News & Updates | 3rd Quarter 2020

By Therese Schneider

President's Message

As our increasingly polarized nation gears up for one of the most consequential presidential elections in its 244-year history, it is critical to distinguish between politics and elections on the one hand, and local public services on the other. Yes, there will always be sharp ideological disagreement on the role of government and how much government we need. …continue reading

State acts on issues highlighted in Forum research

The Forum always aims to produce research that is relevant to pressing public policy problems in our state and communities. But amid the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, this approach has taken on heightened urgency. In September, the state announced new emergency funding in two areas that had been the subject of recent Forum reports.

Gov. Tony Evers announced $30 million of additional federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) dollars to support early care and education providers. Our July report, Wisconsin’s child care sector needs care itself, found roughly 40% of the state’s child care providers had closed at one point during the pandemic – and that the sector might need help to ensure it could continue adequately supporting families and employers.

The Evers administration also announced a $5 million COVID-19 Cultural Organization Grant Program for Wisconsin cultural organizations affected by the pandemic. Our August report, Arts and Culture in a Pandemic: An existential threat, found that as the pandemic caused unemployment to increase, the arts and culture sector was among the hardest hit. That was compounded by the fact that arts and cultural groups in Wisconsin receive the lowest level of per-capita state support in the nation, our research found.

As the current crisis unfolds, we’ll continue pursuing pertinent areas of inquiry that examine how our state and local governments are being affected – and what they can do to respond.

Forum Friday discussions tackle big issues

Our Forum Fridays discuss timely research topics and invite notable guests and our audience to join the conversation. We hope this can be a new way to keep citizens informed and connected on our state’s most pressing public policy issues. We hosted three Forum Friday events in recent months and posted the recordings on our website. Check them out!

Investigating Police BudgetsJuly 17
Forum President Rob Henken discussed a report we published recently on police spending trends statewide as well as analyses of police spending in Milwaukee. City of Milwaukee Alderman Michael Murphy and Reggie Moore, director of Milwaukee’s Office of Violence Prevention, were our guests.

The COVID-19 Child Care ConundrumAugust 14
Forum Researcher Betsy Mueller discussed a recent report on how the COVID-19 pandemic upended Wisconsin’s child care sector, creating huge challenges for children and families seeking high-quality care and for businesses seeking to reopen. Wisconsin Department of Children and Families Secretary Emilie Amundson and Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce President Tim Sheehy were our guests.

Is Southeast Wisconsin Ready to Confront its Affordable Housing Challenges?September 25
Forum Senior Researcher Joe Peterangelo discussed our recent report on the city of Milwaukee’s affordable housing efforts. Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Ideas Lab reporter James Causey and Racine County Executive Jonathan Delagrave were our guests.

Stay tuned for more Forum Friday events in the near future! 

Following up on affordable housing research

Our July 2020 report, Laying the Foundation, analyzed the city of Milwaukee’s role in addressing local affordable housing challenges. We found home repair assistance for lower-income homeowners has been the city’s top housing priority in recent years, while support for new affordable housing development has been a growing area of focus. Our research also suggested that streamlined services, clearer leadership, increased strategic planning and coordination, and expanded private sector engagement could further improve the city’s housing impacts.

In July and August, we briefed the mayor of Milwaukee and commissioner of the city’s Department of City Development on our findings. We also gave presentations to MKE United and the Community Development Alliance – two private sector-led coalitions that are focusing their attention increasingly on affordable housing. In September, in the midst of a very difficult budget year, Mayor Barrett proposed dedicating an additional $6.5 million to a variety of housing programs in 2021, including $1.4 million for a new down payment assistance program for lower-income homebuyers.

While Laying the Foundation illuminated the city of Milwaukee’s housing activities and those of other public sector players, we recently launched a follow-up study that will survey local affordable housing developers and nonprofit housing service providers. The goal is to understand the housing activities of non-governmental organizations and businesses, how they complement those of the public sector, and whether and where service gaps may exist. Look for a report on this topic in the coming months

Upcoming research

Boosting Teacher Diversity: As our June report made clear, Wisconsin’s teacher workforce has not kept pace with the rapidly diversifying ranks of our K-12 students. This companion report will draw on national research and on-the-ground interviews with practitioners to highlight the most promising strategies to address this challenge and ultimately close the achievement gap for students of color.

Tracking the State Budget: The Forum’s traditional focus on the state budget takes on added urgency this year as the pandemic has slowed state revenues and sped up expenses on public health and welfare. Much of this work will have to wait for Gov. Tony Evers to submit his 2021-23 budget proposal early next year, but our staff are already preparing early analysis of the needs and challenges that lie ahead.

Appearing soon: We have previously cited reports on higher education in Wisconsin, local government spending, and fire and EMS service sharing in this space and several of those will be published in the coming months. The report on Wisconsin’s colleges and universities in a time of crisis reviews their financing, structure, and governance and compares this state’s approach to other states. The spending study looks at key local functions such as police, fire protection, and streets and again compares Wisconsin to other states. Finally, our reports on potential service sharing opportunities between fire and EMS departments in Jefferson and La Crosse counties will review the broad spectrum of options and their pros and cons.

Event updates

Forum Friday Save the date! Our next virtual Forum Friday will be on October 30. We'll discuss the proposed budgets for Wisconsin's two largest cities, Madison and Milwaukee. More details soon!

Salute to Local Government – Join us for our 28th annual Salute to Local Government awards on November 18 from 12:00 – 1:30 p.m.! We’ll recognize Wisconsin local governments and school districts for innovation, partnership, and cooperation, as well as individuals in government and school districts for excellence and lifetime achievement. In addition, this year’s awards slate includes two new categories that highlight the unprecedented pandemic-related challenges facing local governments and school districts across the state.  

New faces at the Forum

Angela Thai is our 2020-21 Norman N. Gill Fellow and is currently pursuing a master's degree in Education Leadership and Policy at Marquette University. Her research will focus on public health services in Milwaukee County, including how they are structured and financed and how Milwaukee County compares with peer counties nationally. 

While serving as the Forum's 2020-21 Todd A. Berry Fellow, Madeline (Maddie) Hahn is pursuing both a master's degree in Educational Policy and Foundations at Marquette University and a Wisconsin teaching license. Her research will focus statewide on English Learners (students who are working to become proficient in English), including the range of bilingual-bicultural programs and their impact on academic achievement. 

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. If you haven't already renewed your membership, you can renew easily on our website:

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