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Madison School District launches campaign to ask community how to best spend $9.5 million
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MADISON PUBLIC SCHOOLS | $9.5M IN FEDERAL FUNDING

Madison School District launches campaign to ask community how to best spend $9.5 million

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The Madison School District is calling for ideas from the community on how to spend half of the federal funding it will receive to combat COVID-19 learning loss.

The district launched its “Big Ideas Campaign” Monday to gather input from the community and district staff on how best to spend $9.5 million, half of the $18.9 million in federal money allocated to Madison schools. The funds are meant to cover the cost of educational support programs incurred between March 2020 and September 2023.

To put $9.5 million into perspective, those funds could cover the annual per-pupil expenditure for 597 students, with the total cost to educate one student in Madison at $15,907, calculated during the 2019-20 school year, or the purchase of 63,333 textbooks at an average cost of $150 per book.

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The district is one of many across the state and country to receive the federal COVID-19 emergency funds to help make up for learning loss due to the pandemic. Lisa Kvistad, the assistant superintendent for teaching and learning at the Madison School District, said the amount of money the district is slated to receive is unprecedented.

“We knew our approach to this had to be a way we’ve never done before. We wanted to be sure we heard the voices of students and families and community members,” in how the money would be spent, she said.

“We want to think big, this will probably be the only time we can actually do that with this amount of money,” she said.

According to the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, the funds are meant to restore and maintain high-quality learning environments and safely reopen schools as soon as possible, as well as mitigate learning loss due to the pandemic.

“You can fund certain programs at $25,000 or $100,000, but the impact on the students can be much bigger,” said Leigh Vierstra, an innovation strategist with the district.

The other half of the $18.9 million will go toward early literacy initiatives, staff training and materials, support safety and operational needs relating to COVID-19, academic acceleration and supporting social and emotional health of students as they return to school buildings, among other costs.

About $5 million in previous emergency federal funding was worked into the district’s 2020-21 budget for various needs, such as distance learning software, Wi-Fi hotspots, Chromebooks, nurses and nursing assistants, and custodial staffing.

The district is asking for submissions for the “Big Ideas Campaign” to be sent through an online submission form, video or email, and for those submissions to describe the idea and the effect it will have on the community. Participants can submit their ideas at https://go.madison.com/agA8xY.

Ideas should target support for students of color, English language learners, special education students, early learners, students who are without stable housing, students in the district’s Opportunity Youth program, or students who are unable to physically attend school in person because of hospitalization or incarceration.

The district also asks that submissions include a cost estimate with an outline of the number of staff needed, hours they’d work and at what rate of pay. Other information, such as supplies, contracts for service and facilities costs, should also be included in the proposals.

Vierstra said Tuesday that submissions were already trickling in from staff across the district.

“One of our schools actually created a subcommittee to help bring those ideas and figure out intentionally what they were going to put forward,” Vierstra said. “(Staff members) have these amazing ideas and often enact them on their own dime and their own time, and so giving them the chance to get it out there and potentially fund it is pretty incredible.”

The due date for idea submissions is April 28. In May, the district will hold a “Shark Tank”-style pitch event — 20 ideas will be selected and those who submitted the ideas will be asked to pitch their idea to the district. Ten pitches will move forward.


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A year into a once-in-a-century pandemic, Madison and Wisconsin continue to grapple with a virus that's killed thousands, destroyed businesses, upended school and changed nearly all aspects of everyday life.

It's been 12 months of grief, shutdowns, reopenings, protective measures, partisan fighting, lawsuits and loss. And now, hope. 

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"It’s a risk vs. reward thing and I risk my life to save others," said Brandon Jones, who always worried about bringing the virus home to his wife and two kids.

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“Usually a funeral is a major step in understanding that a life was lived and the person is now gone,” he said. “If families don’t get that, it’s just really hard.”

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“Reporting the death counts out day after day was draining,” she said. “It felt like I was announcing a funeral every day.”

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A year into a once-in-a-century pandemic, Madison and Wisconsin continue to grapple with a virus that's killed thousands, destroyed businesses…

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