Wisconsin at risk of losing $2.3 billion for K-12 schools

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin is at risk of losing $2.3 billion in federal coronavirus relief money for K-12 schools, more than the $1.5 billion originally thought to be in jeopardy, based on a memo from the Legislature’s budget office released Wednesday.

The money is at risk because Republicans who control the Legislature’s budget committee have not committed enough new state money for schools to meet requirements under the federal law to qualify for the additional money.

The budget committee last month approved spending about $128 million in state dollars on education and putting aside $350 million into a fund that could be used later for education expenses or anything else. The federal coronavirus relief bill enacted by Congress in March requires the state to spend $387 million more over two years on education for Wisconsin to keep $1.5 billion in aid.

The $350 million can’t be counted as education funding until it is specifically used for that purpose, the U.S. Department of Education warned the state last month.

Three other federal aid packages make an additional $784.4 million available to the state for schools that is also tied to the minimum funding requirement, the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau told committee member Sen. Jon Erpenbach, a Democrat, in Wednesday’s memo. That puts the total amount at risk at $2.3 billion.

“Unless Republicans properly fund our schools, all 421 school districts in Wisconsin will lose out on a combined $2.3 billion,” Erpenbach said. “No more excuses, no more games. … It’s time for Republicans to do the right thing because the budget clock is ticking.”

Republican leaders have insisted they are aware of the issue and are confident that either the federal rules will change or more money will be allocated to meet the requirement.

“Just because it’s not in the budget doesn’t mean that we will not come back if schools can say, yes, we need money,” Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said on Tuesday.

The amount Republicans committed for K-12 funding was less than 10% of what Evers requested. Evers and Democrats have called for more money to go toward schools after revised projections released Tuesday showed the state is expected to collect $4.4 billion more in revenue by the middle of 2023 than previously expected.

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