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On the opening day of school, Republicans deride Evers’ pitch for more education funds as a ‘feeble ploy’

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Rory Linnane
 

| Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Gov. Tony Evers, speaking at a Milwaukee school nine weeks before he is up for election, announced a $2 billion education plan Tuesday with a focus on literacy, mental health and staff shortages in K-12 schools. 

To push the plan through, Evers would need to keep his seat in November and gain the support of state lawmakers in the budget process next year. 

Evers announced the plan alongside state Superintendent Jill Underly at the Academy of Accelerated Learning on the city’s southwest side, where they helped welcome students on the first day for many Milwaukee Public Schools.

The district has reported hundreds of staff vacancies.  

“After a tough past few years, we know our kids, families and schools need our help now more than ever to get caught up, to get more educators and staff into your classrooms, and ensure every kid has the support they need,” Evers said. 

Evers said his plan for the 2023-25 budget would draw on the state’s projected $5 billion budget surplus while “holding the line” on property taxes. 

Evers’ opponent in the November election, Tim Michels, called Evers’ plan “more money and more bureaucracy.” 

“The tired, old Evers approach has not worked,” Michels said in a statement. 

Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos also quickly derided Evers’ proposal, taking to Twitter to call the plan a “feeble ploy to try to win votes.”

Republican lawmakers rewrote much of Evers’ proposed 2021-23 state budget, nixing his plan to increase the caps on how much school districts are allowed to spend each year. School district leaders have argued they cannot keep up with inflation with flat spending limits. 

What’s included in Evers’ proposal

The biggest chunk of state funding, $800 million, would allow schools to spend $350 more per student in the 2023-24 school year and $650 more the following year. 

The plan would also invest $750 million to increase how much the state reimburses school districts for special education costs, from about 30% to about 45% in the first year, and 60% the next year. 

The plan also includes: 

Looking to fill vacant teacher positions across the state, Evers said also proposed a legislative change to make it easier for school districts to rehire retired staff. 

Underly will submit a full budget proposal for the Department of Public Instruction later this month. The winner of November’s gubernatorial election will then put together a full state budget proposal early next year to be considered by state lawmakers. 

MPS enrollment still lower, vacancies persist 

While some MPS students had already started school Aug. 15, the remaining students returned Tuesday. 

Enrollment seemed to be stabilizing, though not recovering from major drops during the pandemic. The district was projecting enrollment of 67,710 students for this school year as of last week. District officials did not provide new numbers Tuesday. 

In October last year, MPS reported 66,977 students — nearly 4,000 students less than the same count the previous year, and about 6,300 less than before the pandemic in September 2019. 

Still, the district is working to fill hundreds of vacant staff positions. As of Aug. 15, MPS told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel it had 4,158 teachers and 272 vacant teacher positions.

The district didn’t provide updated numbers Tuesday and a district spokesperson directed media not to ask questions about staffing at their news conference.  

The district website showed 470 results for full-time job openings, including 254 openings for teachers. 

MPS School Board President Bob Peterson said Evers’ plan was essential to help the district stabilize its staffing levels and meet the needs of students. He said he had fielded calls from retired teachers who want to teach more but have reached their legislative limit on how many hours they can teach. 

“My hope is that the Legislature can move on that quickly,” Peterson said. 

Masks optional as MPS reopens

Masks have been optional since Aug. 19, when the CDC changed Milwaukee County’s COVID rating from “high” to “medium” based on the number of cases and hospitalization usage. 

Masks were still required when most high school students started the school year Aug. 15. The policy is reevaluated every Thursday night based on the CDC rating, and masks could be required again if the county reports more than 200 cases per 100,000 residents in a week, or rising hospitalizations.  

As of last Thursday, Milwaukee County reported 184 known COVID cases and 13 hospital admissions for COVID per 100,000 residents in the prior week. COVID patients composed about 4% of staffed inpatient beds in the county, the data showed

Cases reported by MPS students and staff so far this school year are similar to the last school year.

After the first full week of school for students who started Aug. 15 this year, MPS reported 57 students and 44 staff tested positive. The following week, it was 70 students and 70 staff. 

Less than a third of school-age children in the city of Milwaukee have been fully vaccinated with booster shots, according to data shared by the Milwaukee Health Department Tuesday. 

Unlike last school year, Posley said he does not plan to close school buildings based on COVID cases, though staff shortages from quarantines could cause temporary closures and transitions to virtual learning.

Contact Rory Linnane at rory.linnane@jrn.com. Follow her on Twitter at @RoryLinnane

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This content was originally published here.

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