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COVID-19 Updates - March 26, 2020

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Dear District Administrators,

This email update covers new guidance from the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) on graduation and English learners, connectivity at home, and information on the COVID-19 stimulus bill that unanimously passed the U.S. Senate.

Connectivity at Home

Keeping students and communities connected online is important during this time. The DPI, in partnership with the Wisconsin Public Service Commission, has dedicated this website to inform Wisconsin on current connectivity offers, programs and resources to expand the ability to connect. The department knows connecting online is not possible for everyone, but to the extent it is, families and schools can utilize this site to stay informed on the most current offers and discounts. Additionally, the department has posted information around innovative ways to address the digital divide during an extended school closure as a reference.

COVID-19 Federal Stimulus Package

The stimulus package passed the Senate unanimously last night and now moves to the House, which is expected to act quickly.

The bill would provide $30.75 billion in an Education Stabilization Fund, to be divided among governors ($3 billion), higher education ($14.25 billion), and state education agencies (SEAs) for elementary and secondary education (nearly $13.5 billion). Of the $13.5 billion, $11.9 billion would be distributed to local educational agencies (LEAs) using the Title I formula as the distribution mechanism. DPI’s very preliminary, rough estimates, show that districts may receive 75 to 80 percent of their 2019-20 Title I allocation. DPI does not yet have any information about when these funds will be distributed, what the timeframe for expending funds will be, or the parameters for spending these funds. The department will be following this closely and will provide more updates as information becomes available.

Additionally, governors would receive approximately $3 billion to be used for higher education or K-12 supports to LEAs that the SEA has deemed most significantly impacted by COVID-19. The bill also provides Head Start with $750 million.

Regarding waivers, this bill includes a new US Department of Education Secretarial waiver authority for ESEA, under which waivers must be approved or disapproved within 30 days. Provisions, which may be waived under this process, include:

  • The poverty threshold necessary to do a schoolwide program;
  • Maintenance of effort;
  • Restrictions on carry over limitations (unused funds from one year to the next);
  • Certain requirements under the Student Supports and Academic Enrichment Grants program, including the needs assessment, spending certain percentages among the three programmatic focuses, and the limitation on technology spending ; and
  • Requirements related to the definition of professional development.

The DPI will pursue waivers from the federal government necessary to ensure the department and LEAs can have the flexibility to manage the learning they are able to provide in this unprecedented health emergency. As a reminder, we have already received approval to implement the waiver from federal testing, accountability, school identification, and report card requirements. DPI also applied for Ed Flex authority, which, if approved by ED, would give DPI additional authority to waive some requirements, if necessary, for school districts.

English Learners

The DPI has developed an FAQ for school districts around the provision of services to English learners.

Graduation

In response to questions surrounding graduation, DPI developed the attached document as a resource to school districts. The document covers graduation requirements, local authority, grading and class promotion, current school closure, and Individuals with Disabilities Education Act considerations.

DPI will continue to use these emails to keep you updated. The department’s COVID-19 web page also contains these emails and the most recent information.