Graham Kilmer

Campaign Wants You To “Vote Yes For MPS” On School Referendum

Group urges voters to support property tax increase for students.

By - Feb 22nd, 2024 03:29 pm

School Board President Marva Herndon speaks at Yes for MPS press conference. Photo by Graham Kilmer.

A coalition of political organizations and labor groups are launching a public campaign urging Milwaukee voters to support a referendum that would raise $252 million in funding for Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS).

The referendum will be on ballots in the April 2 general election. The proposal asks voters if they support raising property taxes by approximately $125 million in the city of Milwaukee, which would unlock additional matching funding from the state, generating an additional $252 million for MPS over the next four years, according to figures from the coalition.

The district is facing a $200 million budget shortfall for the 2024-2025 school year. If the referendum passes, the owner of a $100,000 home would pay an additional $216 in the first year.

The coalition, known as Yes for MPS, is telling voters that this funding is needed to maintain smaller class sizes, preserve libraries, music programs, physical education and other extra-curricular activities; and that the funding is needed to keep quality teachers on staff and to attract talented staff members. The coalition is also telling voters that the school district’s deficit is only the latest symptom of long-term underfunding of public schools and that the district hasn’t had funding pegged to inflation for more than a decade.

A a press conference Thursday outside of the MPS Administration Building, 5225 W. Vliet St., School Board President Marva Herndon was joined by former Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, President of the Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association (MTEA) Ingrid Walker-Henry and representatives of Leaders Igniting Transformation (LIT), Youth Empowered in the Struggle (YES) and Black Leaders Organizing for Communities (BLOC).

“I am a proud product of our Milwaukee public school system,” said Barnes, whose mother was also an MPS teacher. “I am standing here today simply because of the quality education I received; making sure that that quality education is accessible to children for future generations; making sure they have access to opportunities and incredible teachers who go above and beyond, because those are the kind of teachers that I had, who shaped me.”

The school district has been left without another option to address the impending budget shortfall, Herndon said, and without the referendum, students will lose social workers, guidance counselors, librarians, vocational programs and technical skills training.

Our students deserve to return to school next fall with additional services and opportunities, not less.”

Herndon noted public education funding is “not only a Milwaukee problem” as dozens of school districts around the state are also going to referendums in the spring and fall elections this year, seeking additional funding.

MTEA President Walker-Henry, who came into the role this month following the resignation of former union president Amy Mizialko, talked about the array of educational experiences her son has had including working with a 3D printer, painting a mural and dissecting a frog.

“As a parent, I was grateful he had those opportunities to make choices and to have those experiences,” she said. “None of that would have been an option without the current funding in his school.”

MPS spends approximately $87 million annually in “early childhood education, advanced academics, art, music, libraries, physical education, and mental health,” according to the district. Many of the programs are threatened by the impending budget deficit.

The district, heavily reliant on state aid, has a $1.5 billion budget this school year. A 2020 referendum added $87 million to the district’s revenue limit. Almost all Wisconsin school districts have pursued referendums to increase their revenue limit due to state aid being flat or outpaced by inflation for nearly three decades. A 2023 budget transmittal document provides more information on the district’s financial situation and how it spends its funding.

“Vote Yes for MPS” has been endorsed by Mayor Cavalier Johnson and County Executive David Crowley.

Update: This story has been updated to reflect that property taxes are only expected to increase by $125 million and that matching funding from the state would provide the district with $252 million.

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More about the 2024 MPS Referendum

Read more about 2024 MPS Referendum here

Categories: Education, Politics

8 thoughts on “Campaign Wants You To “Vote Yes For MPS” On School Referendum”

  1. ZeeManMke says:

    A person with a $200,000 house would pay almost $500/year more. Who can afford these maniacs and their constant new taxes? Where is this $500 going to magically appear from? Johnson, Barnes and Crowley and no better than Republikkans. They may be worse.

  2. AttyDanAdams says:

    If you’re opposed to this and want to do something about it email me:

  3. CraigR says:

    I could be wrong about this (and please correct me if I’m wrong) but I seem to recall that after the last referendum passed (which I voted for), one of the first things that the Milwaukee school board did was to reinstate some of the retirement benefit criteria that were discontinued after Act 10. I’m not out to bash educators, but I hope this money, if approved, goes more for programs in the schools.
    The real problem is that the state legislature doesn’t seem to want to invest in public education. Their hoping to replace teachers with people without proper training. Like so many things, we’ll all be reaping the regrettable results of that years down the road.

  4. blurondo says:

    “Almost all Wisconsin school districts have pursued referendums to increase their revenue limit due to state aid being flat or outpaced by inflation for nearly three decades.”

    Is that related to Wisconsin’s budget surplus of $6 billion?

  5. ZeeManMke says:

    A $200,000 home is common with the price increases over the past few years. Where are people on fixed incomes supposed to keep coming up with more and more money for new sales taxes, vastly increased salaries for city flunkies, and now a proposal for a huge property tax increase? Where is anyone supposed to come up with another $500 to pay their property taxes? This is just the beginning. What new taxes will they come at us with? Fiscal responsibility means nothing to people living off of other people’s taxes.

  6. AttyDanAdams says:

    Anyone who wants to get involved should fill out this form

  7. says:

    If state government, under both Dems & Republicans, has repeatedly failed to fund 2/3 of the cost of our schools and provide relief to homeowners. Millions of public dollars have been diverted to private voucher schools, further draining public school funding. I’m a home owner and a retiree- a proud parent of two well-educated MPS grads, and an MPS grandpa and I will pay whatever is necessary to preserve and build our public school systems- our future depends on it.

  8. tomsabourin says:

    It’s a bit maddening to me that we get to vote on a referendum for a tax increase to support education but when it comes to our portion of the bill to fund the construction of Fiserv Forum or the bill to upgrade the Brewer’s stadium our only voice when we vote for the representatives who in-turn vote to fund such projects. I would hope young people considering a move to Milwaukee would be more concerned about the school system than whether there was a sports franchise but I suspect I am in the minority.

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