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Big 5 ‘dismayed’ by move to lose billions in federal funds

By Press Times Staff

GREEN BAY – Superintendents from the five largest school districts in Wisconsin sent a letter to members of the State Legislature following action by the Joint Finance Committee which jeopardizes $2.3 billion in federal aid.

Steven Murley, Green Bay; Carlton Jenkins, Madison; Sue Savaglio-Jarvis, Kenosha; Keith Posley, Milwaukee; and Eric Gallien, Racine; oversee more than 150,000 students combined, nearly 20% of all students in Wisconsin.

“We are dismayed that the legislature’s Joint Finance Committee voted to place ESSER (Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief) dollars at risk,” their letter dated June 15 said. “Our districts have engaged in many novel approaches and partnerships with our communities to address the disruption and trauma our students are facing. The JFC action has led school districts to halt their planning efforts, as they do not know whether the expected federal resources will be forthcoming. This is regrettable and will adversely affect Wisconsin students.”

In its most recent budget proposal, The Republican-led Joint Finance Committee did not include enough funding for schools to keep federal coronavirus relief funds.

In order to receive the additional ESSER funds, the state must spend an additional $387 million over two years.

The committee’s budget proposal increases public education funding by $128 million, about a tenth of Gov. Tony Evers’ request, but not enough to guarantee the federal dollars.

“We are at a unique time in our state’s history,” the letter said. “As we emerge from this pandemic, the federal government has made a historic investment in American schools, distributing funds based on students’ needs. These one-time investments will not only provide necessary resources, but also have a significant, positive impact on the economic and social future of our state.”

The five districts also have disproportionately high numbers of students in poverty (104,532), students whose first language is not English (23,516), students who have faced trauma and students negatively affected by health care disparities.

The letter comes following a projection from the Wisconsin Policy Forum that Wisconsin can expect a windfall in revenue collections through 2023 to the tune of $4.4 billion.

“Based on the current estimates, Wisconsin can contemplate strengthening its finances and programs as well as cutting taxes,” the nonpartisan forum wrote in its June 11 report. “As state officials do so, they may wish to consider provisions within the recent federal relief measures which prohibit using federal funds for tax cuts and which require the state to maintain certain spending levels for K-12 and higher education. Failure to do so might cause the state to forfeit billions in federal aid payments.”

State Republican leadership has gone on record saying they would like to cut taxes by up to $4 billion with the savings.

“My goal would be to figure out the largest possible tax cut that we could returning this record surplus back to the people who paid it, as opposed to growing the size of government,” Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) said in a June 8 Associated Press article.

In their letter, leaders of the five largest school districts in the state said support should be given to all Wisconsin public education students.

“The fact is that the children of Wisconsin, including students in the Big 5, can count on their public schools – just as they always have,” the letter said. “As we emerge from the pandemic, we hope we can count on the state Legislature to support all of Wisconsin’s PreK-12 public education students by providing for the important investments they need in the state budget.”

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