On Monday, a group of 52 Republican lawmakers called on Gov. Tony Evers to distribute the rest of the state’s federal educational COVID-19 relief funds to districts that have been teaching in-person since the beginning of the 2020-21 school year.
The funding was given out through a Title I formula where 90 percent of the funds distributed were based on the number of low-income students in each school district.
This led to more funds per student to larger districts like Madison and Milwaukee even though they are “incurring significant utility and transportation savings by not having students in the classroom,” the Republicans wrote in a letter to the governor.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that those districts have used funding to provide computers, tablets and internet access to families.
Congress gave states authority over the remaining 10 percent of educational COVID-19 relief funds, according to WPR. Republican lawmakers want that money to be prioritized for districts that have been doing in-person instruction.
“Our rural school districts don’t have the resources that larger districts, like Madison and Milwaukee do,” Rep. Calvin Callahan, R-Tomahawk, said. “Yet, under the Title I formula in the latest round of funding from the governor, they were provided significantly less funding per pupil than the larger districts.”
The lawmakers claim that in-person instruction is better for the students of Wisconsin, especially younger students. Rep. Jeremy Thiesfeldt, R-Fond du Lac, thinks that in-person learning helps students acclimate to social interactions.
“What is best for almost all students is to be face-to-face with the teacher which has increasing importance for our youngest students… They learn through each other through social interaction,” Thiesfeldt said at a press conference Monday.
At the press conference, Republican lawmakers said they want more funding so that these in-person districts can pay for more PPE, custodial staff and outside rental classrooms.
In February, the state’s budget committee approved a plan that would give a larger portion of federal funding to school districts with more in-person instruction. Democrats disagreed with the reallocation and found it inappropriate to financially penalize schools that have solely online instruction.
Rep. Evan Goyke, D-Milwaukee, told WPR that, “They [schools] should be able to respond and go virtual if and when they need to, and they should do that without fear of economic consequences.”
State Democratic Party Chair Ben Wikler criticized legislative Republicans for “withholding funding to some of the Wisconsin schools hit hardest by the pandemic.”
“Our schools are facing more and more challenges, yet Republicans want the hardest-hit schools to make do with even less,” Wikler said. “Safely reopening schools should be a priority for all, but this hypocritical GOP approach would punish the very schools with the greatest safety concerns. Budgets are a reflection of values, and this stunt from Republican legislators makes clear they continue to value political games over our kids and teachers.”
Meanwhile, the Madison Metropolitan School District plans to begin bringing students back to school on March 9. Public Health Madison and Dane County announced that COVID-19 vaccines would be delayed two weeks due to a shortage of doses.
On Monday, MMSD staff members and community members wrote a letter to Superintendent Jenkins and the school board asking the decision to reopen schools to be reconsidered.
“We as educators agree that safely reopening schools is a priority for our community,” the letter read. “We are literally weeks away from vaccines being in the arms of a majority of educators in the city. Why would we expose our schools to an increased risk of exposure and community spread, when that risk could be further mitigated in such a short period of time?”