GOP plan gives more money to schools that offer in-person instruction

NOW: GOP plan gives more money to schools that offer in-person instruction

MADISON, Wis. (CBS 58) -- School districts that offer in-person instruction will be eligible to receive more federal funding than those who don’t under a plan approved by Republicans on the budget committee. 

The Legislature's budget committee approved the plan Thursday 11-4 along party lines. Republicans plan to distribute $65 million in federal funding to schools that offer in-person classes, calling it an incentive to open schools. 

“Reward districts that are open in person, because we have seen it can be done safely,” said Sen. Duey Stroebel (R-Saukville).

Wisconsin received in total $617 million from the federal government after Congress recently passed a relief measure to provide aid to schools impacted by the pandemic, according to the nonpartisan fiscal bureau.

The Republican-led committee has oversight on how to spend $65 million of that, which means the rest of the cash will still go to each school district across the state. Rep. Joe Sanfelippo (R-New Berlin) said it's not fair for taxpayers to pay schools holding virtual classes the same amount as schools holding in-person classes.

“If you hire me to come over to my house and cut your grass and I don’t cut your grass you don’t want to pay me," Sanfelippo said. "So why should we be paying the school districts if they’re not getting kids on and teaching or educating them?”

Schools that remain entirely online won’t see any additional funding. Democrats on the committee criticized the GOP spending plan because they said it punishes schools that decided to close due to health and safety concerns. 

“This places school boards in a very difficult position, choosing whether or not to have the funding we know they need or have students in person,” said Rep. Evan Goyke (D-Milwaukee). 

The amount each district will receive will be determined once the school year is over, according to Republicans on the committee. 

The funding formula will be based on how many students and hours are spent in the classroom. Schools that offer a hybrid model, half in-person and online, will also be eligible for additional federal aid. 

Two Republican lawmakers, Sanfelippo and Sen Dale Kooyenga (R-Brookfield), wrote letters to multiple districts in the Milwaukee area, informing administrators they stand to receive more funds for in-person classes.

“Some of these kids haven’t been in school for 11 months or almost a year, and any education expert is going to tell you that’s just not a good thing," Sanfelippo said.

Milwaukee public schools are unable to cash in on the additional funds even if they shift to in-person instruction. That’s because the district already receives more money per pupil ($395) compared to other schools, according to the Fiscal Bureau. 

MPS is still guaranteed to receive $225 million under the plan. MPS School Board President Larry Miller said the district receives so much per pupil already because of how closely the money is tied to low-income families. Miller said he still feels for the districts that are impacted.

“The school boards have to rely on the medical community and the professionals to make the determination on whether it’s safe to go back to school. But yet, they’re being pressured.”

Lawmakers do not need to approve the committee's spending plan, which means it will likely be approved. Governor Evers can challenge it, but Republicans on the budget committee can override it.

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