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EDITORIAL: Republicans shouldn't risk $1.5B for Wisconsin schools
EDITORIAL: Republicans shouldn't risk $1.5B for Wisconsin schools
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EDITORIAL: Republicans shouldn't risk $1.5B for Wisconsin schools

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Wisconsin ranks near the bottom of states — 45th out of 50 — in harnessing money from Uncle Sam, according to The Pew Charitable Trusts.

As reported by, Joint Committee on Finance voted Thursday to put $128 million in state tax dollars into K-12 education, rework the federal money to reward districts that have been offering in-person instruction and end the tuition freeze in the UW System. Along with the $128 million boost in GPR, the GOP motion on K-12 would transfer $350 million to the state's budget stabilization fund that could be tapped later for education costs and other expenses. According to the Legislative Fiscal Bureau, the state would have to spend almost 35.3 percent of all GPR on K-12 in each year of the 2021-23 budget to meet the requirement for $1.5 billion under the American Rescue Plan that President Biden signed. For $686.1 million under the Consolidated Appropriations Act that President Trump signed, the state would have to meet that mark for only the 2021-22 fiscal year. The federal guidance also requires the state to maintain its current commitment to higher education funding to qualify for the K-12 money. In this segment, committee members Sen. Duey Stroebel (R-Saukville) and Sen. Jon Erpenbach (D-West Point) debate federal K-12 education funds.

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So why is the Republican-run Legislature — again — risking if not snubbing federal dollars from Washington that taxpayers here deserve, given all the money Wisconsin citizens pay the IRS?

It doesn’t make fiscal or common sense.

The Legislature’s budget committee is playing a potentially costly political game by failing to abide by federal rules for receiving an estimated $1.5 billion — with a “b” — for Wisconsin schools.

We understand that many Republican leaders in Wisconsin disagree with Democratic President Joe Biden’s priorities and enormous spending plans. America’s deepening debt, under the current and previous presidents, will burden our children and grandchildren.

But this money has already been approved to address the lost year of learning during the pandemic. So Wisconsin should graciously accept it for our students.

The U.S. Department of Education recently warned Wisconsin that the $128 million increase in state school spending approved by the Legislature’s budget committee likely isn’t enough for the state to qualify for all of the $1.5 billion in federal education funding.

Republicans on the finance committee approved a 1% increase in state aid to local schools. Democratic Gov. Tony Evers had proposed a 12% hike of $1.6 billion for K-12 education.

Add in the $1.5 billion from the federal government, and state Rep. Mark Born, R-Beaver Dam, calls the potential increase for Wisconsin schools “obscene.”

It’s certainly large and historic. But the amount of money Wisconsin has collected from the federal government in the past is low, compared to most states. So complaining about extra dollars now — especially during a pandemic — is a mistake.

Not that such Republican resistance is unusual. The GOP-led Legislature has made Wisconsin one of the few states that continues to decline billions of federal dollars to expand Medicaid. While it’s true that a lot of those federal health dollars still flow to Wisconsin as subsidies for individuals to participate in the Affordable Care Act, accepting the Medicaid money would save the state $1.6 billion over two years, according to the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau.

And let’s not forget that former GOP Gov. Scott Walker rejected more than $800 million in federal money for a high-speed train between Milwaukee and Madison a decade ago. Those dollars went to other states instead of Wisconsin. Just as bad, Wisconsin had to cover more cost for its existing passenger rail system.

Born and other Republican leaders should employ more pragmatism. The Fiscal Bureau estimates the state budget must commit $387 million more for K-12 schools — a reasonable 3% increase — to qualify for all of the $1.5 billion in federal money. The full Legislature should make sure that happens in a direct and clear way that the federal government will recognize and accept.


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