May 28, 2021

Finance Committee Puts $1.5B of Federal School Funding in Jeopardy

Finance Committee Puts $1.5B of Federal School Funding in Jeopardy Featured Image

Wisconsin’s Joint Committee on Finance has acted on the governor’s Badger Bounceback Budget for education, along with the Department of Public Instruction plan for American Recovery Plan funds (ESSER). Both debates centered around the American Recovery Plan funds coming into our state, but the actions by the JFC Republicans may endanger those funds.

The discussion began with vigorous debate over the distribution of Esser funds. One issue in particular, 77 million dollars for “catch up” not controlled by Title I that DPI wanted to issue based on an application process, was particularly contentious.

Joint Finance Democrats and Republicans each submitted motions in response to DPI’s proposal. The Democratic proposal affirmed the position of DPI, recognizing that DPI has done significant work to comply with federal law. This motion was rebuffed by Republicans and failed 11 to 4.

In the Republican proposal they sought to:

  • Reduce aid to DPI to monitor the program.
  • Remove the minimum aid requirement for individual school districts.
  • Reduce the aid available to school districts that were unable to open due to the pandemic.

The Republican proposal continues to politicize safety and pits large school districts, in particular, Madison and Milwaukee, against smaller rural and suburban schools. The Republican motion also, oddly, provided an aid boost for a charter school that hasn’t even opened yet. One positive is that the Republican motion includes increases for the schools for the deaf and blind, which was absent in the DPI plan. The motion passed 11 to 4.

Today’s executive session focused on a number of budget issues germane to public educators:

  • General School Aids and Revenue Limits
  • Categorical Aids
  • Choice, Charter, and Open Enrollment
  • School Operations and Curriculum

Each party offered motion proposals around the budget issues. And just as in the 13.10 discussion, Joe Biden’s American Recovery Plan loomed large in this discussion.

Democrats spoke valiantly in favor of increased spending around special education, investing in mental health services, and responding to changing demographics in schools. Also, Senator Erpenbach highlighted the lack of significant state-based investment and the risk in the Republican proposal.

The Republican motion is incredibly dependent on Federal Aid, aid that most of them are on record saying our state doesn’t need. The Republican proposal only contributes 128 million of state revenue to the education budget, while contributing 350 million dollars to the budget stabilization fund. The 128-million-dollar figure amounts to about a 200-million-dollar shortfall in the federal “Maintenance of Effort” requirement. Failing this requirement would mean that the federal aid would have to be sent back.

The Republican Budget also denied the Governor’s commitment to 2/3 funding of special education, reducing that to 28% in the 2021-2022 schoolyard and just 30% in the following year.

This Republican proposal is dangerous and irresponsible. The proposals made by the JFC Republicans jeopardize public education, divest their responsibility, and creates uncertainty for schools and children in the future.

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