Wisconsin schools could lose $2.3 billion under GOP budget plan

    yellow school bus top with blue sky and trees
    Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash

    The nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau released a memo on Wednesday estimating that the amount of federal money for schools Wisconsin stands to lose under a Republican budget proposal is significantly more than an earlier estimate of $1.5 billion. The money is at risk, the U.S. Department of Education has explained, because the Legislature’s Republican majority has produced an education budget that does not meet minimum federal requirements for the state’s investment in its own public schools.

    Legislative Republicans have pointed to the large amount of federal COVID relief money flowing into the state in justifying a budget for K-12 schools that represents less than one-tenth of the money Gov. Tony Evers put in his budget proposal. In addition, they have proposed transferring $350 million away from education funds into the state’s rainy day fund, where it can be used in the future for any purpose.

    The Fiscal Bureau’s new estimate puts the amount of federal funding Wisconsin stands to lose under the proposal at $2.3 billion.

    That amount includes $784.4 million provided to the state under the Consolidated Appropriations Act (CAA) and $1.6 billion under the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA).

    In order to receive those funds the proportion of state spending allocated to K-12 and higher education in 2021-22 must be maintained at the same level as the state’s average allocation in the 2016-17, 2017-18, and 2018-19 fiscal years.

    “Unless Republicans properly fund our schools, all 421 school districts in Wisconsin will lose out on a combined $2.3 billion,” said Sen. Jon Erpenbach (D-West Point), who received the Fiscal Bureau memo in response to a request. “No more excuses, no more games … it’s time for Republicans to do the right thing because the budget clock is ticking.”

    THE MORNING NEWSLETTER
    Subscribe now.

    “I think the Republicans are still kind of dizzy, kind of being sort of bumped on the head with a very, very large dollar amount that’s at risk here in Wisconsin,” Erpenbach said at a press conference before the Joint Finance Committee meeting on Thursday. “And by the way, part of that $2.3 billion that’s at risk is about $77 million of it that’s supposed to go to private schools — so maybe that will get their attention.”

    When Erpenbach raised the problem of losing the federal money the Republicans are counting on to make up for their low budget for schools, Republican Joint Finance Committee co-chair Sen. Howard Marklein said he was “aware of the problem”  but “I think the risk is manageable,” and that he thought that the federal government might change the rules.

    “I do suspect at the end of the day, the Republicans will come to their senses,” Erpenbach said at the Joint Finance Committee press conference. “They will make sure that they properly fund K 12 education, and we will get that money. If we don’t, they have to go home and explain to all the administrators, all of the teachers, all the families of the kids who go to these schools, why they weren’t good enough for $2.35 billion.”

    09 Erpenbach CP
    Ruth Conniff
    Ruth Conniff is Editor-in-chief of the Wisconsin Examiner. She formerly served as Editor-in-chief of The Progressive Magazine where she worked for many years from both Madison and Washington, DC. Shortly after Donald Trump took office she moved with her family to Oaxaca, Mexico, and covered U.S./Mexico relations, the migrant caravan, and Mexico’s efforts to grapple with Trump. Conniff is a frequent guest on MSNBC and has appeared on Good Morning America, Democracy Now!, Wisconsin Public Radio, CNN, Fox News and many other radio and television outlets. She has also written for The Nation, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Los Angeles Times, among other publications. She graduated from Yale University in 1990, where she ran track and edited the campus magazine The New Journal. She lives in Madison, Wisconsin with her husband and three daughters.