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Wisconsin public schools to get fraction of what Evers wants

By SCOTT BAUER
Associated Press

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin public schools would receive $150 million more in state funding over two years under the Republican budget plan to be approved Thursday by a legislative committee, less than 10% of what Democratic Gov. Tony Evers called for.

It was also not immediately clear if enough was being spent to ensure federal funding would not be lost.

Wisconsin is slated to receive $2.6 billion in federal coronavirus relief funding approved by Congress, including $1.54 billion under the American Rescue Plan that President Joe Biden signed in March.

The federal law requires the state to spend the same proportion on K-12 schools and higher education in the upcoming fiscal year that was spent between 2016 and 2018. For K-12 schools, that means the state would have to spend $387 million more over the next two years, according to the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau.

In addition to the $150 million in new funding, the Republican plan includes putting $350 million aside for future spending outside of the next budget. Evers called for $1.6 billion in new funding and urged Republicans on the budget committee to accept his plan.

“By cutting or keeping spending levels flat, you continue to jeopardize Wisconsin’s short-term economic recovery and long-term economic prospects by not investing in our future,” Evers wrote to Republicans ahead of Thursday’s meeting.

When asked whether the Republican would meet the federal requirements, budget committee co-chair Rep. Mark Born said that issue was still being examined and will be dealt with “along the way.” Born said he had only recently become aware of the issue, even though it had been raised in an April 8 memo from the fiscal bureau.

Born did not answer a question about that memo that was asked as a news conference was breaking up.

Sen. Howard Marklein, the other committee co-chair, said he believed Congress would modify requirements for states to meet the match requirement.

Democrats criticized the Republican plan. Sen. Jon Erpenbach said the Republican plan was creating uncertainty and putting federal funding at risk.

The majority of the federal funding coming to the state must be directed to schools based on how many low-income students they have. However, there was about $154 million available for the state to spend as it wishes.

Under the Republican plan, about $114 million would be distributed only to districts that were open for in-person instruction for at least half of this school year.

“We want to reward those districts that were open,” said Republican Sen. Duey Stroebel.

The state education department had wanted to spend the money differently, with all schools receiving at least $600,000. Its plan did not penalize schools that did not meet in person, while the Republican plan rewards those that were open.

Democrats decried penalizing districts that were closed more than half of the school year due to the pandemic, saying Republicans were creating winners and losers based on decisions made with the intent of protecting students and staff from the virus.

The state’s two largest school districts, Milwaukee and Madison, would not qualify for any of that money because they did not open for in-person instruction until midway through the second semester.

The budget committee was also scheduled to vote Thursday on funding for the University of Wisconsin System. Evers had called for spending $190 million more over the next two years, in part to offset the cost of continuing the tuition freeze.

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