Gov. Tony Evers announced Tuesday he would direct another $90 million in federal COVID-19 relief funds to Wisconsin's K-12 schools.
Wisconsin schools have already received $2.4 billion in federal relief funds during the course of the pandemic. This latest round will include $75 million focused on helping districts staff classrooms. Another $15 million is designated for mental health services for students.
"Whether it’s making sure kids have access to mental health services, helping with increased costs of classroom and school supplies due to national inflation, or retaining and recruiting educators and staff to keep class sizes small, these investments will go toward making sure our kids have the resources and support to get caught up and be successful both in and out of the classroom," he said while announcing the plan at a back-to-school event at Leopold Elementary School in Madison.
Evers said the money could be used by schools through 2026. He said the funds amount to nearly $100 per student in the state.
"These funds we are providing to schools around the state are absolutely needed. Yes they are federal funds, I understand that, but until there is a budget we need to make sure that the people that stand behind me can do the good work," he said, referencing the teachers and district officials that joined him for the announcement.
Republicans criticized the plan as an election year gimmick.
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"To portray himself as the savior of education when Republicans have made historic investments in K-12 education for several budgets in a row is disingenuous and yet another election year ploy by Gov. Evers to try to buy votes," said Rep. Mark Born, Republican from Beaver Dam. Born is co-chair of the state Legislature's powerful Joint Finance Committee.
The Republican-led Legislature has boosted state school funding, but has combined that spending with revenue limits that have shifted that money toward property tax relief rather than sending it directly to classrooms.
Meanwhile, schools around the state are continuing to deal with fallout from the pandemic, including staffing shortages. At the event Tuesday, Madison Superintendent Carlton Jenkins said the district has about 134 vacant teaching positions one week before school begins. Including support positions, he said, there were about 400 open jobs in the district.
A spokesperson for Tim Michels, the Republican candidate for governor, reacted on Twitter to Evers' announcement. "Translation: Tony Evers once again uses federal taxpayer-funded COVID aid as a reelection slush fund to garner election year support."
Last year, Evers designated $110 million in federal pandemic funds for schools after the state budget kept revenue limits in place for schools.