Wisconsin may see federal stimulus funding double for schools

A historic relief package that won final approval on Wednesday included significant money for schools.

It amounts to $168 billion for K-12 schools and higher education nationwide. About $126 billion of that money would go to K-12 schools focused on bouncing back from the pandemic and reopening.

The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction and local school districts said it is too soon to say exactly how much money will be coming in and how schools will spend it.

However, Jonas Zuckerman, Title I director at DPI, says if the package proposed doubling the last one passed in December, then Wisconsin may find itself in the $1.3 billion range for schools.

“This is a very significant amount of money. The December stimulus bill was the largest single amount of any federal education program ever to the state of Wisconsin,” said Zuckerman. “It’s wide-ranging to meet the needs of districts, and then there are also in this proposal some specific call-outs to address learning loss that students may have experienced over the past year.”

Chalkbeat, a non-profit education news organization, reported the relief package amounts to nearly $2,500 per student nationwide, and districts in high-poverty areas will see more money.

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In Waukesha, the school district’s CFO and assistant of business services, Darren Clark, said in an email at this time there is too much unknown to develop a detailed plan. Clark added:

“There will likely be COVID-19 legacy costs that will be with us for an extended period of time that will need to be addressed. The eventual use of the funds will likely be multi-year in nature and focused on student needs as we become better able to fully measure the instructional impact of the last 12 months. Like all school districts, we will also see what next fall will look like in terms of the impact of the vaccine, infection rates and the instructional model(s) that will need to be offered.”

After a year and counting of schools grappling to keep students learning while handling their budgets to implement COVID-19 mitigation measures, education leaders say the money is critical.

“What we are looking for would be to able to provide these resources, so that schools can best meet the needs of all of their students and the challenges that they face, from academic challenges to social challenges to mental health challenges,” said Zuckerman.

School districts that TMJ4 News heard back from on Wednesday said they are still planning how to use the federal dollars.

Outside of Wisconsin, at least one district in Nashville hopes to put some of their previous federal stimulus money towards a bonus for teachers.

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