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Wisconsin GOP Lawmakers Approve Sending $66 Million To Schools That Open In-Person

Wisconsin Eye
Wisconsin Joint Finance Committee co-chairs Sen. Howard Marklein and Rep. Mark Born held a press conference announcing the proposal to financially incentivize school reopening.

Wisconsin Republicans on the Joint Committee on Finance approved a plan Wednesday to reward public schools that are open in-person with about $66 million in federal aid.

The money at issue comes from the latest round of federal coronavirus relief. It provides $686 million for Wisconsin schools to spend on pandemic-related costs. Ninety percent of the money is distributed in line with the federal Title 1 program, which is based on student poverty. The other 10%, about $66 million, is open for the state to distribute as it sees fit.

The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction proposed allocating it to districts so they would get a minimum of $395 per student. But the Republican lawmakers came up with a different proposal, voting to allocate the $66 million based on how many hours of in-person instruction a school district offers this school year.

“The motion before us today provides an incentive to districts that have done the right thing by offering in-person instruction,” said Republican Sen. Howard Marklein, who is co-chair of the Joint Finance Committee. “We know it’s good for our kids – it’s the right to do, I believe. It also provides an incentive to those schools that are not open.”

Democratic lawmakers were opposed, saying school boards shouldn’t be punished if they’ve decided to go virtual because of coronavirus risks. 

“So what happens if next week you get 10 cases or 20 cases or 100 cases? Your school board is going to have an actual dollar amount dangled in front of them by legislative Republicans,” Milwaukee Rep. Evan Goyke said. “It will cost them money if they go virtual. Every hour they go virtual – whether there’s 100 cases or zero cases – it’s going to cost them money.”

Goyke noted that high-poverty districts would not be negatively impacted by the Republican plan. Their share is protected through the Title 1 funding requirement. In fact, Milwaukee Public Schools, which has been virtual this whole year, is getting the largest share of aid – $225 million.

The districts that will be affected by the in-person learning formula are those with relatively affluent student bodies — to name a few in the Milwaukee area: Cedarburg, Oak Creek-Franklin, Whitefish Bay, Wauwatosa, and New Berlin.

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Emily is an editor and project leader for WUWM.
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