MADISON – Republican lawmakers writing the next state budget plan to provide schools with $150 million in new funding — less than 10% of what Democratic Gov. Tony Evers proposed for schools — and will steer more federal stimulus funding toward districts that provided in-person instruction during the coronavirus pandemic.
The details of the GOP spending plan for schools over the next two years were released Thursday, days after Assembly Speaker Robin Vos of Rochester and Senate President Chris Kapenga of Delafield questioned the need for large increases for Wisconsin schools in light of $2.6 billion in federal aid they are receiving because of the pandemic.
“The amount of federal money that is going to school districts is overwhelming. It’s really kind of obscene in many ways. It’s sad. It’s just too much money,” Vos said in an interview on Wednesday.
“Think of all the times people win the lottery. Do they spend that money smartly? Very rarely. Now, once in a while — but very rarely. So I feel like school districts just won the lottery, and I am concerned that the money isn’t going to be spent in ways that is best.”
Under a plan adopted Thursday by the finance committee, a portion of federal funding for schools provided through the American Rescue Plan Act would be distributed in a formula that leans more on how much in-person instruction the district provided during the pandemic than the federal law used.
Over the next two years, Wisconsin schools will receive an additional $150 million, according to details released by the budget committee’s co-chairmen, Sen. Howard Marklein of Spring Green and Rep. Mark Born of Beaver Dam.
That’s hundreds of millions of dollars less than what Democratic Gov. Tony Evers has proposed providing for schools.
Dan Rossmiller, a lobbyist for the Wisconsin Association of School Boards, said it is “fiscally irresponsible for the state to back out of its constitutional obligation to fund our public schools and suggest that districts use one-time federal funds for ongoing expense.
“We appreciate the federal government recognizing the unprecedented needs and challenges schools have faced in response to the global pandemic,” Rossmiller said. “We trust locally elected school board members to use these federal investments wisely and in alignment with local community values and the purposes Congress had in mind when it authorized those funds.”
In addition to the $150 million the Republicans want to provide now, they plan to set a higher starting point for school funding in 2023. That would make another $350 million available to schools beginning in 2023, but future lawmakers would have to sign off on that increase.
Under the GOP proposal, the state will reimburse 30% of special education costs — up from 28.2% under current law. Evers proposed increasing the reimbursement rate to 90%.
Under the plan Marklein and Born outlined, the state would:
- Increase a mental health program by $12 million and provide an additional $7 million toward mental health collaboration grants. Evers wanted to spend funding for mental health at schools by $12 million. Evers wanted another $34.5 million to go toward mental health programs.
- Boost sparsity aid by $6.3 million, about a third as much as Evers had sought. Sparsity aid is aimed at rural school districts.
Under rules to receive pandemic-related federal education aid, Wisconsin lawmakers must spend about 35% of state funds on schools, according to the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau. That could require lawmakers to come up with more funding for schools before they finalize the budget.
Under federal law, the proportion of state spending allocated to K-12 and higher education in the upcoming fiscal year must be maintained at the same level as the state’s average allocation in the fiscal years between 2016 and 2018 as a condition of federal stimulus funds for schools, according to a memo drafted for Sen. Jon Erpenbach, the ranking Democrat on the Joint Finance Committee.
That means at least 35% of state spending must be on K-12 costs and 9% on higher education costs in both years of the state budget.
Born said Republicans are still absorbing information about the requirements. The issue was first brought to lawmakers’ attention more than a month ago.
Exactly how much Republicans would have to add to K-12 and UW spending to qualify for the federal aid will depend on the size of the overall budget they approve. They won’t make all funding decisions for weeks.
The budget committee also reshuffled how some federal aid will be spent to help schools that educated students in person during the pandemic.
Wisconsin schools are receiving $1.54 billion under the American Rescue Plan that President Joe Biden signed in March. The funding comes on top of more than $1 billion Congress has given Wisconsin schools since last year in other pandemic-related legislation.
From the latest allocations, $1.39 billion is going directly to schools, and state officials have no say in how it is allocated.
State Schools Superintendent Carolyn Stanford Taylor has put together a plan for spending the remaining $154 million, with about half that amount going to learning loss.
Republicans rewrote her plan to steer about $115 million of it toward schools that provided in-person instruction at least half the time in the 2020-’21 school year. Those schools will receive at least $39 in additional aid per student.
Milwaukee Public Schools is slated to receive more than $505 million, the Waukesha School District nearly $11 million and the Wauwatosa School District about $3 million, according to the fiscal bureau.