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Legislative Update

JFC directs $65 million in federal funds to districts in proportion to hours of in-person instruction

by | Feb 11, 2021 | Federal Budget, Federal Issue, Legislative Update Blog, State Issue | 0 comments

In what may well be an harbinger of a potentially contentious budget struggle over public school funding, the powerful GOP-led Joint Finance Committee (JFC) yesterday voted down, along party lines, a DPI plan to equitably distribute roughly $65 million in federal Coronavirus relief funds to schools and replace it with a plan that directs the funding to districts based on the extent to which they are providing in-person instruction.

Wisconsin state statute gives the JFC authority to review and object to the distribution of federal funds by the DPI if they reflect an increase of 5 percent or more above the federal funds indicated in the Chapter 20 appropriations schedule. No vote of the full Legislature nor approval by the governor is required.  

Under the plan proposed by the DPI, $65 million of the state’s 10 percent set aside from the federal Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act (CRRSA) would have been used to establish a minimum grant amount of $395 per pupil for the 172 school districts that receive less than that amount under the allocation method specified in the CRRSA  or the minimum $100,000 per district allocation set forth in the DPI plan.

Under the motion adopted by the JFC, 33 districts would remain eligible for the minimum $100,000 per district allocation set forth in the DPI plan.  However, an eligible school district’s allocation of the remaining $65 million in federal funding will be determined based on its relative share of the in-person instructional hours in the 2020-21 school year despite the fact that expenses aided under this federal funding stream could be incurred up until September 30, 2023.  As a result, there is no minimum per pupil distribution under the motion approved by the JFC.

The amount that each eligible school district could receive will not be known until all eligible districts have reported their instructional hours after the end of the current school year.  Each eligible district must calculate its number of instructional hours by adding the number of hours each pupil attending school in the district spent in a classroom taught by an instructor in that same classroom in the 2020-21 school year.

Despite adding considerable complexity to the calculation of district’s grant amounts and the distribution process for these funds, the JFC reduced the amount allotted to the DPI for administering these funds by $479,000 from what the DPI had requested.

Congress made roughly $685 million in federal funding available to Wisconsin public schools through the CRRSA to help them deal with the additional costs related to the pandemic. Ninety percent of that funding (about $617.5 million) flows directly to schools in the form of grants, according to their share of the state’s 2019-20 Title I allocation (i.e. in proportion to their share of low-income students in 2019-20); however, under state statute, Wisconsin lawmakers who are members of the JFC have a say in deciding how to spend the remaining 10 percent (roughly 67.5 million).

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