State Republicans prioritize federal aid for schools using in-person learning

MADISON, Wis. — Republican lawmakers voted to reward school districts using in-person learning this school year with a larger share of federal aid than those using virtual learning. The 11-4 vote on party lines cleared the state’s Joint Finance Committee on Wednesday, setting aside a Department of Public Instruction plan to divide those dollars on a per-pupil formula.

The roughly $68 million of federal funding represents about 10% of the total federal aid relief funds for K-12 schools in Wisconsin under the latest relief legislation passed by Congress. State lawmakers were only given discretional authority over a small portion of those funds; about 90% of the $686 million allotment for Wisconsin will be divided among districts based on how many low-income students are in the district.

The plan for the remaining funding is for about 170 of the state’s school districts, and will be divided up based on number of hours spent using in-person learning through the 2020-2021 school year. Republicans claim that not only does the decision reward school districts with in-person or mixed models, but that it covers extra expenses incurred by in-person learning to increase safety measures.

“We want to incentivize and reward districts that are open, in person,” Republican Sen. Duey Stroebel said. “The long and short of it is, if you’re in class…you’re going to be able to benefit more from that money.”

Democrats on the committee argued that the decision punishes districts who made local decisions based on the available science and the spread of Covid-19 in their districts.

“Individual school districts through their boards, their elected boards, made their decisions based on what their community as a whole wanted,” Democrat Senator Jon Erpenbach said during the Wednesday session. “They shouldn’t be punished for that.”

The decision will cost school officials, Democrat Rep. Evan Goyke from Milwaukee argued, and put unnecessary pressure on them.

“Every hour they go virtual, it will cost them money,” he said.