Steven Walters
The State of Politics

Republicans Miffed By MPS Pandemic Aid

MPS gets 16 times more per pupil than Wauwatosa schools under federal formula awarding more to low-income students.

By - Apr 12th, 2021 11:38 am
Riverwest Elementary School, 2765 N. Fratney St. Photo taken March 30th, 2021 by Dave Reid.

Riverwest Elementary School, 2765 N. Fratney St. File photo by Dave Reid.

Republican Sen. Howard Marklein, cochair of the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee (JFC), had a question for Carolyn Stanford Taylor, state superintendent of public instruction: Are the pandemic-related needs of Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) five times greater than the COVID-19 costs for the Lancaster School District in Marklein’s southwest Wisconsin district?

Marklein asked because a Legislative Fiscal Bureau (LFB) report said federal pandemic-aid packages will give MPS an average of $11,242 per student, while giving the Lancaster district aid averaging $2,213 per student.

Appearing on JFC’s first day of hearings on Democratic Gov. Tony Evers 2021-23 budget request – a budget Republicans who control the Legislature plan to largely ignore – Stanford Taylor said MPS has 160 outdated school buildings that make them especially hard to safely retrofit for students, teachers, administrators and support staff. MPS must make sure schools have safe heating and ventilating systems and have new deep cleaning and personal protective equipment needs, for example, she added. And, MPS must make sure the district’s 70,964 students have devices allowing them to learn online.

Responding to the pandemic is a “larger lift for Milwaukee than perhaps for Lancaster,” Stanford Taylor told Marklein. “We’re in a situation we’ve never been in before.”

But, Marklein asked, how many MPS students were actually going to school in person last fall? None, Stanford Taylor responded, but all of Wisconsin’s 421 school districts are either now reopening for in-person learning or planning to reopen in the next school year.

Federal rules allot pandemic aid to school districts using Title 1 criteria based on their percentages of low-income students, Stanford Taylor added.

Federal pandemic aid of $2.21 billion to Wisconsin’s schools is a one-time boost, Stanford Taylor said. LFB’s report said $797.79 million of that – or 36% – will go to MPS.

JFC Republicans denounced federal rules that spend that $2.21 billion based on Title 1 criteria. They could try to reallocate state aid to schools to make up for what they see as that imbalance in their final version of the 2021-23 state budget.

Giving Wisconsin schools $2.21 billion in aid based on Title 1 formulas was a  “bipartisan fumble” by members of Congress from both parties, said Republican Sen. Dale Kooyenga. No member of Congress “reads the bills,” Kooyenga added.

Kooyenga said the Wauwatosa district, which he represents, will get federal pandemic aid averaging $673 per student, while neighboring MPS gets $11,242 per student.

Washington officials “had to develop some formula” for the $2.21 billion, Stanford Taylor responded. She said the money could also be used for summer school, before- and after-school programs and outreach to students most hurt by the pandemic.

The issue, she added, is “How do we get dollars to the most needy?”

Democratic Sen. LaTonya Johnson, of Milwaukee, said homes in one Milwaukee neighborhood have resale values of only $4,300 but home resale values in Wauwatosa average more than $200,000. That means property taxes cannot support MPS, Johnson said.

According to the LFB’s memo, the other four districts with the largest number of students, and how much one-time federal pandemic per-student aid they will get, are: Madison, 25,982 students, per-student aid averaging $2,720; Kenosha, 19,159 students, $3,805 per-student aid; Green Bay, 19,003 students, $3,820 per-student aid, and Racine, 16,572 students, $5,138 per-student aid.

The Janesville district, with 9,440 students, will get per-student pandemic aid averaging $2,915; the Beloit district, with 5,765 students, aid of $5,292 per student and the Beloit Turner district, with 1,616 students, aid averaging $1,479.

Three other JFC Democrats  — Sen. Jon Erpenbach, who represents a suburban Madison district, and Reps. Evan Goyke, of Milwaukee, and Greta Neubauer, of Racine — said Republicans should focus on making sure schools are adequately funded in the next budget.

But Republican Sen. Mary Felzkowski, whose district includes half of northern Wisconsin, said the governor’s budget does too little for rural school districts whose budgets “burn up” because of busing costs.

Felzkowski had a question for Stanford Taylor: How many rural northern Wisconsin school districts had she visited to discuss their problems?

Stanford Taylor, who was appointed by Evers and will soon be replaced by Superintendent-elect Jill Underly, said the pandemic forced her to cancel plans to visit many districts statewide.

Steven Walters has covered the Capitol since 1988. Contact him at

2 thoughts on “The State of Politics: Republicans Miffed By MPS Pandemic Aid”

  1. sbaldwin001 says:

    The Milwaukee Public Schools have 165 schools. Why are 160 of them outdated?

    Also, this pandemic has been one giant subsidy to the already prosperous tech industry. I am certain many parents of students are not satisfied with the results, and I hope someone has been following the money so that a full report is available. I’d love to know how much has been spent on virtual education.

  2. GodzillakingMKE says:

    Goes against Republicans white supremacist policies.

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