Budget Brief

2025 Proposed Milwaukee Public Schools Budget

May 2024


Upon its release on April 26, the Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) superintendent’s proposed budget for the 2024-25 school year (referred to here as the 2025 budget) set off alarm bells. Fresh off a successful push for voter approval to exceed state revenue limits by $252 million in perpetuity after a four-year phase-in, most MPS stakeholders would have expected the budget to be free from the position and program cuts that had been the norm in previous years. Instead, media coverage the next day reported the loss of 288 positions and “major cuts.”

Our closer look reveals, however, that the position reductions stem not just from some continued financial challenges, but at least equally from human resources realities and other factors that make it unlikely the district can fill hundreds of vacant positions and that lessen the need to do so. And, while the infusion of dollars from the referendum does not allow for an expansion of overall programs and services, it avoids sweeping cuts and stabilizes the district’s finances for now while also providing a $250 per pupil increase for schools and allowing for continued spending on some priorities launched with resources from the 2020 referendum and furthered with pandemic relief aid.

The $140 million in extra revenue limit authority that will be delivered by the referendum in 2025 still leaves a budget gap for district leaders to fill, but options emerged to do so that largely spare classrooms from pain. For example, the budget adjusts to an historically tight labor market by shifting more teachers away from district-wide supportive functions and into classrooms, and by eliminating some positions that have been vacant for years and are now deemed unnecessary.

The challenge of expiring federal aid from the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER) also appears to be met without excessive harm. It is difficult to determine which positions and purchased services funded with ESSER always were viewed by the district as temporary and thus not suitable for replacement with dollars from MPS’ general revenue streams, as opposed to others that it hoped to continue past the expiration of ESSER funding. What we can glean is that the proposed budget funds some of those positions and services with general revenues, while allowing others to expire.

In the pages that follow, we provide greater detail on how the proposed budget uses the $140 million from the 2024 referendum, where position reductions and the inability to replace ESSER dollars might be most impactful, and how the successful referendum has altered the district’s long-term fiscal outlook. We also note where we are unable to sufficiently address these questions in the hope that MPS leaders might share answers prior to final budget adoption in the fall.

Overall, our aim is to provide an independent assessment of MPS’ 2025 budget that will encourage informed deliberations by school board members and shed greater light for the public on the overall financial state of Wisconsin’s largest school district. Continue reading…