Bruce Murphy
Murphy’s Law

Poll Shows Surprising Support for MPS

Most think MPS needs more funding and would back it in the referendum, poll shows.

By - Feb 12th, 2020 11:45 am
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Rufus King. Photo by Christopher Hillard.

Rufus King. Photo by Christopher Hillard.

December poll of city voters commissioned by Milwaukee Public Schools shows voters are generally supportive of MPS and feel the system needs more money. The results suggest the referendum question being asked of voters on the April 7 ballot, allowing MPS to raise an additional $87 million annually over and above the state-imposed spending cap, is likely to pass.  

The poll found more than 7 in 10 voters thought Milwaukee Public Schools needed more funding, with 51 percent saying there was a “great need” and 21 percent saying there was “some need” for additional funding and just 14 percent saying there was “no need” for greater funding. 

60 percent of respondents said they would support an increase of $107 million annually in school spending, at a cost of $199 per year in property taxes on a $100,000 home and 64 percent supported a $53 million annual increase in school spending, at a cost of $97 per year in annual property taxes. 

On December 19, two days after the polls results were received by MPS, the Milwaukee school board passed a resolution that picked a number about half way between those two numbers, asking voters to approve an $87 million annual increase in school spending, requiring an additional $160 in property taxes on a home assessed at $100,000. 

The poll, by Los Angeles polling company Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates, surveyed a sample — 753 respondents — of Milwaukee voters likely to cast a ballot in the April 2020 election. “Clear majorities offer support for a proposed referendum measure,” the survey noted. “Particularly noteworthy is that at $107 million, support hits the 60% threshold, including 40% who say they would “definitely” vote “yes” – metrics we typically look for in order to be confident of a measure’s success.” 

The survey also asked respondents’ opinions after being told pro and con arguments and noted this: “Given the tendency for support for diminish after exposure to pro and con arguments, an amount between $80 million and $107 million… is likely the upper bound at which a measure could pass.”

The survey found high favorability ratings for local public school teachers, with 71 percent having a positive view. That dropped when asked about “your neighborhood school” (57 percent positive) and “Milwaukee Public Schools” (55 percent positive). But those responses, when combined with a high percentage saying the system has a need for more money, might suggest voters believe more money could improve the system. 

The survey also asked respondents what they thought any new money should be spent on and found this: “Voters prioritize investments in recruiting and retaining teachers, improving school safety and security, fixing leaky roofs, and expanding special education services,” which they deemed more important than such goals as “increasing the availability of language classes” or “adding more staff at school libraries.”

Given the battering Milwaukee Public Schools has taken over the years, not to mention teacher bashing that has occurred, particularly during the Act 10 debates, the support for teachers and increased MPS funding might be surprise to some. (It was to me.) But many city residents have children attending MPS; Of the polls respondents, 52 percent had at least one child attending “a traditional public school in Milwaukee.” 

A copy of the poll was requested by attorney and political activist Dan Adams and posted last week on his blog, where he noted that “After many weeks of delay, Milwaukee Public Schools has finally released, per my Open Records Request, the results of a poll the district put into the field in December.”

This would be the first referendum for MPS to raise funding over state-imposed caps since 1993. That referendum called for many hundreds of millions to upgrade buildings, and created a memorable battle of one-time allies, with then MPS superintendent Howard Fuller pushing for the referendum, and then Mayor John Norquist opposing it. The referendum was defeated by a significant margin. 

Milwaukee’s school system operates independently of the city, with its own property tax levy. Current Mayor Tom Barrett has taken no position on the referendum. 

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More about the Proposed MPS Referendum

2 thoughts on “Murphy’s Law: Poll Shows Surprising Support for MPS”

  1. Ryan Cotic says:

    Very suprising given the amount of money that is already spent on MPS with generally failing results. You would think the new report card showing voucher schools dramtically outperforming MPS at a much lower cost would show us how bizzare thowing more money at this system would be.

  2. sbaldwin001 says:

    I’d bet most people, even those who support school choice, would agree that MPS students deserve more funding. However, throw in the fact that the MPS school board recently prioritized teacher/staff salary increases, opposes even successful charter schools and can’t close failing schools, and the question becomes: Will the additional money be well spent?

    Should we wait to invest in MPS?

    By the way, MPS teacher salaries are not substantially different than those of UWM associate science professors.

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