Public Policy Forum Blog

Public Policy Forum's top five research findings of 2012

If it’s December, then it must be time for the Forum’s annual list of its top five research findings of the year.  Last year’s list included findings on MMSD’s daunting capital needs, the dramatic decline in Milwaukee County’s corrections population, the City of Milwaukee's reliance on state shared revenue, and our region’s tardiness in embracing strategic economic development planning.  The 2012 list is summarized below in chronological order: 

  1. More than four-fifths of Milwaukee County’s rated child care providers stand to lose funding under YoungStar, the state’s new child care quality rating system.  Our January report analyzing the first year of Youngstar implementation examined the ratings earned by 534 child care providers in Milwaukee County as of December 2011.  We found that 428 (80.1%) received 2-star ratings and 33 (6.2%) received 1-star ratings.  In light of the state’s plan to reduce Wisconsin Shares subsidy payments for 2-star providers and disqualify 1-star providers from Wisconsin Share payments entirely, that meant more than 80% of the rated providers would lose funding under YoungStar, a consequence that could impact the availability of child care options.
  1. Much of the growth in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program in the past year appeared to come from existing private school students.  The 2011-12 school year was the first to reflect the impact of major changes to school choice program eligibility adopted in the 2011-13 state budget, including an increase in the enrollment cap, broader eligibility limits, and expansion to schools outside the City of Milwaukee.  Our annual survey of voucher school participants released in February revealed not only that much of the growth in voucher use from the previous year was in schools that already participated in the program, but also that it appeared to have come from students already enrolled in those schools.  
  1. Fire department consolidation that preserves existing capacity can still save millions.  In May, we released a comprehensive report on options for sharing or consolidating fire services in the southern Milwaukee County communities of Franklin, Greendale, Greenfield, Hales Corners and Oak Creek.  Our finding that a full consolidation option could save nearly $2 million annually may not have been surprising to those who have examined fire service consolidation proposals in other states, or to those familiar with Milwaukee County’s consolidated North Shore Fire Department.  It was illuminating to find, however, that such substantial savings were achievable without eliminating any fire stations or reducing direct firefighting staff.
  1. MATC’s technical diploma offerings are generally attuned with the region’s projected job openings.  Our December report on the activities and resources of Milwaukee’s key workforce development players examined MATC’s role in providing non-degree occupational training to job seekers. We found that despite longstanding criticism of the college for failing to appropriately align itself with the needs of area employers, MATC’s technical diploma offerings match up well with Department of Workforce Development projections regarding future job openings.  Nursing, Barber/Cosmetologist and Emergency Medical Technician were the most heavily enrolled technical diploma programs in the 2010-11 academic year. 
  1. MPS’ five-year fiscal forecast is more optimistic than those of Milwaukee County or the City of Milwaukee.  Our December fiscal assessment of the Milwaukee Public Schools examined the district’s most recent five-year fiscal forecast and found that its projection of a $41 million deficit in 2017 is plausible and perhaps even a bit on the conservative side. While a projected deficit of that magnitude certainly is not ideal, it is more optimistic than the five-year deficits projected by the City of Milwaukee and Milwaukee County earlier this year.  It is important to note that each government’s five-year forecast is based on financial modeling that is somewhat speculative in nature, and that a complete understanding of the fiscal condition of each must go far beyond their five-year forecasts.  Nevertheless, given the substantial position cuts and general gloom surrounding MPS’ budget in recent years, to find that MPS’ five-year challenges may not be deeper than those of the city and county was somewhat surprising. 

With 18 research reports in 2012, it was not easy to reduce our list of top findings to five. Left off the list this year were important findings related to the application of the state’s new child care ratings system to afterschool care providers; the out-of-classroom spending habits of Milwaukee County suburban school districts; the range of case management services available to persons with mental illness in Milwaukee County; opinions on mental health redesign by nurses and their employers; and the continued impacts of pension and health care benefits on Milwaukee's city and county budgets. Those interested in reviewing those and other findings can access the Forum’s full list of research publications here.

Rob Henken