Saturday, June 27, 2020

WEMTA COVID-19 Survey Highlights Lack of Broadband Access, Need for Instructional Technology PD

Thank you to everyone who responded to our survey about your remote learning experience during COVID-19! We officially released our findings this week, which show how the lack of broadband infrastructure in Wisconsin undercuts efforts to provide remote learning. Respondents also overwhelming say their district needs funding to provide instructional technology professional development.

You can view our press release here and our fact sheet here. These materials were shared with the Governor's office, the state Department of Public Instruction, the Public Service Commission, other educational stakeholders and the media.

Key results highlighted by the survey include:


  • Nearly two-thirds of respondents said that parts of their school district don't have access to broadband or cellular networks
  • 80% said their district needs funding for instructional technology professional development
  • 42% said they spent 16 hours or more each week helping teacher provide remote learning 



Thursday, June 18, 2020

Governor Evers Provides $46 Million for K-12 COVID-19 Relief; Hearing on DPI Reopening Plan June 24

Governor Evers announced on Wednesday that he will provide $46 million in COVID-19 funds to Wisconsin K-12 schools. These funds will prioritize students and districts that have the highest remote learning needs and have been the most significantly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. DPI will provide more information on how to access these funds. 

The Assembly Committee on Education is also holding an informational hearing on June 24 on DPI's school reopening plan, which will be released early next week.They will hear from invited speakers only: https://docs.legis.wisconsin.gov/raw/cid/1556744


Tuesday, May 26, 2020

DPI Holding Hearing June 8 on Funding for Virtual Summer School

The Department of Public Instruction is holding a public hearing via conference call on Monday, June 8  at 10:30 a.m. related to an emergency rule they have implemented  to expand the grade levels in which school districts may receive state aid for providing virtual instruction during summer and interim session courses. Currently, schools can receive aid for virtual summer school programs taught to high schools students and students in grades 7 and 8. DPI's emergency rule has expanded this to all grade levels. 

Rule-Making Notices
DPI (PI 17). EmR2003. Expanding virtual summer and interim session courses.

  • CONFERENCE CALL:10:30 am: Mon, June 8. Phone Number +1 608-620-9781 Conference ID: 644 099 123#


Friday, May 15, 2020

Joint Finance Committee Approves Additional Funds for Schools; Update on Safer Home Order Strike Down


The Joint Finance Committee (JFC) approved on Wednesday the Department of Public Instruction's plan outlining how they will use the $17.4 million in flexible Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funding provided to Wisconsin by the federal CARES Act. JFC negotiated with DPI to make one minor change to the plan, which had originally let DPI keep up to $500,000 for administrative costs. JFC lowered this amount to $350,000. 

DPI's plan does the following:

1. Minimum Level of Support: This plan proposes to provide every local educational agency with at least $40,000 from the Emergency Relief Fund. This is estimated to require approximately $1.5 million. 

2. Building capacity for, and expanding access to, high quality online instructional resources: DPI will collaborate with the Wisconsin Digital Learning Collaborative, the CESA Instructional Technology Network and the the Institute for Personalized Learning to support online, blended, and remote instructional delivery systems. DPI plans to focus on providing additional capacity to facilitate access to online and blended courses and support for schools to build out their own high-quality online or blended instruction.

3.Providing training for educators in the provision of online and remote instruction. DPI will work with educator preparation programs to prepare educators for delivering instruction in online and remote settings.

4. Expanding and building capacity of school staff to provide mental health services to better  support students.  DPI will provide resources and online training to support mental health offerings for students and school staff.

DPI will use its federal grants portal, WISEgrants, as the platform to distribute these funds to school districts.

Additional Funding for Library Services: the CARES Act also provided funding for the Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS). Wisconsin will receive $526,106. DPI intends to pass through the additional funds to public libraries.

Update on Safer at Home Strike Down; Future COIVD-19 State Plans

After Wednesday’s Supreme Court ruling striking down the Safer at Home Order, there is no longer a statewide COVID-19 plan. However, the Court's ruling did not impact the provision closing schools for the remainder of the school year.  The Supreme Court in its ruling said it is up to lawmakers and Governor Evers’ administration to come up with a new COVID-19 plan. 

Governor Evers approved a draft scope statement from the Department of Health Services on Thursday afternoon allowing them to come up with a new COVID-19 plan using the administrative rules process. According to DHS, the proposed rule will likely include a variety of temporary measures, such as limits of gathering size, social distancing requirements and safeguards for businesses as well as a phased approach for fully reopening the economy.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Fitzgerald released a joint statement following the court's ruling saying they would be open to working with the Evers administration "to begin promulgating rules that would provide clear guidance in case COVID-19 reoccurs in a more aggressive way.” 

However, lawmakers have been clear that they do not support a plan that would shut down businesses. 

