Milwaukee Schools poised to lose $81M in state aid

Statewide, estimated general school aids up 4.2 percent

Milwaukee Public Schools asked voters to approve a $252 referendum Tuesday. Without it, district officials say programs will have to be cut. Photo courtesy of Julia Turner

Milwaukee Public Schools will receive about $81 million less in state general school aid in 2024-25 according to estimated data released Monday by the Department of Public Instruction. 

The decrease in state funding is the latest blow to the embattled school district that has faced financial scandal since it was revealed by DPI that financial documents were missing for months. 

About half of the $81 million reduction – $42.6 million – reflects an adjustment from DPI due to district reporting errors in the 2022-23 school year.

Stay informed on the latest news

Sign up for WPR’s email newsletter.

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

During the 2023-24 school year, MPS received $636.4 million in state aid. DPI estimates show the district will receive $555.3 million during the 2024-25 school year, a 12.75 percent decrease. 

Last month, the Milwaukee Board of School Directors approved a proposed $1.5 billion budget

In that budget, the district estimated it would receive $595.3 million in state aid – DPI’s estimate released today is $40 million less.

All together, the district’s budget included a $124.6 million dollar increase in combined property taxes and general aid for the 2024-25 school year.

The budget can be adjusted once final general aid calculations are released by DPI in October. The district also narrowly passed a $252 million referendum in the spring attempting to offset a $200 million deficit. 

Todd Gray, MPS’ acting Chief Financial Officer, said it is important to understand all of the numbers released Monday are still estimates.

“In the meantime, MPS will use this information to evaluate strategies to make adjustments that will be reflected in the amended adopted budget,” Gray said in a statement.

Tough decisions could be on the horizon

Losing $81,132,210 in general aid will now force the state’s largest school district to make tough decisions. 

“Our goal is to maintain services to students and to do exactly what we told taxpayers we would do when the referendum passed in the spring, which is to maintain art, music, library and gym, and to invest in academic success,” school board president Marva Herndon said in a statement.

Jason Stein, research director with the Wisconsin Policy Forum, said the reduction in state aid will be an obvious challenge for both the district and Milwaukee as a whole.

“We are following this closely and hope to learn more details soon about how this problem arose and how it will be addressed,” Stein said.

Quinton Klabon, research director with the conservative Institute for Reforming Government, said solving the budget gap will be painful.

“No cut will be invisible, so every curriculum purchase, every contract, and every staffing decision must justify itself going forward,” Klabon said. “How MPS handles these summer months will determine whether students get the education and services they deserve. Rebuilding trust with parents begins now.”

State aid is the largest form of state support for Wisconsin public schools

DPI calculates general school aids through a formula that uses property values in the district, enrollment and district spending.

The current estimates are based on the 2023-25 biennial budget and pupil count and budget data reported by school districts to the DPI. 

Due to previously reported delays in financial data reporting by Milwaukee Public Schools, the DPI anticipates greater than usual volatility in these estimates.

“Figures used in this estimate may change by a greater than usual amount for the certification of general school aids,” according to a DPI press release. “The department therefore encourages caution when utilizing this estimate.”

Statewide, estimated general school aids for 2024-25 total $5.58 billion, a 4.2 percent increase from 2023-24. 

Payments to districts will increase an estimated $234.3 million because of two factors: an increase of $224.9 million per the state budget as passed by the Wisconsin State Legislature; and the decrease in the required Milwaukee Public Schools funding for the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program due to statutory changes, according to DPI. 

Of the state’s 421 school districts, 289 districts are currently estimated to receive more general aid, while 124 districts are estimated to receive less — with 64 districts receiving the maximum decrease of 15 percent. Eight districts will have no change. 

Madison Metropolitan Area School District will see an estimated 36 percent increase in state aid. 

Racine Unified School District, which had the largest decrease in general aid last year, will get an estimated 14 percent increase.