Feds: Wisconsin’s GOP school spending plan could disqualify state for $1.5B in federal COVID school aid

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Sen. Howard Marklein (R-Spring Green), co-chair of the state budget committee, unveils GOP spending plan at Thursday press conference

Current GOP plans for state school spending would jeopardize more than one billion dollars in federal aid for Wisconsin schools, the U.S. Department of Education told Wisconsin state officials on Friday.

A letter from the U.S. Department of Education to Governor Tony Evers and Wisconsin’s Department of Public Instruction confirms that the state’s plan to count $350 million put into a rainy day fund as increased school spending would not qualify under federal requirements as enough funding to receive federal school aid. U.S. Representative Mark Pocan’s office, which released the letter, put the figure to be lost at $1.5 billion out of the $2.6 billion coming into the state.

The letter comes after a GOP budget plan on Thursday that would purportedly increase school spending by $500 million, but in reality sets aside $350 million for upcoming biennium budgets that future legislatures would control.

“The failure of the Wisconsin legislature to appropriate sufficient levels of funds specifically for K-12 education may preclude the State from meeting applicable (maintenance of effort) requirements,” the letter reads, from the DOE’s Ian Rosenblum, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy and Programs. “Maintenance of effort” funds refers to minimum school spending requirements that the federal government set for states in order to receive billions in school pandemic funding set in the three different federal COVID relief bills passed over the last fifteen months.

Republicans were uncertain yesterday throughout budget discussions whether the GOP’s plan, which amounts to less than a tenth of what Gov. Evers originally asked for K12 education, would make Wisconsin miss out on federal school aid.

The purpose of the requirements, the letter stated, was to ensure state’s don’t scale back on their own funding for K12 education because of pandemic relief funds, which is designated for COVID-related expenses over the next four years.

“These provisions are designed to ensure that States do not reduce support for education because of the influx of Federal financial assistance and that students receive the much-needed supports and services that the additional Federal resources are intended to provide,” Rosenblum wrote.

Republicans said their plan was less than Gov. Evers’ request because of $2.6 billion flowing into the state from those federal relief acts.