Underly: Funding for K-12 schools 'broken', calls on Legislature to invest more state resources

Underly: Funding for K-12 schools ’broken’, calls on Legislature to invest more state resources

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MADISON, Wis. (CBS 58) -- State Superintendent Jill Underly called the current school funding formula for K-12 schools "broken" during her first State of Education Address and called on lawmakers to invest more state resources to help.

Underly, who previously served as the Pecatonica School District superintendent, bashed Republican lawmakers for ignoring Democrats' calls to use a portion of the state's surplus to funnel more money to school districts. 

"We had over a billion in budget surplus and it was the opportunity the Legislature had to fix school funding in our schools and to make them equitable," said Underly. "The system is broken and every time a referendum is passed it makes the funding formula more unequal."

Seeking additional investments in K-12 schools comes as many districts turn to referendum to ask voters to pay more for improvements. 

GOP leaders have argued schools will get an additional $128 million in the next state budget, and this year districts received "massive amounts" of one-time federal COVID-19 relief aid. 

"Funding for K-12 education in Wisconsin is at historic levels, and this year our schools received a massive amount of one-time federal dollars," said Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) in a statement. “Throwing even more money at the problem will not fix it."

Gov. Evers directed $100 million in additional federal pandemic aid to schools after signing the state budget in July, noting Republicans wrote the spending plan in a way that prevented him from using his veto powers to increase school aid. Weeks after signing the budget, Evers called a special session asking lawmakers to boost school funding, but Republicans rejected the idea.    

Beyond school funding, Underly also put an emphasis on the need for mental health resources, noting the pandemic made matters worse by putting a strain on students and staff's wellbeing.

"This dynamic existed before the pandemic, but like many things, we cannot turn our back on what we learned during that time," she said. "And to that end, all of our kids need access to mental health support, school counseling and robust nursing services in all of our schools."

She also addressed the challenges districts are facing during the pandemic including controversy over masks mandates, and the tough decisions school boards have had to make. Underly asked for civility to "support each other instead of tearing down those who dare to provide leadership during a crisis."

Underly did announce DPI would be creating a literacy task force to find strategies for students who struggle with reading. 

Early childhood education, teacher recruitment and retention efforts are also areas Underly said she is committed to working on while in office.

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