Funding for Youth Development in Milwaukee

By Sue Moeser

Most elected officials and civic leaders agree that investment in programming for Milwaukee’s youth must be a critical component of citywide efforts to combat poverty, reduce violence, and appropriately prepare our future workforce. Yet what is the nature and scope of such investment, and how is it distributed among the city’s largest governmental bodies?

Those are among the questions the Public Policy Forum sought to address in our new report, Show Me the Way: Making Sense of Youth Development Funding in Milwaukee.

The report was commissioned by Beyond the Bell, a citywide initiative dedicated to coordinating capacity building among youth service providers, policymakers, and funders. Leaders of the organization were seeking to track spending for out-of-school time youth development in Milwaukee, a need that was heightened by last summer’s events in Sherman Park, which led community leaders to ask searching questions about the services we provide to young people throughout the city.

Show Me the Way explores how the Milwaukee Public Schools, the City of Milwaukee, and Milwaukee County are investing in Milwaukee’s youth during the times they are not in school. It looks at funding across three years (2014, 2015, and 2016) in six programmatic areas: academic development, physical development, vocational/workforce development, arts and cultural development, social/emotional/physical health promotion, and violence prevention/safety promotion.

The report finds that the three governmental entities spend a combined $21 million annually for out-of-school time youth programming, and sheds light on the way those resources are being allocated and used. Our review also generated three specific insights that may be useful in future efforts to build a stronger youth development agenda across all levels of government.

  • New approaches to financial accounting would clarify youth development investment needs and results. It is currently difficult to obtain an understanding of governmental funding that is directed specifically to youth development, as funding amounts often are buried within initiatives for the general population and/or are spread across multiple funding areas.
  • Joint planning and goal-setting could be used to strengthen current initiatives and maximize the value of investments by individual governments. For example, if the three entities determined that providing safe and modern playground facilities for all youth in all parts of the city was a desirable outcome, then they could strategically determine how to prioritize and allocate individual investments in City playgrounds, County park playgrounds, and school-based playgrounds based on that goal. Similarly, an outcomes-based approach to trauma-based programming could encourage greater coordination of investments that are currently made by each of the three entities without the benefit of joint planning.
  • Preserving and potentially enhancing after school programs, such as 21st Century Community Learning Centers (CLCs), could be the first step in a longer-term effort to collaborate on goals and to coordinate investment. A pressing need to address funding challenges for after school programs offers an immediate opportunity for joint planning and collaboration. Planning among MPS, the City, and County regarding how MPS and City funding might be strategically coordinated to maximize support for after school programs, how/whether the County could partner with respect to recreational programming or other resources, and what it might take to further enhance the role of the CLCs and other after school programs would appear to be warranted.

Equipped with the information in this scan, it is our hope that the community will be better able to coordinate youth development programming and opportunities, and to enhance such programming by leveraging additional resources and developing mutual objectives and accountabilities.