November 16, 2021 | By MacIver Staff
Policy Issues
Education Healthcare

Milwaukee Public Schools Approves Spending Plan For $500 Million In Federal COVID Aid

Despite new data which reveals that less than 7% of Milwaukee Public School students are proficient in Math or English Language Arts, the district is proposing to spend millions of the federal COVID aid on new sports complexes and a teacher retreat.

The MPS School Board recently unveiled their proposed spending plan for the third phase of federal COVID aid. Wisconsin Schools have received three rounds of federal COVID-19 aid over the past year and a half through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES), Consolidated Appropriations Act (CAA), and American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). To date, Wisconsin schools have received $3.669 billion from federal taxpayers for COVID relief and to prevent learning loss.

Milwaukee Public Schools, in just over a year and a half, have received approximately $770 million in federal COVID aid. To give this number context, the 2020-2021 adopted budget, a one-year budget for MPS schools, is $1.3 billion. Of this $1.3 billion in revenue, roughly 60% of it comes from state taxpayers while local property taxpayers pay for roughly 30% of the cost of their local school system. The $770 million in federal COVID aid MPS has received is 60% of the MPS yearly budget.

Through the ARPA funding, MPS received $504 million, with 20% of that funding needing to go towards “mitigating learning loss.” It must be noted that the qualifications for this 20% requirement are vague, and give the schools a lot of leeway for how they define “mitigating learning loss.” In its revised draft, the district highlights items that it qualifies as mitigating learning loss, including a new visual arts support teacher and mentor and a school retreat for staff.

The first thing that comes to mind when perusing MPS’ original draft COVID spending plan is that even though the amount of federal aid is unprecedented and massive, their original spending plan was $268 million more than the amount of available federal aid. Additionally, many of the proposed spending items were long-term spending commitments even though the federal COVID aid is one-time money. There were no less than forty new permanent employees in the draft plan with no explanation of how the district will pay for all those new employees once the federal COVID aid runs out.

This fiscally irresponsible budgeting at MPS will likely have an impact on state taxpayers because the MPS school board and their advocates will demand that the rest of us pay more in taxes to make up for one-time federal funding.

There are also many items in the proposed spending plan that seem to be traditional and routine spending for a school district – not spending that is critical to combat a pandemic or spending needed to make up for learning loss that occurred from countless hours of Zoom instruction and self-isolation. Does $23 million for “purchase and renewal of current subscriptions for student applications” have anything to do with COVID-19? Presumably, this is not a new expense for Milwaukee Public Schools. Why then, are one-time COVID funds being used on this?

Finally, and most importantly, this proposed spending plan disproves the argument that many on the left have made that federal COVID aid can only be used for very specific and limited purposes. The Milwaukee Public Schools’ ESSER3 budget is being spent on items far beyond catching students up from the lost year of learning or sanitization in schools. The original draft spending plan includes $4 million for a teacher retreat, $30 million for a state-of-the-art sports complex, and $50 million for additional after-school transportation.

At the state level, Governor Evers and many Democrats criticized Republicans for bookmarking this COVID aid for general school aids during the budget.

This fiscally irresponsible budgeting at MPS will likely have an impact on state taxpayers because the MPS school board and their advocates will demand that the rest of us pay more in taxes to make up for one-time federal funding.

This proposed budget shows that either MPS is misusing their funds, or the money isn’t as restricted as we’ve been told. In her 2021 State of Education Address, State Superintendent Jill Underly said “Make no mistake, the one-time federal money for COVID-19 relief is not enough. It comes with significant strings attached and comes nowhere close to meeting the ongoing needs of our students, educators, or communities.”

Underly continued saying, “What’s worse, when presented with an unprecedented windfall that could have meant game-changing, long-term, sustainable improvements to public education, the legislature’s short-sightedness instead put our schools on a path to a fiscal cliff and more hurtful, harmful choices in the years ahead.”

How is a proposed $4 million for a teacher retreat game-changing, long-term improvement? If Underly was sincere, genuinely cared about our children’s education, and was not just a shill for the teachers’ union, she would call out and criticize this wasteful spending by MPS.

Back when the 2021-2023 Wisconsin State budget was being debated, the Wisconsin Education Association Council — one of the largest teachers’ unions in the state — released a statement saying, “Republican leaders have vowed zero increases in general aid for schools, and instead to supplant school funding in the 2021-23 state budget with federal money intended for pandemic-related relief, even though the federal money is not intended for general school operations.”

When MPS’ proposed spending plan was amended, the updated amount did reflect the total ESSER3 budget of $504 million, with roughly $126 million going to “mitigate learning loss.” This budget with its approved amendments was passed by the MPS School Board on October 14, 2021.

