News & Updates | 4th Quarter 2020

By Jeffrey Schmidt

President’s Message

The devastating impacts wrought by the global pandemic in 2020 have been appropriately discussed and contextualized by many others in the final days of this tragic year. Instead of reflecting on that damage in my year-end message, I’ll focus instead on the Forum’s role in responding. COVID-19 not only has generated considerable short-term damage and misery, but it also has exposed weaknesses in our government structures that must be thoughtfully addressed. continue reading…

New tenant-landlord resource center coming to Milwaukee

In 2018, we facilitated a series of meetings with a Milwaukee task force that had formed to address the city’s high number of evictions. That work culminated in our No Place Like Home report, which laid out the group’s vision for reducing evictions through several recommended strategies. The first strategy envisioned a new tenant and landlord resource center that would serve as a “front door” for eviction prevention services in Milwaukee.

Since our report was published, the Milwaukee Eviction Prevention Coalition has worked toward implementing its vision and recently announced the creation of a new Milwaukee Rental Housing Resource Center that will be housed in a building owned by Community Advocates in downtown Milwaukee.

The new center will open its doors at a critical time. With the state’s eviction moratorium ending and federal funding for emergency rent assistance running out, a spike in evictions is expected in 2021.

Arts and cultural organizations receive a lifeline

Our August 2020 report, Arts and Culture in a Pandemic: An Existential Threat, showed just how damaging COVID-19 has been for arts and cultural organizations and individual artists in Wisconsin. Most organizations have reduced staff and cancelled performances and educational programming for months, leading to considerable financial losses. Our analysis also found Wisconsin allocates fewer state dollars per-capita to arts and culture than any other state, and unlike many neighboring states, had yet to adopt strategies to help sustain the arts and culture sectors through the crisis. Our report was covered widely in the media and we presented our findings at a large virtual event organized by the Wisconsin Arts Board.

This fall, the state of Wisconsin and Milwaukee County took action using funding from the federal CARES Act. In September, the state announced an initial $5 million emergency grant program for arts and cultural organizations hurt by the pandemic, which was followed by two additional rounds in November and December that brought the total value of state support to $35 million. Milwaukee County also dedicated $700,000 to local arts and cultural organizations impacted by COVID-19.

Heading into 2021, artists and arts and culture organizations in Wisconsin continue to face major challenges, but without a doubt, the public funding they have received has provided welcome relief.

New Milwaukee County crisis facility linked to Policy Forum facilitation

An important principle advocated by the Forum for decades is the need for public-private cooperation to address some of our most demanding local government policy challenges. More recently, since we co-authored a landmark report on mental health redesign in Milwaukee County in 2010, the need for modernization and enhancement of behavioral health services has also been a periodic topic of our research and facilitation.

We were very excited, therefore, to see both of those principles coalesce with the announcement last month that Milwaukee County and its four major private health systems will be jointly pursuing the development of a new mental health emergency center just north of downtown. The facility reflects core objectives embraced by the county and its private sector partners since our original redesign report and fortified by a subsequent report we co-authored in 2018 that launched the planning for the new joint venture.

Foremost among those objectives was the need to develop a crisis service system in the county that emphasizes a continuum of community-based crisis prevention and treatment options while still providing emergency care for those who need it in a specialized clinical setting. The new facility will anchor such an improved service delivery system and we look forward to watching the exciting plan become a reality.

In time of crisis, Salute honors excellence in local government

Attendees from across the state tuned in to our virtual Salute to Local Government to join us in celebrating excellence in government and to hear from our keynote speaker, Milwaukee County Executive David Crowley. While the pandemic required that we reimagine this year’s awards program, it did not stop us from recognizing all of our local governments, school districts, and individual public sector employees who have gone the extra mile and sacrificed for the common good this year.

Congrats to all of this year’s winners! You can watch their video vignettes here.

We also hosted a pre-event panel session, The Public Sector in a Pandemic, with our individual award winners, and we’ve posted the recording here. 

Many thanks again to our event sponsors, virtual “table” sponsors, and individual registrants who supported our first-ever virtual Salute.

What’s on our research agenda for 2021?

State Budget: The upcoming 2021-23 state budget represents the most challenging in a decade and its resolution depends on a divided government. As Democratic Gov. Tony Evers and the GOP-controlled Legislature seek to balance the budget amid a pandemic, we will be following every step of the way. This spring, look for the second edition of our Wisconsin State Budget Brief, which will examine the bill that the governor is expected to unveil in February.

Transit: COVID-19 has dealt a massive blow to transit systems around the state, causing ridership and fare revenues to plummet and adding costs ranging from enhanced cleaning to personal protective equipment. Federal coronavirus relief aid has helped protect transit systems so far this year but will be running out eventually. We are working with the Wisconsin Public Transportation Association and transit systems in Milwaukee County, Madison, Appleton, Janesville, Wausau, and Stevens Point to document the challenges facing these systems and consider how to preserve this critical service for state residents.

Digital Divide: Earlier this year, we looked at the potential impact of the digital divide in the state on K-12 education during the pandemic. Now, with the support of the Greater Milwaukee Committee, we are looking at the challenges that small businesses in the state’s largest city face in harnessing the internet and technology to further their goals. We’ll examine whether entrepreneurs of color face greater barriers and what policies might help to overcome them.

Education: In the coming months, we will examine the impact of the state budget on Wisconsin’s K-12 schools and later in the spring do our annual briefs on 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 once the data become available from the state Department of Public Instruction.

Registration open for our 2021 Annual Meeting

Join us for our annual meeting–held virtually–on January 25 from 4:00 – 5:30 p.m.! Our program will feature a provocative discussion about our new report on the state of Wisconsin’s public universities and colleges. We’ll convene 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 and leave time for questions from registered participants. We’ll also swear in new and re-elected members of our Board of Directors and preview our 2021 research agenda. Registration is free, but required for this event.

Stay tuned for a survey on our 2020 research

Every year, we ask our members to give us their feedback on our research and communications. Your input helps us understand what we’re doing well and where we can make improvements. Check your inbox next week for the survey!.

Thank you!

As we ended a difficult 2020 and look ahead to 2021, 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 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