News & Updates | 1st Quarter 2021

By Therese Schneider

President's message

When I first learned of the dollar amounts that will flow to Wisconsin’s local governments and school districts from the new American Rescue Plan, I felt like I was in the “Bizarro” episode from the Seinfeld show. That’s the one where Jerry and his friends feel like they’re in an alternate universe in which everything is the opposite of what it once was. My Bizarro feeling stems from 22 years of largely depressing experience analyzing or formulating local government budgets…continue reading

Housing research leads to new planning efforts

Our July 2020 report, Laying the Foundation, examined the city of Milwaukee’s efforts to preserve and expand access to affordable housing. We found that while the city dedicates considerable resources to housing, it lacks a comprehensive housing plan and its efforts could be strengthened by improving coordination across city agencies and with the private sector.

In response to our research, the Milwaukee Common Council passed a resolution in January calling for the creation of an interagency housing plan. The city’s plan also will be rolled into a broader “Collective Affordable Housing Plan” being developed by the Community Development Alliance (CDA), a coalition that includes local foundations, nonprofits, and the city and county. The CDA’s plan will involve both public and private sector agencies and will identify strategic housing priorities, action steps needed, and a timeline for implementation. The CDA's efforts will be informed, in part, by new research we'll be releasing in early April on the role of non-governmental entities in Milwaukee's affordable housing landscape.

The city of Milwaukee and the CDA hope to have the city’s interagency plan adopted by the Common Council by the end of September and to begin implementing both plans by the end of this year.  

Continuing to unpack policy impacts of the pandemic

Looking back over the past 12 months to when the COVID-19 pandemic hit U.S. shores, this difficult period also brought an unprecedented shift in the Forum’s research agenda to focus on the pandemic and its policy impacts in Wisconsin. 

We continued to expand our forays on this topic in the first quarter of 2021. We examined how the pandemic affected tribal casino revenues and related gaming payments to state and local governments. We looked at how revenues into the state's transportation fund faltered as motorists drove less in 2020. 

We found that Wisconsinites, with recreational options limited in 2020, increasingly turned to outdoor pursuits – with implications for state outdoor and conservation programs and public lands.

We examined the challenges facing fire and EMS agencies in Ozaukee County and collaboration opportunities, finding that a COVID-19 case surge in late 2020 coincided with a particularly fraught period for those service providers.   

Most recently, our 2021-23 state budget brief looks at how Democratic Gov. Tony Evers wants to use the state’s next two-year spending blueprint to help Wisconsin emerge from the pandemic. Republicans who control the Legislature may have different priorities in many areas. But partisan differences notwithstanding, many of the impacts of the pandemic – such as sizable enrollment shifts in K-12 schools, Medicaid, jobless claims, and prison populations –must be addressed. 

There are encouraging signs we may be entering a new phase of the pandemic, but it and its after-effects will be with us for many months to come. The Forum will continue to examine these in their intersections with public policy, seeking to offer insights to the public and policymakers about how best to position our state for a post-pandemic future.

Forum hosts higher ed panel and elects new directors at annual meeting

While our 2021 Annual Meeting looked different this year, it still delivered what our members and supporters have come to expect from Forum events: informed, provocative discussion with high-profile guests on timely policy topics.

More than 200 people tuned in virtually for our event, which featured a provocative discussion about our new report on the state of Wisconsin’s public universities and colleges. We convened a panel with University of Wisconsin–Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Chancellor Mark Mone, and former Governor and interim University of Wisconsin System President Tommy Thompson. Watch the recording here.

We also installed our new Board Chair (Leigh Riley from Foley & Lardner) and a new Vice Chair (Grady Crosby from Johnson Controls) while adding nine new directors from prominent Wisconsin corporations, institutions, and foundations. Many thanks to outgoing Board Chair Steve Radke for his leadership and his guidance during the pandemic.

State superintendent candidates debate at Forum Friday

For the March 2021 installment of our virtual event series, Forum Friday, we hosted a discussion with State Superintendent of Public Instruction candidates Deborah Kerr and Jill Underly. The two candidates will face off for the state’s top education post in the spring election on April 6. Forum Senior Researcher Anne Chapman and City Forward Collective Director of Policy and Advocacy Colleston Morgan, Jr., challenged the candidates to address several pressing statewide K-12 education issues. Watch the discussion here. 

