News & Updates | 2nd Quarter 2020

By Therese Schneider

President’s Message

If a global pandemic that has disproportionately ravaged communities of color and nationwide protests stemming from the murder of George Floyd cannot awaken state and regional policymakers to the need to address metro Milwaukee’s unacceptable disparities, then it is difficult to imagine what would… continue reading

In pivot to COVID-19 research, Forum continues mission

When our world was upended in March by COVID-19, the Wisconsin Policy Forum upended its research portfolio to analyze the pandemic’s effects on our economy, schools, local governments, and transportation systems. This was a shift in our organization’s research agenda but a continuation of our mission: conducting impartial public policy research and analysis to inform debate and aid decision-making in our state. Since March, we’ve released nine reports focused explicitly on the pandemic and more that examine it secondarily. Examples include research on:

There will be more COVID-19 research to come from the Forum, as well as more research on issues related to racial equity and the national protests. Stay tuned – and don’t hesitate to reach out to us if you have suggestions.

Forum’s education research highlights busy second quarter

Our unanticipated pivot to COVID 19-related research did not stop Forum researchers from also completing several longer-term projects already in the pipeline during the past quarter, as well as timely budget briefs on the Milwaukee and Madison public school districts. Overall, we published a whopping 19 reports from April through June.

Education research was an area of focus, with our school budget briefs complemented by four additional reports on education-related issues. That’s no coincidence, as equity-based improvements to K-12 education should be at or near the top of the list of policy reforms considered by lawmakers here and nationally as an antidote to racial injustice.

Our reports this quarter have highlighted several problem areas when it comes to K-12 education equity, including the first in our series of reports on the need for greater teacher workforce diversity; an analysis of the state’s “digital divide” and the disadvantages it poses to students of color when it comes to distance learning; and our annual Milwaukee Public Schools budget brief, which reveals that despite a successful referendum in April, the district will still struggle mightily to add educational enhancements that are enjoyed by wealthier districts.

Our education research – which is generously supported by the Greater Milwaukee Foundation and Northwestern Mutual Foundation – will continue to be a staple of our research portfolio as we seek ways to quantify and propose effective solutions to racial achievement gaps and inequities.

Policy discussions brought to you virtually

Nearly 150 people from across the state tuned in on June 17 for the inaugural installment of our new virtual event series, Forum Friday, where we discuss a timely research topic and invite notable guests and Forum members to join the conversation. Forum Senior Education Researcher Anne Chapman and President Rob Henken discussed key findings from our recent research on K-12 schools. Alan Borsuk, senior fellow at Marquette Law School, longtime Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reporter and columnist, and noted Milwaukee-area education expert, joined the discussion. Watch the recording here.

While Forum Friday doesn’t replace our in-person events, we hope this can be a new way to keep you informed and connected on our state’s most pressing public policy issues.

Upcoming research

Higher Education: State support for post-secondary education in Wisconsin has lagged most other states over the past decade and enrollments have also fallen. In addition, the state has imposed an in-state tuition freeze on University of Wisconsin institutions including for the flagship UW-Madison campus, controlling both costs for families but also revenues for supporting UW’s mission. This study – commissioned by Badgers United – will look at the structure, governance, and funding for the UW and technical colleges in the state, place them in a national context, and explore options for improvement.

Service Sharing: Our body of work on intergovernmental service sharing is designed to bring effective and efficient public services to communities around Wisconsin. We currently have two service sharing studies underway – one looking at how local governments in La Crosse County could collaborate to better deliver fire protection and emergency medical services to their communities and a second taking a similar look at just EMS service sharing in Jefferson County. We will soon be launching a third on fire and EMS service sharing possibilities in Ozaukee County.

Local Spending: Following up on last year’s report on the limited revenue options available to cities and villages in Wisconsin, this report looks at local government spending in the state. The study will focus on services provided mainly by municipalities and will compare Wisconsin spending levels to those in other states, examine factors contributing to that spending, and where possible offer context on the services provided.

Municipal Finances: With COVID-19 hammering local government budgets, the Forum’s work tracking them is more important than ever. In addition to our annual briefs on the city of Milwaukee, city of Madison, and Milwaukee County budgets (to be published in October), we will also produce an updated version of our Municipal DataTool later this summer, which will provide key figures on taxes, spending, and more for the more than 600 cities and villages in Wisconsin.

Event updates

Forum Friday Save the date! Our next virtual Forum Friday will be on July 17, and we’ll discuss police spending with two notable guests. More details soon!

Salute to Local Government We’re still accepting nominations for our 2020 Salute to Local Government! We postponed the event – originally scheduled for June 22 – to the fall in the hope that we would still be able to have it take place in person. That is now looking unlikely, but if that’s the case then we’ll still hold it as a virtual event, as we believe it’s more important than ever to recognize local governments, school districts, and individual public sector employees who are excelling in these challenging times. We’ll also soon be accepting nominations for two new COVID-19 awards categories – stay tuned for the details in the near future.

Night of Nonpartisanship – We’re sad to announce that we have canceled our much-anticipated Night of Nonpartisanship gala dinner, originally scheduled for October 1. We were planning an exciting evening with presidential historian Jon Meacham and 500 of our friends and supporters, but we are compelled to follow current and likely future guidelines that restrict large gatherings.

New faces at the Forum

We’re pleased to welcome our summer graduate intern, Muhammad Shayan! He is currently pursuing a master’s degree in the La Follette School of Public Affairs at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. He is assisting with research on higher education in Wisconsin and other research projects. 


Thank you!

During these past several challenging months, we’ve been especially grateful for the support of our members and sponsors. While continuing our work on planned research projects, we supplemented our research portfolio to address the impacts of COVID-19 and overdue discussions on racial disparities in Wisconsin. Thank you for reading our research, tuning in for our virtual events, participating in our (virtual) committee meetings, and renewing 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 housing one of the nation’s most successful nonpartisan, independent public policy research organizations.

Pillars of Public Policy

Sentinels of Civil Conduct