by Benjamin Yount
Wisconsin’s state superintendent is snapping back at Republican lawmakers over $77 million in coronavirus money for schools.
Superintendent Jill Underly on Thursday wrote a defiant letter to the heads of the legislature’s budget writing panel.
“Despite numerous warnings about how the intent of parts of your motion was in direct conflict with the language of the American Rescue Plan Act – including from the United States Department of Education – you forced DPI and our schools into a game of high-stakes chicken. And you lost,” Underly wrote.
The $77 million is part of $1.5 billion in coronavirus stimulus money that lawmakers sent to schools in the new state budget.
Sen. Howard Marklein, R-Spring Green, and Rep. Mark Born, R-Beaver Dam, who head the state’s powerful budget writing Joint Finance Committee wanted to send the $77 million as a reward to schools that stayed open during last year’s school closures.
Underly said sending money to schools which stayed open violates the intent of the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief program.
“The law stated that we needed a plan to meet the needs of the students who lost the most learning during COVID. Anyone paying attention to the needs of the education sector will tell you that the kids who do not have access to the best teachers, the best facilities, the best technology, mental health supports, the enrichment programs, and the after-school programs are the ones that lost the most,” Underly scolded the lawmakers in her letter. “Your plan did not address this.”
Underly’s letter is in response to a letter from Marklein and Born asking her for a plan to spend the money after they say she and the U.S. Department of Education colluded to keep the money from schools that were open for at least half of the school year last year.
“Rather than reward the school districts that worked hard to return kids to the classroom, the DOE and DPI [Department of Education and Department of Public Instruction] are intent on sending these dollars to school districts that kept kids out of the classroom,” the two wrote. “Our legislative intent for this funding is to reward the districts that spent the time and resources to put our kids first and get them back in the classroom.”
Underly fired back that she is waiting for lawmakers to devise a plan of their own that she finds acceptable.
“I am committed to working with you to get the remaining dollars into the hands of our schools so they can support our learners,” Underly wrote at the end of her letter. “I believe there is plenty of room for compromise, but the political nonsense needs to stop. We have ideas, it’s just a matter of if you are willing to work with us, and if you are willing to follow the law.”
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