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The three federal stimulus packages passed since the start of the coronavirus have allocated about $2.4 billion for Wisconsin schools
For the most part, under federal rules, the money will be allocated to districts based on an existing formula centered on the number of low-income students.
But 10% of the money is distributed at the discretion of the state.
Republican lawmakers have moved to distribute it based on the number of in-person hours of instruction for the 2020-2021 school year at the request of state lawmakers
As public school students in Milwaukee and Madison return to the classroom for the first time in more than a year, administrators across the state are still trying to figure out how to spend federal stimulus money earmarked for schools.
How the money is allotted to schools across the state has become a hot topic -- especially among Republicans, who think more money should be given to schools that were quick to return to an in-person teaching model last fall.
U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin took to Twitter to criticize what he called a "shotgun approach" for directing stimulus money to schools.
"No distinctions are being made between Wisconsin schools that remained closed to in-person learning, and those that have been re-opened for months," he tweeted April 8, 2021.
So Johnson claims Wisconsin didn’t allocate more money to schools that were already back in person over those still choosing to make use of virtual schools.
Is it true?
Johnson’s office did not return multiple requests for more information. But Johnson did include a link to a news report in the tweet, so we have some additional context.
The link was to an April 7, 2021 story from the Wisconsin State Journal about the $2.4 billion in federal stimulus aid allocated to the state under the three stimulus plans passed since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020.
Let’s look deeper at the story, and the issue as a whole.
The story notes that 90 percent of the money is being allocated to schools based on the number of low-income students in each district. In that sense, Johnson has a point -- the formula is not based on how much time schools spent in the classroom, or in remote learning.
But the state does not have discretion in how to split up that money. How it is spent is governed by the federal stimulus measures that passed, two under Republican Donald Trump and one under Democrat Joe Biden.
Chris Bucher, communications specialist for the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, said that portion of the funding was allocated using the Title I formula, which takes into account the percentage of children from low-income families, based on Census data.
States were only given discretion on how to distribute the remaining 10 percent, which amounts to about $65.5 million in Wisconsin.
And that is where Johnson’s claim is off.
The state Department of Public Instruction developed a plan for the funding, which went to the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee for approval. That committee, like the Legislature, is controlled by Republicans. Gov. Tony Evers could veto the spending decision, but the committee could still override his veto.
For its part, the finance committee added a component to the DPI plan that requires the total number of in-person instructional hours provided during the 2020-21 school year be taken into account when the money is distributed. That would favor districts that went back in person early over others that didn’t, such as Milwaukee Public Schools and Madison Metropolitan School District.
District-by-district allocations for the in-person schooling-based funding have not yet been decided, according to an April 5, 2021 summary from the Legislative Fiscal Bureau.
To comply with the new formula, the department is planning to collect data on the number of in-person days of school at the end of the school year, Bucher said.
Johnson claimed that when distributing federal money, "No distinctions are being made between Wisconsin schools that remain closed to in-person learning, and those that have been re-opened for months."
But lawmakers in Wisconsin did put some restrictions on money sent to school districts based on how many days of in-person schooling took place during the 2020-21 school year. Federal funds, however, were not distributed in that way.
We rate Johnson’s claim Mostly False.
Twitter, Ron Johnson, April 8, 2021
Wisconsin State Journal, "Wisconsin school districts set to receive at least $2.2 billion in federal stimulus aid," April 7, 2021
Email conversation with Chris Bucher, communications specialist for the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, April 16, 2021
Legislative Fiscal Bureau, "Federal funding received for school districts under federal coronavirus aid," April 5, 2021
AP, "Wisconsin GOP shifts federal aid to in-person schools," Feb. 10, 2021
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