The CARES law allocates funds to schools. Who gets it, and how?
Over $ 321,000 to print educational materials and emergency booklets; $ 142,000 for hand sanitizer; nearly $ 28,000 for Wi-Fi access points; a $ 2 million contract for disposable masks in child and adult sizes; a $ 1.2 million contract for even more hotspots.
These are just some of the first charges Milwaukee Public Schools have embarked on efforts to keep children and employees and students safe amid a global pandemic.
“We obviously have higher costs than usual because we are doing very unusual things in the interests of safety,” Chris Thiel, MPS legislative policy officer, told school board members at the meeting. a meeting in July.
Numbers vary from district to district and in non-district schools across the state, but overall, COVID-19 is proving to be costly for Wisconsin schools, even before most have been able to. welcome the students back to their buildings. To help pay for these costs at a time when their usual sources of revenue may be threatened, schools are relying on billions of dollars in federal relief funds – although schools will get what is a matter of dispute.
Relief funding sparks debate: How much should private schools receive?
When Congress passed the coronavirus relief program known as the CARES Act in March, it set aside two rounds of federal funding for schools to be distributed by each state.
The Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund, or ESSER, includes $ 158 million for Wisconsin’s 421 school districts and 21 charter schools, and is to be distributed by the Department of Education. The minimum payout, attributed to 69 schools or districts, was $ 40,000, while Milwaukee’s public schools marked the top of the spectrum, at nearly $ 56 million – although around $ 15 million was earmarked for schools. private areas of the city.
There are been a dispute between the Department of Education, states, and public and private schools on the share of CARES law funds that should go to private schools, as the Department of Education used a different structure than the usual title formula I, which is based on the number low income students are served. A trial on the amount of money that should be shared with these schools is still ongoing.
Private schools would get about $ 4 million more in ESSER funds with the new structure than they would with the Title I formula, but Dan Rossmiller, legislative director of the Wisconsin Association of School Boards, said he It was more about the principle of getting more money from low-income children.
“(Ultimately) public and private schools have cooperated in the past on how this money is used, they will have to cooperate in the future on how Title I funds are used, and the dispute over the CARES law has created a hook, ”he said.“ This will be resolved one way or another, but it is unfortunate that this has delayed the release of funds and it is unfortunate that this, to some respect, has fueled tensions between public and private schools that do not necessarily need to exist. “
Meanwhile, groups such as the conservative Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty argue, like the Department of Education, that funds should go to schools – including private and charter schools – based on their total student population. , and not just the number of students eligible for Title I Assistance.
“We believe that since this crisis has affected schools in all sectors, whether you are a private school, a public school, a charter school, this money should be fairly distributed”, Will Flanders, research director of the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Freedoms, said “The Morning Show” Friday.
The CARES Act offers other sources of relief funding
The second federal allocation is the Governor’s Emergency Education Assistance Fund, which consists of approximately $ 46.6 million to be distributed to schools identified as having the greatest need. Potential recipients were chosen based on their economic disadvantage, access to technology, and scores on the English Language Arts Assessment. The governor announced last week that 152 districts and charter schools, as well as the state’s three tribal districts, would be eligible for the dollars.
Above, a map highlights the school districts that will receive GEER funding. Source: Office of the Governor
Separately, the CARES Act has also set aside an additional $ 8.8 billion for child nutrition programs, and temporarily removed some requirements to make them more flexible. This has helped schools scramble to provide children with the meals they would usually receive at school under the free and discounted lunch program.
Private and charter schools, on the other hand, have access to other funding from the CARES Act that is not available to public school districts. Based on a WPR analysis, at least 114 primary or secondary schools has received loans of at least $ 150,000 from the Paycheck Protection Program, a loan program to incent small businesses to keep workers on the payroll that can be forgiven if retention criteria are met.
The federal government only released the names of companies receiving more than $ 150,000, and only provided a range for how much those companies were awarded, not the exact amount, so it’s hard to know the total amount. PPP funding that was channeled to schools. . The PPP-winning schools whose names were released included 92 private religious schools, 13 unaffiliated private schools, and nine charter schools.
Seven of the schools received the maximum amount, between $ 2 million and $ 5 million, of which Catholic Schools of Seton in the Milwaukee area and Catholic Education in the Green Bay area. 14 others received between 1 and 2 million dollars, of which Regis Catholic Schools in Eau Claire and The Prairie School at the peak of the wind. The vast majority got less than a million dollars. Some other school-related programs, including school bus companies and a program to bring archery to schools, have also received P3 loans, as have many preschool and childcare providers. , some of which run 4K programs and kindergartens.
Analysis of the data does not take into account schools in Wisconsin that may have applied using an out-of-state address – for example, educational institutions operating in multiple states.
Communities and non-profit organizations participate
Schools and districts, both public and private, also received community donations that helped offset cleanup costs and structural changes. Milwaukee Public Schools, for example, obtained several grants to install water bottle filling stations, which many schools strive to install in place of bubblers to keep children hydrated without spreading germs.
There are also more formal grant programs, like the City Forward Collective initiative to help Milwaukee schools develop COVID-conscious reopening plans. The education nonprofit has awarded 14 schools grants ranging from $ 15,000 to $ 30,000 to help develop virtual, in-person and hybrid return plans. All of the winners were private or charter schools, which Isral DeBruin, communications director of City Forward Collective says, is due to the nature of the grants: they were for schools developing their own independent plans, while MPS schools all follow a district plan. .
He said across the board, however, what City Forward has heard from schools is that they need the money faster and without too many strings attached.
“The grant money could be used to buy thermometers. It could be used to buy Chromebooks. It could be used to provide allowances to teachers for summer school,” he said. “What we heard from principals is that they need flexible and unlimited dollars to meet a variety of needs right now, because in many cases the additional funding that we hope and expect state and federal government is slow. coming. “
Meanwhile, school districts in Wisconsin and the country are bracing for a second wave of financial stress – this one is not on the cost and expense side, but on the income side.
The COVID-19 pandemic has hit state budgets hard, although its impact remains to be seen. And since most of the state budget is the unlikely funding of the school will come out unscathed. School districts may also lose the funding they typically get from property taxes, given the likelihood that some families will not be able to pay their tax bills this year.
There are, as always, other grants and funding opportunities. The Rural technology project, from the US Department of Education, is offering challenge grants of $ 600,000 to schools and local education agencies to advance technology education in high schools.
Additional federal funding is also in the works, as Congress considers a second major relief bill to follow the CARES Act. Thiel, of MPS, said he expects it to be at least a few weeks away, as the House of Representatives and Senate continue to work on separate bills that will need to be reconciled. The Senate is also looking to tie funds to reopening schools with in-person classes.
“Given the extraordinary operating costs right now, federal funds to date have not been sufficient to fill the gap that we are seeing,” Thiel told the board, “and at least in the package du Senate, there isn’t sufficient funds coming into the states that will bolster the state budget – and we obviously depend on the good health of those budgets to fund K-12 public education. “