News & Updates | 1st Quarter 2024

By Jeffrey Schmidt

News & Updates | 1st Quarter 2024


President’s Message


The decision by leaders of the Milwaukee Public Schools to place a referendum on school funding on the April 2 ballot posed a difficult dilemma for the Forum. We are very careful about the reports we publish close to election days, as it is squarely against our mission to do anything to affect electoral outcomes. That goes not only for weighing in on referenda, but also for publishing any reports that might be used by opponents or supporters of specific electoral candidates to unfairly criticize or praise their performance in office. Continue reading…

Referendum gaze turning from Milwaukee to Madison

On the heels of our March report on the Milwaukee Public Schools’ April 2 referendum and related op-ed for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Ideas Lab, the Forum will now turn our gaze to Madison in the lead-up to this November, when it’s increasingly likely that voters will have referenda from two local governments to consider.

Madison Metropolitan School District officials are facing a challenging mix of declining enrollment, inflation, expiring federal COVID-19 aid, and some building issues and needs. As a result, they may decide soon whether to place two referendum questions on the general election ballot to authorize the district to exceed state revenue limits and increase property taxes.

Meanwhile, facing their own budgetary pressures, city of Madison leaders are eying a potential November referendum vote to exceed state levy limits. This possibility was among the topics addressed by Forum Vice President Jason Stein in a presentation to the Madison Common Council at their March 5 meeting.

Stay tuned for reports on these topics in the months to come, as well as a likely in-person event in Madison later this year if one or both sets of referenda materialize!

Housing a hot topic for recent Forum research 


Dedicated readers of Forum research may have noticed that housing was our foremost research topic during the first quarter of 2024. As usual with our choice of report themes, there are timely reasons for this, with connections to state and local public policy.

More and more in the last year, policymakers, business leaders, and other stakeholders, including health care practitioners and foundation officials, have told us that the spiraling cost of housing is a top challenge facing the metro Milwaukee and Madison regions and the state as a whole. Increasing mortgage interest rates and an insufficient pace of new housing construction since the Great Recession are among the factors that have contributed to a crisis of housing affordability and availability in many communities.

We produced four reports this quarter focused on different aspects of housing: racial equity in homeownership, the health impacts of housing access, how housing prices have changed in recent years relative to household incomes, and homelessness.

With little indication that affordable housing challenges in our state and nation are abating, we’ll be seeking more opportunities in the weeks and months ahead to further inform policymakers on the dimensions of our housing problems and how they might be addressed. Please let us know if you have any suggestions!

Mayor, police chief talk public safety at Annual Meeting


The Forum’s annual meeting, held each year in January or February, is an organizational meeting required by our by-laws where our Board of Directors votes to install our officers and directors. We also use the meeting as an opportunity to hear from high-profile community leaders on important issues.

The 2024 Annual Meeting, held Jan. 31 at the Wisconsin Club, featured a panel discussion on public safety in Milwaukee, headlined by Mayor Cavalier Johnson, Milwaukee Police Chief Jeffrey Norman, and Milwaukee Alderman Scott Spiker. Discussion covered the decline in arrests in Milwaukee, as documented in our report, Under Pressure, as well as the city’s reckless driving initiatives, community-oriented policing efforts, and the Office of Community Wellness and Safety.

Our board also re-elected Grady Crosby for his second year as Board Chair and re-installed our other officers: Vice Chairs Kenneth Munson and Mark Czarnecki, Treasurer Bradley Viegut, and Secretary Jennifer Bognar. In addition, the Board installed the following new directors: Tiffany Davister (Ernst & Young), John Huggett (Boldt), Lori Mallett (Hatch Staffing Services), Meg McKenna (CG Schmidt), and Ben Weston (Milwaukee County).

Thanks to the more than 200 guests who joined us – we hope to see you again in 2025!

Posley, special guests join Forum Friday event on MPS referendum


As the April 2 vote nears for a $252 million Milwaukee Public Schools referendum, Milwaukee voters have much to consider from the latest installment of our popular virtual event series, Forum Friday. 

The nearly 200 guests who tuned in on March 22 heard from a range of community voices about the referendum – as well as views on what’s best for the district and for Milwaukee’s kids. 

