During its final meeting on the budget, the Joint Finance Committee voted to increase general state aid for K-12 schools by $650 million. As a result of this action, the state will fulfill the federal government’s “maintenance of effort” requirement for the $1.5 billion windfall that Wisconsin K-12 schools are set to receive through the most recent COVID-19 spending bill (the American Rescue Plan Act). Absent a veto from Gov. Evers, the state will cover over two-thirds of K-12 funding during the second year of the budget. Two-thirds state funding for K-12 education has been one of the oft-repeated goals of Gov. Evers.
Across the three federal COVID-19 spending bills (the CARES Act, the Consolidated Appropriations Act and the American Rescue Plan Act), $2.6 billion will be provided to K-12 schools. The lion’s share of these funds ($2.4 billion) were allocated through the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER funds).
Congress directed 90% of the ESSER funds be distributed through a formula based on the number of low-income students residing in each school district. As a result, MPS will be by far the largest beneficiary of the infusion of federal dollars. Per the non-partisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau, MPS is estimated to receive 38% of these funds, or $797 million. This amounts to an increase of $11,242 per student, which comes in addition to the $15,844 MPS already spends per student. Put another way, the federal funds alone amount to 79% of the $1 billion operations budget approved by the MPS School Board for the 2020-21 school year.
Some in the public school lobby have been quick to characterize the federal COVID-19 funds as “one-time” money that should be given no consideration in the Legislature’s deliberations on the next state budget. However, Congress authorized the third round of funding ($1.5 billion through ARPA) to be spent through September 30, 2024. Moreover, the authorized uses of these funds are very broad.
The MPS School Board is in no position to complain about a lack of taxpayer funding for K-12 education. The sum of these federal funds makes the $87 million property tax increase through 2023 that MPS secured via referendum last year look “paltry.”
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