The following article featuring Quinton Klabon originally ran in The Center Square on March 10, 2023.
Wisconsin schools have double the amount of coronavirus stimulus money they plan to spend in just the past two months.
Quinton Klabon, senior research director for the Institute for Reforming Government, says schools across Wisconsin rushed to allocate millions of dollars in ESSER III money after IRG reported in late January that most of the state’s $1.5 billion in stimulus cash was just lying around.
“We’re now on pace for where we should be,” Klabon explained to The Center Square.
Schools across the state had allocated $508 million between June 2022 and the end of last year. Klabon says in the first two months of this year, they allocated another $430 million.
The focus now, Klabon said, is to make sure that schools are spending the money wisely and properly.
“Having that kind of accountability, and that good kind of pressure, will help districts make good decisions,” Klabon added.
To help with that, IRG has a website that tracks how districts are spending the money. The idea, Klabon said, is to allow parents to see just where the money is earmarked to go.
“Maybe [the money] is going for good construction. Maybe it’s for air conditioning so that kids can learn in the hot days of May. Maybe it’s not,” Klabon said. “Now we’ve equipped parents to ask that question.”
IRG’s January report didn’t just inspire schools across the state to start allocating their ESSER III money. The report prompted a two-page response from the state’s Department of Public Instruction, defending their lack of allocations.
“IRG’s report completely misses the fact that districts have plans in place to spend their federal COVID relief dollars, instead focusing on the technical aspects of how that spending happens,” DPI said in an email to school districts.
Klabon is quick to say that DPI didn’t find any factual errors in the IRG report, and said DPI is missing the point that IRG simply wants to make sure these dollars are spent to benefit school kids in Wisconsin.
“This money was once federal taxpayers’ money, now it’s kids’ money,” Klabon said. “It is owed to them. It’s not DPI’s money. It’s not school districts’ money. It’s kids’ money. That’s where it needs to go.”
Klabon said IRG’s dashboard is up and running, and he hopes to have a new update on the stimulus spending spree in the next week or so.