Revenue Shortages Threaten Stability of Milwaukee Public Schools

May 25, 2018

Milwaukee Public Schools have dealt with financial challenges for years, as state aid and property tax levels have fluctuated, enrollments have dipped, facilities have aged and competition has come from a variety of places.

A new report out this morning from the Wisconsin Policy Forum suggests that storm clouds may again be on the horizon, even as the district’s new interim superintendent works to avert painful cuts in the MPS budget for the coming fiscal year.

"That revenue is driven by enrollment... So if enrollment goes down at MPS, the overall, largest portion of their aid also goes down."

As enrollment at MPS has gone down, so has its source of revenue and that’s created an issue for the school system as it tries to maintain its aging facilities.

"That revenue is driven by enrollment. So even if the revenue limit stays flat, that doesn’t mean total revenue stays flat. So if enrollment goes down at MPS, the overall, largest portion of their aid also goes down," says Anne Chapman, a senior researcher at the forum.

The proposed budget includes cuts that would impact both teaching and learning, according to Rob Henken, president of the forum. Some have suggested there may be school closures in the future, as enrollment continues to go down at some MPS facilities. But Henken says this could merely contribute to the cycle of declining enrollment and funds. 

"If you can't make the investments you need to make in your human capital and in your facillities, how are you going to boost your enrollment and get yourself out of this vicious cycle?"

He explains, "Here's a marketplace - a very competitive K12 education marketplace in Milwaukee... And so if you can't make the investments you need to make in your human capital and in your facillities, how are you going to boost your enrollment and get yourself out of this vicious cycle?" 

The interview took place before some adjustments to the budget were made by the district’s interim superintendent. The brief notes that a budget crisis may have been averted for the current year, but the longer-term outlook remains dire.