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Can Wisconsin Schools Afford to Reopen Safely?


MADISON, Wis. -- Parents and educators face uncertainty over the potential reopening of school buildings closed because of the pandemic. Wisconsin officials provided some clarity Monday, but one group wonders if districts are equipped to welcome students back.

The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction released guidelines that include several scenarios. One is a four-day week so buildings can undergo deep cleaning on the fifth day. There are also two-day rotations, with more distance learning mixed in.

Heather Dubois Bourenane, executive director of the Wisconsin Public Education Network, said all the potential plans pose challenges. "None of the things that are being proposed are going to be necessarily cheap or easy or quick fixes," Dubouis Bourenane said. She also worries that students who were at a disadvantage with distance learning this spring might end up further behind this fall if districts can't adequately prepare.

State education officials say the pandemic has exacerbated learning inequities, and they'll support local leaders in finding creative ways to ensure all kids are able to access the same level of instruction. Education advocates worry that, as school districts grapple with the added costs of implementing safety measures, they'll also see steep cuts in state funding because of the crisis.

Dubois Bourenane said it could be a huge problem for low-income districts that rely heavily on state dollars and lack the property-tax revenue to make up for any shortfalls. She asked, "What's the plan for making sure that the kids who need the most get the most?" She said she's hopeful help will come from Congress in the form of the HEROES Act, which includes more relief funding for schools.

The bill cleared the U.S. House in May, but has run into opposition in the Senate.

Mike Moen is the Morning Edition producer and serves as a staff reporter for WNIJ. Every morning, he works with Dan Klefstad to bring listeners the latest Illinois news. He also works with the rest of the news staff on developing and producing in-depth stories. Mike is a Minnesota native who likes movies, history, and baseball. When most people hear his last name, they assume he is 100-percent Scandinavian. But, believe it or not, he is mostly German.
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