Network (WPEN), tells Wisconsin Examiner.
In doing so, the committee rejected a plan prepared by the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) designed to distribute $68 million in federal funds.
Wisconsin received approximately $686 million in federal aid through a part of the CARES Act called the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations (CRRSA) Act. Ninety percent of that money is bound by Title I rules, which means it is distributed to districts according to the number of low-income pupils. The committee and DPI have no say in the distribution of those funds.
On Jan. 26, the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) submitted a plan for allocating the additional 10% of relief money, basing it on the number of students in districts. The department’s plan divided up most of the money on a per-pupil basis and distributed the rest through grants.
But the committee’s vote overrides DPI’s plan, which treated schools equally regardless of whether they operated in person or virtually. Instead, the committee’s plan provides financial incentive for schools to go in-person — regardless of local health orders or COVID-19 case loads.
“Getting our kids back to in-person learning is a top priority,” JFC co-chairs Sen. Howard Marklein (R-Spring Green) and Rep. Mark Born (R-Beaver Dam) stated in a Feb. 10 release. “This plan puts kids first, and incentivizes school districts to get our children back into the classroom while also rewarding those school districts who have spent time and resources to already make it happen. Our kids deserve to be in school where they have the best chance to succeed.”
The release says schools districts currently holding virtual classes would still be able to access the funds if they return to in-person classes this semester.
Along with the other three Democrats on the committee, Rep. Evan Goyke (D-Milwaukee) voted against the majority, saying he supported DPI’s proposal because “it provides resources for every single school district in the state of Wisconsin.” By not following the department’s guidelines for distributing the aid, he added, “We are injecting the political argument about in-person or virtual.”
Bourenane says the committee’s vote puts cash-strapped districts in a quandary. “DPI is working now to try to figure out how schools can and will calculate their eligibility, and there is uncertainty about what that will look like from district to district, and how it will be calculated given the vast differences in instructional practices over the year,” she says. “Under the DPI’s plan, schools were offered a guaranteed amount, and under the GOP plan schools will be forced to compete for those funds and risk putting kids and teachers at risk to secure them.”
Chris Bucher, from DPI’s communications department, tells Wisconsin Examiner that the department was required to submit a plan for the federal funds, but by law is required to follow the Legislature’s authority. “The department will implement the plan as it was approved,” he says.
Reprinted with permission of Wisconsin Examiner.
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