Our special guests for this event were Milwaukee Public Schools Superintendent Keith Posley; Alan Borsuk, Senior Fellow, Marquette University Law School; Willie Jude II, Executive Director of the Milwaukee Public Schools Foundation; and Colleston Morgan, Jr., Executive Director of City Forward Collective. If you missed it, you can watch the videotaped version here.

Originating during the pandemic, Forum Friday has become a permanent part of our events schedule. It’s an inclusive event option that allows guests to join us at no cost from anywhere in Wisconsin.  Stay tuned for more Forum Friday events in the near future!

Upcoming Reports

K-12 Education in Milwaukee: In this report supported by the Northwestern Mutual Foundation, we look at Milwaukee’s education landscape, from Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) to charter schools to private schools supported by state voucher funding. We will analyze how enrollment and student demographics, funding levels, and student outcomes have changed, both before and after the pandemic. This study will be part of a series of reports looking at how to improve K-12 education in Milwaukee and follows our recent analysis of the $252 million 2024 MPS referendum. We will also produce our annual analysis of the MPS and Madison Metropolitan School District budgets later this spring.

State Finances: Soon after the advent of COVID-19, the Forum produced a brief assessing whether the state of Wisconsin’s finances were ready to weather the economic challenges of the pandemic. This follow-up brief will lay out the remarkable resilience in the state’s fiscal health in the years since then and assess how it might be affected by the 2023-25 state budget.  

Local Roads: The Forum has long tracked both local road quality as well as local spending on road construction and maintenance. This upcoming analysis represents our deepest dive yet into state data on the ratings of every local road in the state, from gravel roads to crowded Milwaukee thoroughfares.

School DataTool: In the coming months, we will update our popular School DataTool covering the finances, students, and outcomes (where available) of all 421 Wisconsin districts. This year, we are also partnering for the first time with the Sheboygan Area School District to produce a custom version of the tool for the district and its residents. Other districts interested in a similar partnership can contact the Forum for more details.

The Performing Arts in Milwaukee: This report – commissioned by the Northwestern Mutual and Herzfeld foundations and Bader Philanthropies – will assess the state of Milwaukee’s performing arts sector post-pandemic. It will look specifically at the sector’s growing reliance on philanthropy as well as opportunities for partnerships and collaboration among existing groups. We’ll also share insights gleaned from our review of performing arts sectors in peer cities.

Membership Spotlight: raSmith


raSmith is a multi-disciplinary civil and structural engineering consulting firm headquartered in Brookfield. The firm provides creative solutions on a variety of public and private sector infrastructure and development projects across the U.S. from seven locations in Wisconsin, Illinois, and California. Its mission is to deliver excellence, vision, and responsive service to its clients.

raSmith cultivates a people-oriented environment and strongly believes in work-life balance and employee development. These attributes and many others have led the firm to receive local and national recognition as a top employer, including being ranked #3 as a Top Workplace by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in 2023. Ricky Smith, the president of raSmith, explains the value of Forum membership to the firm.

How has your membership in the Wisconsin Policy Forum been a resource for you and your organization?

The Wisconsin Policy Forum is an invaluable resource for many raSmith clients by providing data-driven analyses on important community issues. Our firm benefits and grows when our clients are able to address challenges and flourish.

The Forum also provides a great channel with its board meetings, Chairman’s Club events and the Salute to Local Government, to disseminate public policy data, highlight the community-based contributions of many of our firm’s clients, and provide a networking forum for thought leaders and decision makers in the public and private sectors.

Contact Info: Ricky Smith, President

Working Together for a Better Wisconsin

For more than a century, the Forum and its predecessor organizations have produced impartial research and analysis that has generated greater understanding of complex policy issues and improved the quality of public policy decision-making in Wisconsin. In addition to maintaining your ongoing membership, we ask you to consider making a donation to further facilitate our ambitious research and program agenda. Please contact Alyssa Doman, our Membership and Operations Coordinator, at or by phone at (414) 435-1105 to discuss how  your charitable gift can advance our shared goal of producing objective, independent research to address state and local issues throughout Wisconsin.

Thank You!

In these polarized times, we are especially grateful for the support of our members and sponsors. Thank you for reading our research, attending or tuning in for our events, participating in our 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