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Legislative Update-Part Two: A look at the political landscape in 2022

(Note: This is the second of three blog posts detailing information that was provided by the WASB Government Relations team to in-person attendees at the Legislative Update presentation during the State Education Convention last Friday.)

Election Preview
Sen. Ron Johnson’s anticipated announcement that he will seek reelection to his Senate seat means that on the Republican side the openings available for statewide candidates are in the race for governor. 

              • Former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch is already in the race on the GOP side.  Last week, she picked up a key endorsement from Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester).
              • Former U.S. Marine and consulting business owner Kevin Nicholson is expected to announce shortly that he is running for governor on the GOP side. 
              • Former Republican Governor Tommy Thompson raised some eyebrows when he indicated he hasn’t ruled out running for governor after he steps down from his current positions as UW System interim President.

            We’re also seeing the beginnings of the candidate’s campaign platform’s take shape.


Legislative Update-Part One: DPI submits new proposed plan for distribution of remaining ESSER III funds.

(Note: This is the first of three blog posts detailing information that was provided by the WASB Government Relations team to in-person attendees at the Legislative Update presentation during the State Education Convention last Friday.)

During our WASB Legislative Update webinar on January 12, the GR team said we hoped to be able to provide a progress report on negotiations between the DPI and the members of the Joint Finance Committee (JFC) aimed at reconciling differences over the distribution of a portion of the federal COVID relief funds for public schools (“ESSER III” funds) provided to the state under the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA).

We have some good news report.  Last week, the DPI submitted a new plan to the Joint Finance Committee (JFC) for the distribution of about $114 million in federal (ESSER III) COVID relief funds that have been held up for many months.  The DPI’s latest proposal has been submitted to the Joint Finance Committee for and has been made public, which suggests that an agreement may be close. The JFC has 14 calendar days to either meet to approve or modify and approve the plan, or not meet, in which case the State Superintendent would implement the plan as submitted. The Committee has until Wednesday, February 2, 2022 to meet and act on this plan. (more…)

Federal agencies announce temporary CDL flexibility to address school bus driver shortage

From a U.S. Dept. of Education release: “Today, the U.S. Department of Transportation announced, in coordination with the U.S. Department of Education (Department), that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is giving states the option of waiving the portion of the commercial driver’s license (CDL) skills test that requires applicants to identify the “under the hood” engine components. All other components of the written and road test will remain.

“This announcement aims to alleviate some of the labor shortage challenges schools are facing and is one of many resources the Department continues to provide to safely keep schools open for full-time, in-person learning.”

Feds approve release of 95% of Wisconsin’s ARPA K-12 COVID relief allocation

The U.S. Department of Education (USED) today announced it has approved the release of 95 percent (nearly $1.4 billion) of Wisconsin’s ESSER III funding allocation to school districts. ESSER III funding was provided under the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) enacted by Congress in March 2021.

However, in its approval letter, the USED disallowed the portion of  Wisconsin’s plan that allocated 5 percent (about $77 million) of the funding under conditions imposed by the Wisconsin legislature’s Republican-controlled Joint Finance Committee (JFC) that rewarded districts that held predominately in-person instruction. (more…)

IDEA Full Funding Act reintroduced in Congress

Special education is the largest, single unfunded mandate placed on Wisconsin schools and the continual underfunding of special education costs is a vexing problem for Wisconsin school boards.  However, relief may be on the way.

Federal legislation known as the IDEA Full Funding Act was reintroduced on Nov. 16.  The bill reflects an effort to finally ensure Congress fully meets its longstanding commitment to fund special education services required under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The bipartisan and bicameral support for the bill–i.e., support from members of both parties in both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives–is raising hopes for its passage. (more…)

U.S. Ed. Dept. publishes new FAQs on use of ESSER and GEER funds for student transportation

The U.S. Department of Education recently published a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) document that provides information and answers questions about the allowable uses of Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Fund and Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEER) Funds by state education agencies (SEAs), such as the DPI, and local education agencies (LEAs), such school districts, for transportation.

The FAQ document includes information on the uses of these funds to “address the current regional and national challenges with hiring and retaining a sufficient number of school bus drivers.”  The new FAQs are intended to supplement the transportation-related questions included in the earlier ESSER and GEER Use of Funds Guidance published in May of this year.