MADISON, Wisconsin (AP) – Wisconsin’s chief education officer called for more courtesy Thursday as schools across the state grapple with the coronavirus pandemic.
Jill Underly, who is in her freshman year as the headmistress of Wisconsin, condemned angry displays at school committee meetings in her Capitol education speech.
“We should support one another instead of tearing down those who dare to lead in times of crisis,” she said.
Underly, who was elected in April after a Democratic-backed campaign, said the state is missing out on a generation of children by underfunding schools and allowing funding gaps to widen. She called for the establishment of a literacy task force to research and advise educators on how to teach reading more effectively. She also pointed out the need for a government-funded kindergarten for 4-year-olds.
Underly’s power is limited as lawmakers can rewrite their budget proposals and districts can disregard their guidelines on issues such as pandemic safety and curriculum recommendations.
Some school leaders in Wisconsin, like elsewhere in the country, have resigned or withdrawn because of parents’ anger over masking requirements. Many counties do not require masks or other safety protocols despite a surge in COVID-19 cases, including in children.
Wisconsin’s rate of new COVID-19 cases, which has increased in recent months due to the highly contagious Delta variant, was highest in people aged 14 to 17 last week, according to preliminary data from the state Department of Health, The Wisconsin State Journal reported. Children aged 9 to 13 years in Wisconsin had the second highest incidence of new cases.
Underly said that during school tours she noticed that students didn’t mind wearing masks.
“They were ready to do whatever was necessary to protect each other and make their learning disruptive,” she said. “We could learn a lot from them.”
Underly also criticized the legislature for the fact that schools were underfunded for the next two school years despite a historical inflow of taxpayers’ money in the state budget. Republican lawmakers redirected much of the revenue into tax cuts and chose not to raise the state limits on school district revenue.
Democratic Governor Tony Evers, who was Underly’s predecessor as head of state schools, agreed to her call for more school funding in a video response on Thursday.
Republicans argued that about $ 2 billion in federal pandemic aid would bolster schools. However, some school district leaders said the temporary federal funds could not be used to fill the annual budget holes created by the state budget and could lead to layoffs.
Congregation spokesman Robin Vos denied Underly’s arguments that schools needed more funding, reiterating the infusion of federal stimulus funds.
“The Democrats’ unique focus on putting more money in schools is not a winning strategy for our children,” Republican Vos said in a statement. “We need to think about how they are taught and why so many students struggle with the basics – reading, writing, and arithmetic.”