Public Policy Forum Blog

Forum's Top Five Research Findings of 2016

As 2016 comes to a close, it's time to unveil the Forum's top five research findings.

Last year’s list included findings on bus rapid transit, enforcement of Milwaukee's marijuana ordinances, philanthropic funding for the arts, Greater Milwaukee's teacher workforce, and North Shore fire consolidation. This year’s list touches on some of those same topics, as well as City of Milwaukee finances and targeted hiring policies. Here’s the 2016 list in chronological order:

  1. Arrests of individuals in Milwaukee for possession of small amounts of marijuana are trending sharply downward. In March, we released Marijuana in Milwaukee: Arrest Trends and Implications, the second in our two-part series addressing municipal marijuana policy. We found that arrests for minor marijuana infractions in Milwaukee declined from about 1,300 in 2012 to about 600 in 2015. We also suggested that in light of that trend, the Milwaukee Police Department's policy of taking the time to arrest such violators – instead of simply issuing citations on the street – perhaps should be revisited.
  1. There is a shrinking supply of new teachers to replace a steady stream of teachers leaving the region's workforce. In April, we released Help Wanted, the final installment of our three-part Milwaukee Educator series that examined the teacher and school leader workforce in Metro Milwaukee. We found that the number of teachers leaving the workforce in the region increased 22.5% over the most recent five-year period for which data were available, while enrollments in teacher preparation programs over a similar period declined by 27.9%. We also found that the problem is not unique to Wisconsin, as enrollments in teacher prep programs nationwide are down 35.3%.
  1. Milwaukee's targeted hiring efforts should be strengthened by focusing on careers, as opposed only to short-term employment. Locally Sourced, our May report on the City's Residents Preference Program (RPP), found that the program is meeting its basic goal of ensuring that qualifying residents account for at least 40% of the hours worked on City-backed public works and development projects. Yet, we also found that fewer than 5% of RPP workers employed on City-financed construction projects since 2010 were apprentices, which suggests many are not being connected to long-term careers in construction. Several of the recommendations we issued to address that and other program challenges were adopted by the Milwaukee Common Council.
  1. Milwaukee County's bus replacement needs are immense. In September, we published A Fork in the Road?, which examined the repair and replacement needs associated with City of Milwaukee and Milwaukee County roads, bridges, and buses. We found that 26% of the County's fleet of 412 buses had exceeded 500,000 miles, which is the threshold used by the federal government to determine eligibility for replacement funding. We also found that appropriately addressing the need to replace those buses would require an average of $13.3 million per year of local funds from 2017-2020, which equates to nearly a third of the County's annual borrowing capacity for its entire array of capital needs.
  1. Virtually all of the additional expenditure capacity available to the City of Milwaukee each year is being used simply to maintain police staffing levels. Making Ends Meet, our September review of the City of Milwaukee's financial condition, found that the public safety function consumed $35 million of the City's overall $38 million increase in general purpose spending between 2011 and 2015. The Milwaukee Police Department (MPD) received the bulk of that increase, yet its staffing declined by eight positions. The City's projected need to continue to use the vast majority of any increased spending capacity just to maintain MPD staffing levels raises substantial concerns about its ability to meet service demands in other departments.

Given our release of 17 research reports in 2016, it was challenging to narrow our list of top findings to five. Left off the list this year were important findings related to the impact of the State's YoungStar program on child care quality and accessibility in Milwaukee County; the health of the region's nonprofit sector; possible strategies to combat obesity in the City of Milwaukee; cultural planning as a way to sustain arts and cultural assets in the region; and options for consolidating public safety dispatch operations in Milwaukee County. Those interested in reviewing these and other research findings can access the Forum’s full list of research publications here


Rob Henken