February 10, 2021

Education Advocacy Update: JFC OKs using federal COVID funds to incentivize in-person instruction

Education Advocacy Update: JFC OKs using federal COVID funds to incentivize in-person instruction Featured Image
Wisconsin State Capitol Building in Madison, Wisconsin

The Joint Finance Committee has voted along party lines to use more than $65 million in federal COVID funds to reward districts that have been offering in-person instruction and incentivize those that have conducted virtual learning to move to in-person classes.

“This is another move by the do-nothing Republican legislative caucus to put politics over student safety and science,” said WEAC President Ron Martin. “It’s been nearly a year since Representative Robin Vos and other Republican leaders have implemented any meaningful action on COVID. Just last week they voted to end the mask mandate in complete disregard for public safety. Now, when they get the chance to help students with federal funding for safety, they again refused to take the pandemic seriously. This plan turns a blind eye on COVID spikes in many communities – especially those with large populations of people of color.”

The move does not impact the $617.5 million earmarked for schools based on the Title 1 formula but applies to the $68.6 million at the discretion of the state to distribute. The DPI had created a plan in which all districts would receive a minimum amount of funding under the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER II). The DPI plan provided the funding for school districts to use for personal protective equipment, building sanitization supplies and mechanical system upgrades. In addition, the funds can be used to establish rapid testing systems, as well as for meeting the academic and emotional needs of students.

The DPI plan called for establishing minimum grants of $100,000 per district and privately run charter schools with an additional minimum of $395 per pupil. That would’ve impacted 172 districts. But dozens would not have received money from that pot of funds, including many of the state’s largest districts. WEAC had urged the JFC to accept the DPI plan.

Under the Republican plan, the discretionary amount of federal funding will be divided up based on a formula that accounts for the hours of in-person instruction in the 2020-21 school year. The amount of the grants wouldn’t be known until the end of the school year, when in-person instructional hours are reported – meaning districts won’t receive that part of the desperately needed funding anytime soon.

Under the plan, Milwaukee will get $225.2 million of the overall pot of $686.1 million, but not eligible for more unless schools provide in-person instruction. The other biggest portions of federal funding would go to Racine Unified, $23.6 million; Kenosha Unified, $20 million; Green Bay Area, $19.9 million; and Madison Public Schools, $18.9 million.

Of those, Green Bay, Madison, Milwaukee and Racine have been providing virtual instruction and plan to return to in-person learning in the coming months. Kenosha began the year in-person but went virtual in November amid a still-high level COVID outbreaks.