Public Policy Forum Blog

Forum's Top Five Research Findings of 2015

It doesn't feel like the year should be coming to a close given our warm temperatures and lack of snow. Yet, the calendar says it's late December, which means its time to unveil the Forum ‘s top five research findings of the year. 

Last year’s list included findings on cultural and entertainment funding models, the fiscal benefits of water utility consolidation at the Milwaukee County Grounds, the growth of Milwaukee-area nonprofits, and the astonishing number of school openings, closings, and restructurings in Milwaukee during the past decade. This year’s list also touches on service consolidation and cultural facilities, but includes items from different research areas, as well.  Here’s the 2015 list in chronological order:

  1. Cleveland's "HealthLine" offers remarkable parallels to a potential east-west corridor Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) route in Milwaukee. In March, we released Picking Up the Pace, a report exploring strategies used by transit systems nationally to enhance the speed and efficiency of their bus services. We found that one of the most highly acclaimed models for BRT is Cleveland's 7.1-mile HealthLine, which connects the region's two largest employment centers – downtown and University Circle, where major regional health care facilities are located. When considering the objectives and design of the HealthLine, it's difficult not to think about the potential for a similar BRT line in Milwaukee to connect our downtown with our regional medical center – a concept that is now being explored by County, municipal, and regional planning officials. 
  1. Changing the law to treat all minor marijuana possession offenses as municipal violations may have a greater impact on reducing incarceration and preserving justice system resources than reducing municipal fine amounts.
    Marijuana in Milwaukee, our May report analyzing the City of Milwaukee's legal paradigm for minor marijuana offenses, found that among 4,554 total first-time small-scale marijuana possession cases in which the defendant was found guilty between January 2012 and March 2015, only 12 cases resulted in jail sentences for failure to pay the municipal fine. We also found that jail time for subsequent offenses – which are treated as criminal offenses – is much more common. That finding led us to suggest that those concerned about the fiscal and societal impacts of laws related to possession of small amounts of marijuana should focus not only on first-time arrests, but also on the treatment of second and subsequent offenses.     
  1. Greater Milwaukee's arts and culture sector is extremely dependent upon only a handful of funding sources.
    In August, we released How Much is Enough?, a report analyzing the capacity of the region's philanthropic community to meet the needs of its arts and cultural organizations and facilities. We found that between 2004 and 2011, about 60% of all arts and culture funding emanated from only five foundations, which suggests that the sector is particularly vulnerable to changes that may occur at those foundations. Overall, we found that the private philanthropic community does have capacity to cover many of the unmet and future needs in the region’s arts and culture sector, but that this capacity extends primarily to big, transformational projects.
  1. Greater Milwaukee's teacher workforce lacks the racial diversity that is characteristic of its student population.
    Taking Attendance, our August report analyzing the characteristics of the metro region's teacher workforce, found that minority teachers comprise just 10.9% of educators, while students of color make up 43.9% of enrollments. Furthermore, no district in the region has a teacher workforce that matches the ethnic diversity of its students, and 16 districts have no minority teachers at all. We referenced the growing body of research suggesting that minority students can benefit when assigned teachers of their own race or ethnicity, and expressed the hope that districts will be motivated to address this imbalance.
  1. North Shore residents are spending much less on fire and rescue services and receiving better service than they would have if fire department consolidation had not occurred.
    Come Together, our October analysis of the finances and operations of the North Shore Fire Department on the 20th anniversary of its creation, found that the seven North Shore municipalities collectively are spending about $2.8 million less per year to support the consolidated department than they would have if each operated its own full-time, fully professional fire department. Meanwhile, they are getting a level of service – particularly with regard to EMS – that they likely could not have achieved on their own. These findings led us to question why more service consolidation is not being considered across the North Shore and our metro region.

With a record 21 research reports in 2015, it was more difficult than ever to whittle down our list of top findings to five. Left off the list this year were important findings related to the health of cultural and recreational facilities in the WOW counties; potential untapped capacity for outpatient behavioral health services in Milwaukee County; trends in public funding for community development initiatives in the City of Milwaukee; and a host of interesting findings from our recent survey of Metro Milwaukee millennials. Also absent were findings generated by citizens themselves from using our new interactive website to explore funding options for cultural and entertainment facilities. Those interested in reviewing those and other research findings can access the Forum’s full list of research publications here

Rob Henken