MADISON — The same urban school district’s that have resisted returning to in-person learning will receive the brunt of the hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funding to help schools safely reopen.
Seems to be a theme here.
Mike Thompson, deputy State Superintendent for the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction recently noted that 90 percent of the approximately $775 million it has received in federal COVID relief funding to date is required to be given out under the federal Title I formula, which is a poverty and population funding system.
“States do not have the authority to condition the federal formula and must allocate at least ninety percent of the funds according to this formula,” the bureaucrat wrote in a recent response to U.S. Rep. Bryan Steil, who wants to know why it’s taking DPI so long to distribute the funds.
So Madison public schools, where teachers recently were caught organizing a “sick-out” to protest the re-opening of schools receive a much larger share of the taxpayer-funded windfall than schools that have for months been safely operating in-person education.
Milwaukee Public Schools, whose teachers union has effectively labeled administrators murders for daring to begin a slow, phased-in reopening, will get a massive chunk of the money.
The same goes for COVID-19 vaccinations to teachers.
At a recent COVID-19 media briefing, DHS Deputy Secretary Julie Willems Van Dijk said the agency will rank Wisconsin’s 400-plus school districts based on the percentage of students eligible for free and reduced school lunch and the percentage of students of color.
“We know these are populations of students who they and their families have been disproportionately affected by this pandemic,” Van Dijk said. “So we feel it’s important that we get vaccine to their school districts early on. And, again, very quickly we will follow through all of the school school districts.”
The health bureaucrat said it’s a mistake to assume that teachers in urban areas will automatically be first in line, that there are many rural school districts that have high rates of poverty. Child poverty rates are highest in Wisconsin’s urban districts. Nearly 40 percent of Milwaukee Public Schools students are living below the poverty level.
But what does the rate of poverty in a district have to do with fairly distributing the COVID-19 vaccine to teachers? Why are poverty rates almost exclusively used to determine what schools get federal funding to make their campuses safe from COVID-19.
In its response to Steil’s letter, Thompson said DPI wasn’t delaying the release of funds to schools, even though it had sent out less than half of the $158 million in the first round of federal funds released last spring.
Thompson said Wisconsin has until Sept. 30, 2022 to spend the first $158 million. The Consolidated Appropriations Act, enacted in late December, gives Wisconsin through Sept. 30, 2023 to spend an additional $617 million.
He notes the grant process takes time. But Steil said DPI’s lack of urgency is concerning.
The congressman admits that the COVID relief provisions gave “way too much flexibility to states to spend money over time.” The same goes for the latest $1.9 trillion Democrat-led COVID relief bill, the vast majority of which has little or nothing to do with combatting the pandemic.
“We’re seeing time and again Democrats using the pandemic as a means of driving broad spending directives as opposed to solving the problem at hand, and that’s what we see at DPI,” the congressman said.
The agency is receiving federal taxpayer money to help schools reopen safely and quickly. While taking 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 years may be consistent with federal law, Steil said it certainly isn’t the spirit of the law.
“There are students that have been out for one full year. That should be concerning to every single person in our state,” he add