December 6, 2021

Feds OK Release of Most Wisconsin K-12 COVID Relief

Feds OK Release of Most Wisconsin K-12 COVID Relief Featured Image

U.S. Education Department won’t allow Republican Joint Finance Committee’s plan to reward districts that mostly met in person to keep students safe.

The U.S. Department of Education (USED) has approved the release of 95 percent – nearly $1.4 billion – of Wisconsin’s federal school pandemic relief funding allocation. The department refused to fund 5 percent of the plan — $77 million – which the Republican-controlled Joint Finance Committee included to reward districts that mostly met in person in 2020-21 to keep students safe.

The funding for school districts comes from the Elementary and Secondary Schools Emergency Relief III (ESSER III) plan, part of President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Act. Most Wisconsin’s American Rescue Plan Act funding, $1.4 billion, is divvyed up according to a federal formula that takes student poverty into account.

The rejection of the Republican reward system leaves dozens of school districts uncertain about how much ESSER III funding they will receive. Those districts tend to be suburban districts with lower numbers of low-income students eligible for Title I services.

After the federal announcement, Wisconsin legislative Republicans sent a letter to State Superintendent Dr. Jill Underly demanding the DPI propose a new plan to direct the funding to schools so it meets the Joint Finance Committee’s intent of going to schools that met in-person for 50 percent or more of the time. In response, Underly said her staff has been working with the lawmakers’ aides in past weeks to keep them apprised of the situation and she is willing to work with the legislators on a path forward. But “the political nonsense needs to stop,” she said.