Fiscal Bureau memo shows GOP “relief” bill deeply damaging to public schools

If enacted, the proposal would be the most damaging and punitive COVID response put forward by any state legislature. 

​According to a new memo from the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau, provided at the request of Senator Chris Larson, Wisconsin’s public schools would pay a hefty price for providing virtual instruction in response to regional coronavirus spikes if the punitive measures requested in a COVID “relief” package submitted as a separate Fiscal Bureau memo on Dec. 1st become law. The proposal would require districts that provided “virtual instruction for 50% of the year” “during any semester of the 2020-21 school year” to issue a check for $371 to the “parent or guardian” of every student. The package has not been introduced for consideration as a bill.

The LFB memo makes clear that the proposed COVID package would trigger a retroactive fiscal penalty* and be deeply damaging to public schools. While the authors do not know how many districts this would impact, it’s clear that affected districts would suffer greatly. Madison Metropolitan School District, with 26,219 students, would be forced to pay out $9,727,249. Milwaukee Public Schools would be forced to pay a whopping $26,965,764 to cover the 72,684 students it has protected by offering virtual instruction from the start of the 2020-2021 school year.

After months of inaction and in apparent disregard of the concerns raised before the Speaker’s Task Force on Racial Disparities, Assembly leaders have recommended a proposal that would drastically defund and have its most severe negative impacts on districts serving the majority of students of color.

The memo released by Speaker Vos contained a number of provisions that would impact schools by removing decision-making from locally elected boards, forcing educators to conduct instruction from school buildings by a set date, and mandating a 2/3 majority vote for board decisions to shift to virtual instruction.

Wisconsin’s public schools face rising costs and uncertainty as they move into 2021. There was never a time for playing politics with this crisis, and the time for leadership to support our students, schools, families and communities is now. 

What would that leadership look like?

  • Leadership is a joint letter from leaders at the state level calling on our federal partners to pass a COVID relief package robust enough to give Wisconsinites the help that they need.
  • Leadership is fully supporting the school leaders, elected boards and dedicated educators who are at the front lines of making sure the most immediate needs of our children are met.
  • Leadership is listening to these experts – who uniformly agree that the best place for our students is in our classrooms – and providing what they need to create the conditions to do that safely.
  • Leadership is wearing masks, social distancing, avoiding large gatherings, paying for rapid testing and contact tracing, putting funds in place to support our medical systems and staffs, giving them the additional support that they need as they try to protect the health and save the lives of our mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, friends and neighbors. 
  • And when it comes to reopening schools, leadership is not found in cherry-picking quotes from Dr. Fauci.
  • Leadership is doing the hard work to create all of the conditions necessary, including dramatically reducing levels of community spread, to ensure the safety of children and adults who enter our schools. 

The state must do its part in mitigating the spread of COVID-19 to expedite the safe return of all students to face-to-face instruction.

It is clear what needs to be done. Let us become the leaders that we need and do it.

*From the memo: “The item in the proposal would specify that if, during any semester of the 2020-21 school year, a school board provides more than 50% of the hours of direct pupil instruction to a pupil virtually in lieu of in-person instruction, the school board must pay $371 to the parent or guardian of the pupil.”

About the author: Wisconsin Public Education Network

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