“The Badger Bounce Back Plan and any other plan that might have been out there that was a transition from the full shutdown to opening businesses up, that's behind us now, that's over with — the court resolved that," Senate Majority Leader Fitzgerald said following a Thursday meeting with Governor Evers and Assembly Speaker Vos.

Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke (R-Kaukauna) said decisions should be made at a local level, “If anything like that were to occur, it certainly wouldn’t be on a statewide basis.”


Tuesday, April 21, 2020

DPI Holding Tele-hearing on Proposal to Expand State Aid for Virtual Summer School Classes

The Department of Public Instruction is holding a public hearing on April 23 at 10 a.m. on their proposal to expand the grade levels in which school districts may receive state aid in providing virtual instruction during summer and interim session courses. Currently, schools can receive aid for virtual summer school programs taught to high schools students and students in grades 7 and 8. DPI is proposing to expand this to all grade levels. 

DPI says the rule change is needed to "ensure that schools may be able to use summer and interim sessions to provide virtual instruction as a means of making up instruction that was lost due to the emergency declaration."

WHAT: Public hearing on statements of scope for administrative rules
WHEN: Thursday, April 23, 2020 from 10-11 a.m.
WHERE: Conference call only
Phone number: 608-620-9781
Conference ID: 220 029 048#

Individuals who are unable to attend the hearing but would like to submit written comments may do so via the Department’s form for submitting comment at https://forms.gle/TaLfbuWCFJcLqcYf8.


Wednesday, April 15, 2020

BCPL Releasing an Additional $5.25 million in CSF Funds

Additions and Extensions to the Common School Fund (CSF) 
as a Result of COVID-19


WEMTA has been communicating with the State Treasurer, the Board of Commissioners of
Public Lands (BCPL) and the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) about guidance and
temporary changes to the Common School Fund (CSF) that ensure school libraries
have additional resources to respond to COVID-19. 


We have worked directly with DPI to develop the following resource for school libraries to use
during this unprecedented time. DPI has also created a page on their website that provides
information related to COVID-19 that is specific to school libraries:
https://dpi.wi.gov/school-libraries/coronavirus


Common School Fund Supplemental Distribution: BCPL Commissioners voted unanimously
on April 7 to approve a $5.25 million supplemental distribution from the CSF in order to help
school libraries purchase necessary resources to support virtual instruction.This one-time
disbursement is funded by the smoothing account that was created by the BCPL and will not
have a negative impact on the CSF. The supplemental distribution of $5.25 million is being made
in addition to this year’s record $38.2 million distribution, bringing the total CSF distribution for
2019-20 to $43.45 million. BCPL has sent the funds to DPI and they plan to
distribute dollars to school districts on April 27, 2020.


Carryover of Unused 2019-20 CSF Dollars: DPI has advised that if districts are unable to
spend their 2019-20 Common School Fund allocation in full, the unspent portion should be
coded as restricted fund balance (10 B 936130) and spent in 2020-21. These changes should
be noted in the district's long-range library plan.


Using CSF Funds to Purchase eBooks, high-quality online resources to support inquiry
and research, and devices to increase access to digital learning: DPI wants to ensure that
school libraries are aware that CSF dollars can be used to purchase the following items that
may help support online learning: 


  • Joining the Wisconsin Schools Digital Library Consortium and/or addition to their collection of eBooks and audiobooks 
  • Internet access devices (data cannot be purchased using the CSF) 
  • eBooks and audiobooks
  • Digital content to support literacy, research, and inquiry through library programming 


Monday, April 13, 2020

Wisconsin Legislature Voting on State COVID-19 Package This Week

Wisconsin legislative leaders released their draft COVID-19 relief bill on Monday. The State Assembly will meet on Tuesday to pass the bill and the State Senate plans to meet on Wednesday. 

While the proposal does not include a provision allowing the Joint Finance Committee to cut state funding without the Governor's approval, it does include language allowing the Committee to transfer up to $75 million between sum sufficient appropriation accounts.

The following are items of interest to WEMTA included in the bill:


Board of Commissioners of Public Lands

BCPL Loans for Utilities: Authorizes the BCPL to loan money from the School Trust Funds to municipal utilities to ensure that municipal utilities are able to maintain liquidity during the COVID-19 public health emergency. A municipal utility is a public utility that is a city, village, or town, or that is wholly owned or operated by a city, village, or town. Interest from BCPL loans go into the Common School Fund.


Legislature and General Government

Joint Finance Committee Fund Transfers: Authorizes the Joint Finance Committee to transfer up to $75 million total between sum sufficient appropriations during the COVID-19 public health emergency and for 90 days following the emergency. 

Suspension of deadlines and training requirements: Authorizes state agencies, authorities, local governments, the legislature, and the courts to suspend, during the COVID-19 public health emergency, any deadlines and training requirements that they administer or enforce.

