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In a letter to Wisconsin’s state school superintendent, the U.S. Department of Education confirmed on Friday that the state will no longer be eligible for $1.5 billion in federal COVID relief funds for school districts under the Republican Legislature’s 2021-23 budget plan for education.
The GOP plan, which commits $128 million — only one-tenth of the $1.6 billion requested in Gov. Tony Evers’ budget proposal — for schools, does not meet the federal “maintenance of effort” standard.
As a condition of receiving Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds, “Wisconsin assured that it would maintain State fiscal effort for both elementary and secondary education and for higher education in fiscal years (FYs) 2020 through 2023,” the letter states.
Under federal rules states must maintain the average level of K-12 spending in the next budget cycle that they made in the three previous fiscal years to demonstrate maintenance of effort.
“These provisions are designed to ensure that States do not reduce support for education because of the influx of Federal financial assistance and that students receive the much-needed supports and services that the additional Federal resources are intended to provide.”
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“The failure of the Wisconsin legislature to appropriate sufficient levels of funds specifically for K-12 education may preclude the State from meeting applicable MOE requirements,” the department asserts.
Specifically, it points to part of the GOP plan, passed on a party-line vote by the Legislature’s budget committee on Thursday, that transfers $350 million in education funds to a budget stabilization fund. While those funds could be later used to fund K-12 schools, the Legislature can also use them for any other purpose.
Those funds, the Department of Education explains, cannot be considered state support for education. Without them the state falls about $250 million short of the amount the state needs to spend on schools to receive federal funding under the GOP plan. The letter also warns that additional federal funding may be in jeopardy, including the $212 million the state received for 2021-22 in Title 1 funding for schools with large numbers of low-income students, which also requires the state meet maintenance-of-effort standards.
“The Department will continue to closely review and monitor whether Wisconsin is meeting all Federal fiscal requirements,” the letter states.
“It’s time for the Republican-led legislature to stop playing games, fund education like they are supposed to, and use billions in additional federal aid to help Wisconsin get out of this COVID downturn,” U.S Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Black Earth) said in a statement. “Anything less is insufficient.”WI Letter to Superintendent Stanford Taylor
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