Blue Ribbon Birthday: No Gift for Kids

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After four years of inaction on common-sense recommendations, Wisconsin lawmakers are failing our kids. We tracked education legislation all year.  Wisconsin legislators failed to meet kids’ needs and played political games instead.

Four years ago today, Speaker Vos formed a bipartisan Blue Ribbon Commission on School Funding to outline the urgent funding needs of Wisconsin public schools. This highly qualified group of legislators and education experts began their work with a study of a then just-published “No Time to Lose” report from  the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Four years have been lost, while Wisconsin’s children get older and continue to attend inadequately and inequitably resourced schools.

Four years have been lost since the commission heard testimony from parents, educators and experts around the state on the urgency of fixing Wisconsin’s funding formula and delivering the resources necessary to allow every student in every public school to thrive.

Four years after there was “no time to lose,” our state has failed yet again to deliver on those needs. In 2021, Wisconsin had a unique opportunity to invest a historic surplus into public schools, raise revenue limits so new resources would actually reach classrooms, invest in special education, English language learning, mental health supports, resources for students in poverty, and other recommendations from that bipartisan commission.

We tracked the legislature’s education votes this year at, and we invite all who care about public schools to find their legislators, check the actions they took this year, and hold them accountable for those actions.

Instead of these necessary and overdue investments, we saw a state budget providing $0 in revenue limit increases, an increase in public taxpayer dollars spent on private education, and a failure to introduce legislation that would close Wisconsin’s unacceptable and widening gaps. Instead, the legislature rushed through a slew of distracting and unproductive bills. Even more outrageously, many legislators sought to punish public schools for teaching the truth, implementing COVID-19 safety measures, affirming transgender students’ safety, and more. Forty-three of our legislators signed a letter asking the federal government not to deliver pandemic aid to public schools, only to later suggest that the same federal aid be used as a substitute for reliable state funding.

To add further injury to these insults, the powerful Joint Finance Committee played politics with federal funds earmarked for COVID-19 relief by rejecting the DPI’s plan to spending that money, and putting forward their own that was not compliant with the federal guidelines by tying the 10% of the aid not designated to the highest-need districts to in-person learning.

The legislature passed a budget that pretended districts could use this one-time, COVID-earmarked federal funding as substitute for state aid, then put that aid at risk and jeopardized $77 million of it with these partisan shenanigans.

And today, on the four year anniversary of the Blue Ribbon Commission on School Funding, the DPI has announced that the federal government has approved only 95% of Wisconsin’s plan for distribution of ESSER III funds, but 5% of the funding—$77 million—is in limbo because it was tied to a requirement that violated the intent of the funding. We call on members of the Joint Finance Committee to right this wrong immediately and produce a plan that is compliant and gets desperately needed resources to all of our students.

Through the unprecedented challenges of a global pandemic, economic uncertainty, and political volatility, students in Wisconsin public schools need leadership and support more than ever. We track the votes, we follow the legislation, and public school champions across Wisconsin expect better from our leaders in the new year. The legislature has failed to meet our nonpartisan expectations and failed to adequately support Wisconsin kids.

If you share our outrage over this, we ask you to join us in making 2022 the year we finally hold our leaders accountable for delivering what our public schools so desperately need. We’ll be holding a Blue Ribbon Birthday Bash on Jan. 14, 2022 and we invite you to join us to learn more about how you can demand the change our children deserve and hold lawmakers accountable for delivering it.


Wisconsin Public Education Network is a nonpartisan grassroots coalition supporting strong public schools that provide equal opportunity for all students to thrive. The Network is a project of the Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools (WAES), a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. Contributions may be made online or sent to: 5329 Fayette Drive, Madison, WI 53713.

About the author: Wisconsin Public Education Network

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