Boots & Sabers

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0601, 04 Jun 24

MPS is terrible at math

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online and in print. Not withstanding the resignation of the superintendent last night, MPS is rotten to the core.

The Milwaukee Public School District is absolutely awash with money. Already one of the highest spending districts in the state, the district received hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars from state taxpayers, COVID money, and a new tax increase. They have so much money that they cannot even tell anyone where they are spending it. And yet, the kids in their charge continue to receive a terrible education. Milwaukee’s voters do not seem to care, but the cost to the rest of the state is enormous.


One cannot discuss MPS without reminding ourselves how terrible the district is at educating kids. After all, all of the money is supposed to be for educating kids, right? According to the state Department of Public Instruction’s district report card, only 17.3 percent of MPS students are proficient or better in language arts. That means that less than one in five district kids can read or write at or above grade level. For math, it is worse. Only 11.1 percent kids can do math at or above grade level.


The district’s graduation rate is a pathetic 71.1 percent compared with a 91.8 percent state average. Considering how abysmal the performance scores are for MPS kids, the fact that they are graduating over 70 percent speaks to how pathetically low the standards are to graduate from MPS.


Keeping in mind the knowledge of how bad MPS is at their core mission of educating kids, the recent debacle over finances should enrage you even more.


A couple of weeks ago, federal officials suspended funding for the Head Start program (a program that has proven to be ineffective and should be shuttered, but that is not the subject of this column) over MPS officials slipshod management of the program. Last week, state officials at the DPI threatened to withhold state funding until MPS submits mandatory financial reports to the state. MPS is eight months late in submitting the financial reports.


It is clear that MPS has become so dysfunctional that they cannot even manage to submit routine financial reports that have been done for decades. The more cynical of us might suspect that they have not submitted their financial reports because they do not want people to know where they are spending all of the money. As a practice, however, I try to not ascribe to malice what can readily be explained by rank incompetence. And if there is any word that describes MPS’ leadership, “incompetence” is a word that is easily defensible.


Federal and state actions come as MPS has submitted its budget for this year. At $1.47 billion, MPS intends to spend about $1.5 billion to educate about 62,000 students. For those doing quick math at home, yes, that is over $24,000 tax dollars being spent per student to ensure that one in five can read and one in 10 can do math.


Bear in mind that MPS has been rolling in cash for years. During the pandemic, MPS received over $1 billion in COVID relief money despite the fact that their schools were closed much longer than most other schools in the state.


In the most recent state budget passed last year, state lawmakers increased K12 spending by $1 billion. The lion’s share of that went to MPS.


Just a couple of months ago, district voters idiotically passed a referendum that allowed MPS to jack up property taxes to spend an additional $252 million. During the debate over that referendum, MPS officials were unable or unwilling to even tell voters where the money would be spent.


Given how bad MPS officials are at math, it is no wonder that they are terrible at teaching kids how to do it.


If there was ever a case for ending the government monopoly on the delivery of education, MPS is it. While they spend an eye-popping amount of money, they are unwilling or unable to give details on where the money is being spent. And at the end of the day, they are dreadfully bad at executing their core mission to educate kids. How much longer will parents and taxpayers ignore the fact that MPS is a failed institution? If history is any guide, the answer is “forever.”



0601, 04 June 2024


  1. Merlin

    I don’t think they’re bad at math at all. I think they’re just incredibly arrogant and operate without credible oversight. It isn’t that they can’t file mandatory financial reports so much as they don’t think they should have to file any reports at all. They just got away with demanding an additional $252M from taxpayers and felt absolutely no compulsion to justify any of that additional spending. This incredibly arrogant attitude is decades old and while Vliet Street might exhibit the worst of it, it is a corporate culture that has filtered down to the local levels too. This I know from personal experience.

    A true audit of MPS would reveal just how much of their spending is devoted to social services rather than their mission of actual education. I’m fully aware of their arguments that the social services are a predicate to the mission of education, but as Owen has pointed out… their product continues to suck regardless of the price point. The City of Milwaukee has been 100% complicit in this transfer of social services funding to MPS, which accounts for their decades of silence in hopes that nobody notices the shift. They’re doing their best to hide and hope the anger is short-lived. They all know that Wisconsin seldom says no to education, so that’s how they play the game.

    Just to be clear here, the people being angry and vocal now are only upset about a possible lack of funding, not the fact that the education product sucks. MPS and the board will do as they’ve always done, which is to cycle in a new Superintendent with promises of improvement in exchange for increased funding… the politicians (both Dems and Pubbies) will agree to throw more money at MPS… the public will quiet down and go home… and the education product will continue to decline. None of this behavior is new.

  2. dad29

    Agreed. The loudest screeching at those Board meetings comes from teaching staff.

    Also agreed: Robin Vos will shove another $100 million into “education” no matter what. Maybe even $500 million. He doesn’t need a reason, because he’s Robin Vos.

  3. Merlin

    Some of the media folks seem to have a bit of interest in asking what DPI knew about MPS’s delinquent financial reporting prior to the increased spending referendum vote. Along the lines of what they knew, when they knew it, and why did they stay silent on the subject. Probably won’t have legs, but a few folks have at least made the connection.

  4. dad29

    A J Bayatpour of Channel 58 has a genuine animus toward MPS’ board and (former) Super. He reports that the Board got a report from their auditor–Baker, Tilley–stating that they could not complete their audit due to missing numbers AND stonewalling from MPS.

    IOW, the Board knew–a long time ago–that there was trouble in River City. And they didn’t give a flying damn.

  5. Tuerqas

    The abysmal reading and math rates may not be what the parents want, but it is exactly what Dems (and apparently what the people that vote for them) want.
    My hope now is that teachers in public schools teach kids so badly that they never learn how to vote in the first place.

    I have given up on the idea that Dem followers will ever understand that they have been voting American Democracy, and ideals especially iterated in the Constitution, out of existence for at least 3 decades now. The Dem leaders have been doing it knowingly, but I have always figured that the liberal voters were just sad dupes who failed critical thinking when they were in school, so didn’t mind it leaving public school curricula.

    It would be fair if MPS lost the funding that they failed to report for, but the culture of not doing homework to graduate has obviously filtered up to the School officials now. They probably think that if kids didn’t need to do their homework and were still graduated, why should they have to turn anything in to get their paychecks.

  6. Mar

    The sad or funny thing is that MPS, like most school districts are teaching to the test
    Even after teaching the kids what will be on the test, they still fail miserably.

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