Op Ed

Why Vote for MPS Funding Referendum

A 'yes' vote means more teachers and paraprofessionals and better educated students.

By - Mar 30th, 2024 02:58 pm
Nehemiah Edwards. Photo provided.

Nehemiah Edwards. Photo provided.

Milwaukee isn’t just where I grew up, it’s the place that sculpted me to be the man of service that I am today, and someone who cares to nurture and give back to this city. MPS students’ genius is present in every classroom, but students’ opportunities are at risk.

From growing up on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Dr. and Locust St. up until adulthood, to watching my mother, Carolyn Edwards, do her best to provide for our family by working as an administrative assistant for Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) for 27 years, to attending Rufus King High School and graduating with college credits through the International Baccalaureate program, it is safe to say that not only Milwaukee, but MPS has shaped me.

If I learned anything in my lifetime, it is that people are what is most important. You and I, your neighbors, family, friends, children, strangers, students, teachers, coworkers, etc, are what is most important. What are we doing if not for the sake of others?

I mention all of this because an unfortunate reality has been created for the youth in our most impoverished communities in the city, and by no fault of their own. The public education system in Wisconsin is starved for resources. For two years, the state legislature froze funding and provided no increases to public K-12 education even though our students’ needs were greater than ever during these pandemic years, 2021 and 2022. Record-high inflation means budgets are stretched as goods and services that Milwaukee’s schoolchildren need – technology, art and music supplies, bilingual teachers and classroom aids – cost more. Our Milwaukee Public Schools are facing a 2024-25 budget shortfall of $200 million. Milwaukee along with some 85 other school districts in Wisconsin are going to referendum to protect students from devastating cuts and to give our children what they need to thrive.

Underfunded means going without—going without art, gym, library, vocational and tech ed ,and music programs, going without individualized teaching support as class sizes increase, going without the programs and opportunities that helped me progress from a Rufus King student to a UW-Madison engineering graduate to a professional engineer and now a visual artist. Underfunded means simply making do with the little that you have and doing your best to contribute to society in the same meaningful way as those who receive the full benefits of complete artistic expression and excellent teachers at every grade level.

Going all in for our children and voting yes for MPS on April 2 means that the district can continue to offer an enriching education that nurtures the entire student – from classroom to art room. The 2020 referendum increased art, music, library and gym programming for students – many who didn’t have access to art supplies, musical instruments, and certified teachers. Voting yes for the 2024 referendum means the 27,000 MPS students who are studying music for the first time in school can continue. Voting yes means the dozens of certified and licensed gym teachers can continue teaching our students about health and balance. For our youngest students in grades K4 through third, a “yes” vote means more teachers and paraprofessionals – and when you’re learning to read, write, and calculate for the first time in your life, more teachers and paraprofessionals make the difference.

As a proud product of Milwaukee Public Schools and now a visual artist with an impact throughout the state, I wholeheartedly endorse the upcoming referendum to increase funding for MPS. The 2020 referendum brought arts supplies and art teachers to 56 more schools. This progress must continue. My journey from the classroom to the canvas taught me the invaluable role that art plays in education. It’s not just about brush strokes and colors; art nurtures creativity, critical thinking, and expression—skills vital for success in any field. By continuing to invest in arts education, we’re not just enhancing curriculum; we’re enriching lives, empowering students to explore their potential, and fostering a vibrant cultural community. Simply put, no student can afford to go without creative expression, and school should be the place that sparks that genius inside of them.

Disinvesting in our children, removing resources and opportunities and adults from our public schools statewide negatively affects students’ long-term educational outcomes and self-esteem. Every child, regardless of their zip code, deserves inspiring and supportive educators who nurture their potential—a dilemma that can begin to be rectified with increased funding that allows for onboarding of educators that teach with a purpose.

Wouldn’t it be great to see Milwaukee start to become the true example and beacon of hope to the rest of this country of what a vibrant, united, thriving-for-all city really looks like? This is only possible by protecting students from disastrous cuts to their education. It is a team effort to take this city to new heights, and continuing to invest in the wellbeing of our most deserving and vulnerable youth will undoubtedly show significant positive results over time.

Let’s uncover the genius waiting to happen in our city by voting YES on April 2nd and continuing to invest in our students.

Nehemiah Edwards is a Rufus King graduate, engineer and visual artist.

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Categories: Op-Ed, Politics

4 thoughts on “Op Ed: Why Vote for MPS Funding Referendum”

  1. Ryan Cotic says:

    Say goodbye to the what remains of the middle class homeowners still in the city. This is an an almost immediate 600 dollar increase on there already outrageous property tax bills to support a rapidly shrinking school system. Additionally what specific reforms has the school system put into place to bring their spending in line with their revenues moving forward?

  2. robertm60a3 says:

    I agree that educating children is essential, but I also understand what Ryan is saying in his post.

    Why are we wasting trillions on national defense and can’t get education right? We are falling behind in the war of innovation, engineering, jobs, development, and . . . I’m confused by those at the state and federal level who talk about this and that and actually do nothing.

    Why does an Army Officer convicted in federal court of accepting bribes while on active duty receive full retirement? Yet neither of our Senators does anything. My home is in Brookfield, and I wonder about Representative Fitzgerald. Yet, we keep voting for the same people without any demand for improvement.

    Look at Milwaukee Public Schools’ performance. There is a problem. More money is needed. But what else is required? Should the community be more involved? Should there be a demand for improvement? Should . . . We complain a lot – but who is volunteering to tutor, who is asking hard questions, who votes, and who really pays attention?

  3. TosaGramps1315 says:

    robertm60a3 –

    Another question to ask is why is shared revenue not distributed fairly throughout a state with a $3-4 billion budget surplus so that a referendum of this size and scope would not be necessary? There is a simple answer – Robin Vos and the rest of his GOP cronies in the State Assembly that have made a specific choice to short-change the city of Milwaukee.
    I will ask a question again that I have asked here in the past…..where does the majority of the revenue collected by the state in any 2-year cycle come from? One guess would be the city and county of Milwaukee.
    There was money from the state to keep the Brewers in Milwaukee. Why isn’t there a fair amount of money from the state to support Milwaukee’s public schools? $200million is less than 7% of $3billion, most of which was already collected in the form of taxes! To pile more of a tax burden on the homeowners of the city of Milwaukee is unconscionable!!!
    Your questions about who votes and who really pays attention are valid. It seems to me that there are too many people in this state that vote for a recognizable name on a ballot, without understanding what that name stands for, and against.
    In this case, the people representing “us” have chosen to punish the city with underfunding. making this referendum necessary. And that is the way they have chosen to get our attention.

  4. robertm60a3 says:

    Thank you for your comments.

    The State has also found more than a billion dollars to expand a few miles of the expressway.

    So, why doesn’t the paper do more to call those that we elect out? Specific questions and when there is no answer – then a report – when this reporter asked . . . there was no response . . .

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