The schools our students deserve

Milwaukee gets ready to go to referendum

Group of young children in a classroom
'School friends' by woodleywonderworks (Creative Commons license 2.0)

As directors of the Milwaukee Public School Board, we strongly believe in giving every student, no matter what they look like or where they come from, the public schools they deserve. 

The Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) last attempted a referendum in 1993. Since then, 410 of Wisconsin’s 421 school districts – 97% – have passed more than 1,800 referenda raising over $14.7 billion dollars for their students. We applaud the investments these communities have made in their children. 

Now, our community is in the midst of a conversation about what we can do to meet the needs of our students. In recent months, MPS commissioned an online community survey that received over 24,000 responses. The district also held community listening sessions that gathered hundreds of attendees in small group discussions about our students and our schools.

The results of these conversations are clear: Our community wants our kids to have the support and resources they deserve. These things are not extravagant — they include foundational elements like having full-time music, art and physical education teachers along with a full-time nurse and librarian in every school, every day. They include combating the effects of trauma by decreasing student ratios for counselors and social workers. They include increasing the amount of one-on-one time students spend with teachers by decreasing class sizes and expanding career and technical education programs so that our students leave the classroom ready to find success in the world.

One of the main reasons MPS struggles to provide these foundational resources is because of an antiquated and inequitable state education funding formula. As a result of state-imposed revenue caps, kids in MPS receive significantly less state funding than students in neighboring districts, despite the MPS student body having significantly higher needs. If our kids were funded at the same level as students in Brown Deer, Shorewood, Fox Point or Glendale-River Hills they would have at least $100 million dollars more invested in their education per year. What’s more, even these districts with higher revenue caps have gone to referendum in recent years to meet the needs of their students. It’s time for us to seriously consider doing the same.

Over the past few weeks, an independent, community-led task force has held public meetings to consider the needs of our students and develop solutions given the inequitable revenue limits imposed by the state. This group is made up of business, labor, education, community, and civic leaders from across our city and is co-chaired by Peter Feigin, President of the Milwaukee Bucks, and Kimberly Walker, Chief Operating Officer of Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Milwaukee. In their deliberations thus far, it has become clear that we must find a way to invest more funding into the education of our students.

Should local referendum be one of these solutions we pursue, we know that the total amount of investment needed to give our students all the resources and support they deserve is an amount that cannot come from the City of Milwaukee alone. The state will need to change the antiquated, inequitable state funding formula to fully fund MPS students.

In the meantime, we believe in our community’s ability to make a meaningful investment in our kids at a level that we can afford, just like the more than 400 districts across the state that have done in the past 25 years.

We look forward to continuing the conversation about how we give our students the public schools they deserve.

Marva Herndon
Marva Herndon, who was first elected to the Milwaukee Public School Board in April 2019, is a graduate of West Division High School, has enjoyed a 25-year career as a computer programmer, and changed careers after retiring from Harley Davidson in 2009. She and her husband, Carl, are parents of four daughters, all MPS graduates. Their grandchildren who reside in Milwaukee either are MPS graduates or are currently enrolled in MPS.
Larry Miller
Larry Miller is the President of the Milwaukee Public Schools Board of School Directors. He is also an editor of Rethinking Schools. Larry taught high school in MPS for 17 years. Larry was an adjunct for 12 years for the Marquette College of Education. As a high school teacher he taught U.S. history, citizenship, world geography, world history, economics, political science, photography, video production, and physical science.