Education 

Reports on Virtual Instruction and School Operations: Requires each Wisconsin school board to submit a report to DPI by November 1, 2020 on the implementation of virtual instruction, which includes:
  • Whether or not virtual instruction was implemented as a result of the public health emergency
  • The process for implementing the virtual instruction
  • For each grade level, the average percentage of the 2019-20 school year curriculum provided to pupils, including curriculum provided in-person and virtually
  • Whether anything was provided to pupils during the 2020 summer to help pupils learn content that pupils missed because of the public health emergency
  • Recommendations for best practices for transitioning to and providing virtual instruction when schools are closed
  • Any challenges or barriers the school board faced related to implementing virtual instruction during the public health emergency

Schools are also required to report on the number of staff who were laid off, the number of lunches provided, and the amount of certain expenditure reductions. 

Best Practice for Returning to In-person Instruction: Requires DPI to post guidance on their website by June 30, 2020 on best practices for returning to in-person instruction. 

Statewide Student Assessments: Exempts schools from administering the Wisconsin Student Assessment System exams and the third grade reading test during the 2019-20 school year. 

Educator Effectiveness Evaluations: Prohibits schools from considering pupil performance on statewide assessments in evaluating teachers and principals in the 2019-20 school year.

School and School District Accountability Report: Prohibits DPI from publishing a school and school district accountability report in the 2020-21 school year.

Open Enrollment Deadlines: Extends the deadlines for the open enrollment program by 30 days. For example, it extends the deadline for students to apply to attend a non-resident school district through the Open Enrollment program to May 29, 2020. 

Waiver of Laws and Rules Related to the School Choice Program: Allows DPI to waive state education statutes, or rules promulgated under those statutes, related to the school choice program, the Special Needs Scholarship Program or charter schools. It also provides the following exemptions:
  • Creates a process for private schools to submit a request to DPI to waive any requirement related to hours of instruction.
  • Extends the application deadline for students to apply to attend a school choice school through May 14, 2020. Extends the deadline for private schools to submit information to DPI about the number of applications they receive from the school choice program to May 29, 2020. 
  • Prohibits DPI from withholding program payments or baring a private school from the choice program or Special Needs Scholarship Program if the private school demonstrates to DPI that the failure to comply with certain program requirements was due to the COVID-19 school closure.
  • Exempts private school participating in the choice program from the requirement to maintain a cash and investment balance that is at least equal to its reserve balance. 

Wisconsin Retirement System and Public Employee Benefits 

Rehired Annuitants in Critical Positions: Specifies that a Wisconsin Retirement System (WRS) participant who is hired by a participating employer during the COVID-19 public health emergency may elect to not suspend his or her annuity for the duration of the public health emergency if: (a) at the time of terminating employment, the participant does not have an agreement with any participating employer to return to employment or enter into a contract to provide employee services; and (b) the position for which the annuitant is hired is a critical position. Further, specify that the current break-in-service requirement of 75 days would not apply to a participant who is hired for a critical position during the public health emergency if at least 15 days have elapsed between the termination of employment and becoming a participating employee. Require the head of each state agency and each local health department, based on guidance provided by the Secretary of the Department of Health Services, to determine which positions within the respective state agency or local government are critical, for the purposes of administering the provisions applicable to rehired annuitants. 

Leaves of Absence and Health Insurance: For the purposes of group health insurance coverage offered by the Group Insurance Board, an employee who returns from a leave of absence and who has not resumed active duty for at least 30 consecutive calendar days during the COVID-19 public health emergency is deemed to have ended or interrupted the leave of absence on March 12, 2020. 

Government Operations

Waiving In-person Appearance Requirement: Allows a state entity to waive any requirement that an individual appear in person during the COVID-19 public health emergency. 


Insurance

Coverage of COVID-19 Testing without Cost-Sharing: Requires health plans to cover COVID-19 testing without imposing any copayment or coinsurance by March 13, 2021.

Insurance Discrimination: Prohibits insurers from implementing special rules, cancelling coverage, setting rates based on a current or past diagnosis of COVID-19. 

Prohibits Prior Authorization for Prescription Refills: Prohibits insurers or pharmacy benefit managers from requiring prior authorization for early prescription drug refills or imposing limits on the quantity of prescription drugs that may be obtained if the quantity is no more than a 90-day supply and the drug is not a controlled substance. 

Unemployment Insurance 

Waiver of One-week Waiting Period: Temporarily suspends the one-week waiting period for Unemployment Benefits from March 12, 2020 to February 7, 2021. 


Taxes

Student Loan Payments Made by Employers: Provides an exclusion from income for certain student loan principal and interest payments made by an employer on behalf of an employee, subject to the same current law cap of $5,250 in payments for qualified educational expenses made on behalf of an employee by an employer. This provision applies to payments made from March 28, 2020, through December 31, 2020.