MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The superintendents of Wisconsin's five largest school districts told members of the Legislature on Tuesday that they're “dismayed” that $2.3 billion in federal aid is at risk because of low funding for K-12 schools.
Superintendents of the Milwaukee, Madison, Racine, Kenosha and Green Bay school districts urged lawmakers in a letter to set aside partisan differences and to do what is best for the state's schools.
The state budget being written by the Legislature's Republican-controlled Joint Finance Committee does not include enough funding for K-12 schools to ensure that Wisconsin would be able to keep $2.3 billion in federal coronavirus relief money. Republican leaders have repeatedly said they will ensure the funding wouldn't be lost. The budget committee plans to complete its work this week.
As it stands, the new budget would include $128 million more in state funding for K-12 schools than the current one, which is about one-tenth of what Democratic Gov. Tony Evers requested. Evers and Democrats have urged lawmakers to spend more on K-12 schools, especially in light of rosier projections showing the state will collect $4.4 billion more in taxes than originally expected.
“We are dismayed that the legislature’s Joint Finance Committee voted to place ESSER dollars at risk,” the superintendents wrote, referring to the name of the federal aid bill.
The committee's decision to date “has led school districts to halt their planning efforts, as they do not know whether the expected federal resources will be forthcoming,” the superintendents wrote. “This is regrettable and will adversely affect Wisconsin students.”
Budget committee co-chair, Rep. Mark Born, reiterated Tuesday that Republicans were working on a solution to not lose the money.
“We’re confident we’ll be in compliance," he said.
Evers responded to the letter with a message on Twitter.
“What’s best for our kids is what’s best for our state, which is why investing in education is a no-brainer,” he tweeted. “Republicans gutted my #BadgerBounceback investments in our kids and are jeopardizing $2.3 billion in federal funds. Enough politics. Do what’s best for our kids.”
The superintendents said the federal money would provide a “unique opportunity to work with our community partners to address inequities in our school communities.” The five districts serve more than 150,000 students combined, or nearly 20% of the state's students. Of those, more than 104,000 are in poverty and the COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated the problems they face, the superintendents wrote.
The federal money would not only help schools meet expenses caused by the pandemic, it would also have a positive economic impact on the state, they wrote.
The letter was written by Milwaukee Superintendent Keith Posley, Madison Superintendent Carlton Jenkins, Green Bay Superintendent Stephen Murley, Kenosha Superintendent Sue Savaglio-Jarvis and Racine Superintendent Eric Gallien.