Top Republican ‘confident’ Wisconsin won’t lose $1.5 billion for schools after feds warn funds at risk

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MADISON, Wis. (CBS 58) -- A top Republican who serves on the powerful budget committee says he’s confident they will find a solution to secure $1.5 billion in federal funding for K-12 schools after U.S. education officials warned Wisconsin is at risk of losing it. 

Rep. Mark Born (R-Beaver Dam), a co-chair of the Joint Finance Committee, tells CBS 58 he was aware the K-12 funding plan they approved for the next state budget doesn’t comply with federal standards, but says he remains committed to finding a workaround. 

“We’re continuing to work through our budget process,” said Born. “I’m confident we will do what we need to do to meet that standard overall.”

Born did not elaborate on any plans to meet federal guidelines or a timeline on how soon the committee will act. 

Last week Republicans on the budget committee invested $128 million in state funding for K-12 schools, which is far below what they need to meet under federal guidelines to secure $1.5 billion in coronavirus relief aid.

The move prompted a top U.S. education official to send a letter to Wisconsin’s Department of Public Instruction warning the Legislature must direct at least 35% of state funds on schools or they’ll be at risk of losing the federal aid. 

“The failure of the legislature to appropriate sufficient levels of funds to support K-12 education may impact the ability of the State and its local educational agencies to meet maintenance of effort requirements under those programs,” Ian Rosenblum, a top U.S. education official, said in the letter.  

Lawmakers on the budget committee also set aside $350 million for K-12 schools in a separate fund Republicans want to use for future investments. However, the letter also states that amount cannot be used to reach the threshold because it wasn’t appropriated for K-12 education. 

Rep. Born dismissed the letter and blamed federal guidance for “constantly changing.”

“The letter doesn’t really change anything,” Born said. “We became aware of some of the details because with all this federal stuff, the guidance, it’s slow to come out, it’s constantly changing.”

Gov. Tony Evers said if Republicans fail to act to secure the federal aid, he will consider vetoing the entire budget. 

“It’s too early to tell, but that is always an option,” Evers said. “What they invested was paltry and insulted the kids of our state.”

Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) also encouraged Republican lawmakers to reconsider. 

"I’m asking them to immediately reconsider moving forward because we cannot fail to meet these needs," Baldwin said. "These funds were indented for the many needs I heard directly for students, parents, teachers, and school administrators."

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