Under the plan, school districts that have offered and will continue to offer more hours of in-person instruction will receive a larger percentage of federal coronavirus aid than schools that have remained virtual. The measure was approved on a party-line vote of 11-4, with Republicans voting in favor and Democrats against, and will immediately go into effect.
Budget committee co-chairs Rep. Mark Born, R-Beaver Dam, and Sen. Howard Marklein, R-Spring Green, both argued the GOP plan will send more money to districts that have “done the right thing” during the pandemic.
“I believe our kids need to be in school for their benefit and society’s benefit,” Marklein said. Marklein also argued districts that have provided in-person instruction over the last several months have incurred costs for things like transportation and cleaning supplies that districts exclusively offering virtual instruction have not.
Republicans on the committee pointed to statistics about rising suicide rates and mental health crises among students during the pandemic, as well as spikes in substance abuse and domestic violence. Democrats on the committee argued it is inappropriate to financially penalize schools that have chosen to offer exclusively virtual instruction during the pandemic.
“Districts that were doing the right thing were actually listening to those in the medical community and the scientists who said, ‘Close your doors, don’t be open,'” said Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-West Point.
Wisconsin will receive about $686 million from the federal government for K-12 schools under Congress’ coronavirus response bill passed last year. Under the federal bill, about 90 percent of those funds will be distributed based on the number of low-income students in each school district, without input from state administrations or lawmakers.
However, Congress gave states discretion over how to spend the remaining 10 percent of the funds, roughly $69 million in Wisconsin.