Below is a list of noteworthy proposals from the original (not amended) ESSER3 plan:

Page Five

  • Hiring of additional library media specialists, $1,013,576

Page Six

  • Contract for the virtual program with Edgenuity, hiring of LTE guidance counselors, mentors, and administrative assistant to provide support to the students and program, $7,955,328

Page Seven

  • 1FTE counselor to support students in the Milwaukee Virtual Education Program (program students into proper courses, monitor progress, etc.), $304,073
  • Evaluator to assist with the evaluation of ESSER projects, $600,000

Page Ten

  • Two LTE professional development specialists will develop and monitor internal, external, and online professional learning requirement. In addition, teachers and leaders will receive culturally responsive professional development, $739,200
  • 1 FTE visual arts support teacher and mentor, $304,704

Page Eleven

  • School retreat for teachers, paraprofessionals, and support staff, $4,147,200

Page Thirteen

  • Educators will receive professional development and support to implement classroom-wide social emotional learning (SEL) programming and practices. Professional development provided to the VPP staff in non-academic coaching, $515,000

Page Fifteen

  • Maintaining MPS registered nurses (5). Expansion of nursing contracts to more vendors, aggressive hiring. Additional support in following-up with MPS staff having close contact, symptoms, and positive cases related to COVID-19, $2,809,873

Page Sixteen

  • Communications, marketing materials, and contracts, $624,240

Page Seventeen

  • Design services and remodel of building for centralized nutrition professional development center, including testing kitchen, educational spaces, and administration, $4,610,575

Page Eighteen

  • Maintain department for women and LGBTQIA+ students, Hire 1.00 FTE director, 1.00 FTE coordinator, 1.00 FTE planning assistant, $1,321,020
  • Provision of professional development to teachers and youth providers in SEL skills using physical activity, $500,000

Page Nineteen

  • Restorative practices personnel — five FTE personnel maintained to support schools with growing restorative practices, $998,400
  • Evaluator to assist with the evaluation of ESSER projects, $600,000

Page Twenty-One

  • Energy project specialist to assist with green infrastructure projects and energy conservation for the district, $460,800
  • Drinking fountains replacement with water bottle filling stations at every school, $5,500,000
  • Temperature control modifications, outdoor classrooms, windows and doors, and carpet replacement, and air purifier filters, $76,570,000

Page Twenty-Two

  • Remodeling/additions at various schools, $100,000,000
  • Evaluator to assist with the evaluation of ESSER projects, $150,000

Page Twenty-Four

  • IT Service Technicians (6 FTE) will provide technical support to schools for the maintenance of technology equipment and services to include the repair and imaging of technology equipment, $1,520,640

Page Twenty-Five

  • Purchase and renewal of current subscriptions for student applications, $23,018,342

Page Twenty-Seven

  • Twelve FTE digital learning coaches, $3,870,720
  • One FTE instructional technology supervisor. Project manager for ESSER 3 technology implementation, $1,290,240

Page Twenty-Eight

  • Evaluator to assist with the evaluation of ESSER projects, $150,000

Page Twenty-Nine

  • Building state-of-the-art Sports Performance and Media Academy complex at Wick Field, $30,000,000
  • Renovation of fieldhouses at South Division, North Division, and Vincent High Schools; Upgrade of pools to competition quality at South, North, Vincent, Riverside, and Washington; Addition of practice field lights at Marshall, Pulaski, Vincent, King, Washington, Hamilton; Upgrade of locker rooms, including school branding, in all City Conference gyms (not including contracted schools), $18,200,000

Page Thirty

  • Upgrade of tennis courts at all MPS City Conference schools and youth sports sites including Hamilton, Vincent, MSL, King, North Division, Riverside (does not include contracted schools); bleacher replacement at all City Conference schools except Audubon, Reagan, Juneau, King, Pulaski, and contracted schools; addition of bleachers, lights, storage, and additional module restroom facility and water line access to Vincent stadium; and replacement of sound system at each high school gym, $14,500,000

Page Thirty-One

  • Hiring of recreation project coordinator LTE to support the overall ESSER program to ensure that all programmatic and reporting requirements are completed, $264,950
  • Evaluator to assist with the evaluation of ESSER projects, $600,000

Page Thirty-Five

  • After-school transportation (four activity buses per night per school), $50,560,000

Page Thirty-Six

  • ESSER Grant Specialist will coordinate between all ESSER committees to ensure implementation and fiscal activates are completed with fidelity, $484,665
  • ESSER Budget Analyst will monitor expenditures, assist the ESSER committees to financial stability and integrity, $438,579

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