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Milwaukee voters approve $252 million MPS referendum

todayApril 3, 2024

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Milwaukee Voters Approve $252 Million Referendum for Public Schools
Photo via Vote Yes For MPS Facebook page

On Tuesday, April 2, Milwaukee voters by slim margins approved a referendum that will increase property taxes to prevent major budget cuts at Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS). The measure passed by just 1,720 votes, with 51% of voters supporting the referendum and 49% opposing it.

The referendum will allow MPS to raise its revenue limit by $252 million, to be phased in over four years. The district will exceed the revenue limit by $140 million for the 2024-25 school year, with an estimated increase in property taxes of $216 per $100,000 of assessed property value in the first year only. Thereafter, taxes designated for the school district will remain flat.

Addressing the Funding Gap

MPS was facing a $200 million budget shortfall for the 2025 fiscal year due to state funding for schools not keeping pace with inflation since 2009. The referendum was one of more than 90 school referendum questions on the April 2, 2024, spring election ballot across the state, aimed at covering funding gaps.

With the approval of the referendum, every school in MPS will receive an average of 10.7 percent more funding, directly supporting children and teachers in the classrooms. However, the school district must still find efficiencies in Central Services to generate necessary cost savings and help make up the remaining budget shortfall.

Building on Previous Success

The successful referendum builds upon the progress made by MPS thanks to a previous referendum approved by Milwaukee voters in 2020. Since then, the district has seen improvements in student achievement, including a decrease in absentee rates, an increase in graduation rates and test scores, and more students participating in college and career programs. The district has also been able to provide more mental health support, which has been especially important as children recover from the social consequences of the pandemic.

A Hard-Fought Campaign

The referendum’s passage came after a hard-fought campaign battle between supporters and opponents. The Vote Yes for MPS campaign, backed by the teachers union and other public school advocates, declared victory on Tuesday night over a well-financed opposition effort led primarily by the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce (MMAC).

As of March 18, the Vote Yes campaign had spent approximately $277,000 in support of the referendum. In contrast, MMAC poured over $400,000 into campaigning against the measure’s approval.

Despite being outspent, the pro-referendum forces prevailed in the closely contested vote. In the wake of the result, MPS Superintendent Keith Posley hailed the outcome as “a huge victory for the children of Milwaukee.” He expressed gratitude to city voters for supporting the district’s ongoing efforts to foster student success both academically and in life.


Written by: Tarik Moody

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