Many thanks again to our series sponsors who support our virtual Forum Friday discussions.


Upcoming research

State Budget and Federal Aid: The lines of debate are now drawn for the 2021-23 state budget and the Wisconsin Policy Forum is following it all closely. We’ve already published our State Budget Brief examining the state’s finances and Democratic Gov. Tony Evers’ bill. Going forward we’ll look at counter-proposals from the GOP-controlled Legislature and the final legislation. We’ll also try to account for the flood of federal aid that will arrive for state and local governments in the coming months and consider how it can be used most fairly, effectively, and responsibly.

Police Reform: At the request of Mayor Tom Barrett, the Forum is examining the policies and procedures of the Milwaukee Police Department in a report aimed at helping to frame reform discussions for Wisconsin’s largest local police agency. In this report, we do so by exploring where MPD stands in terms of prominent police reforms being pursued nationally or suggested locally, as well as how the department compares to peer cities with regard to certain key protocols and practices.

UW-Milwaukee: After a major recent report on the University of Wisconsin System and our state’s technical colleges, this follow-up study will look at the state of UW-Milwaukee’s finances, enrollments, and programs in our current pandemic era. The Forum’s December report, Falling Behind, found the UW System faces the compounding challenges of lagging state funding, a tuition freeze, highly centralized governance, and now COVID-19, but is being buoyed by infusions of federal aid. The new project focuses on how those trends are playing out for the state’s urban research university with a diverse student body.

Education: In the coming months, we will examine the impact of the state budget on Wisconsin’s K-12 schools and initiate deeper analysis of the Milwaukee and Madison school budgets. We will also be researching the programs that seek to serve English learners in schools and updating our popular School DataTool covering all 421 Wisconsin districts with new data from the state Department of Public Instruction.

Thanks for your input!

Earlier this year, we asked members to complete our annual research survey to help us understand what we've been doing well and where we can make improvements. We used the survey to get a sense of how our members are availing themselves of our products and opportunities for involvement. We also added a couple of questions on virtual events and additional ways we can present our research to you. The feedback we received informs our 2021 research agenda and communications. We've summarized the results here.

Upcoming events

Forum Friday: The Pandemic and its Aftermath – Shaping the Next State Budget
Friday, April 16 | 12:30 – 1:30 p.m.
Virtual event series

Join us Friday, April 16 for the next installment of our virtual event series, Forum Friday, where we'll focus on the 2021-23 state budget. Wisconsin Department of Administration Secretary Joel Brennan and State Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu, R-Oostburg, will join us to discuss our state budget brief and to share their views on the impending, high-stakes debate on the state’s next two-year spending plan. Registration is free, but required for this event. 

Salute to Local Government 
Wednesday, November 17, 2021 | 12:00 – 1:30 p.m.
Italian Community Center, Milwaukee, WI

Save the date!

Our annual Salute to Local Government awards program celebrates the benefits that public sector ingenuity and excellence bring to taxpayers and communities throughout Wisconsin. Award categories recognize local governments and school districts for innovative problem-solving, effective use of technology, partnership, and cooperation, as well as individuals in the public sector for excellence and lifetime achievement.

We're closely monitoring event guidelines and hope to be able to see all of you in person this fall. Stay tuned for when we’ll open the award nominations process this summer.

New faces at the Forum

We're excited to introduce our newest team member. Welcome to the Forum!

Mardi Crean is our spring intern who is assisting our research team with data analysis for our Milwaukee County Parks and Milwaukee County Public Health projects. She is currently pursuing a Master of Public Policy degree at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs, University of Minnesota. 

Thank you!

In these turbulent times, we are especially grateful for the support of our members and sponsors. Thank you for reading our research, tuning in for our virtual events, participating in our (virtual) committee meetings, and maintaining your membership with us. 

We are supported by hundreds of corporations, nonprofits, local governments, school districts, and individuals from across the state of Wisconsin. The following members provide particularly generous support that ensures Wisconsin will continue to benefit from having one of the nation's most successful nonpartisan, independent public policy research organizations.

Pillars of Public Policy


Sentinels of Civil Conduct