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Moving the Goal Posts: The Shift from Child Care Supply to Child Care Quality

December 1, 2010

Our latest report on early childhood education finds the original goals of 90s-era welfare reform produced state child care policies that had detrimental impacts on child care quality in Wisconsin and that may be difficult to reverse under the state's new quality ratings system.We find that as the child care subsidy system became operational, certain policy decisions produced results -- many of which were unintended -- that ended up boosting child care costs for the state while reducing child care quality. Those include: Creating a new, less regulated category of care provider, which was intended to allow parents broader choices in providers, quickly create jobs, and keep child care costs low for parents and the state.Sharing costs with parents by basing co-payments on the cost of care, as opposed to the parents' income, which would have allowed parents to opt for more costly care only if they wished to pay more out of pocket but which, ultimately, could not be implemented.Creating a more restrictive definition of "low-income," in order to serve the working poor in general, and not just those obtaining or seeking jobs as part of the W-2 program.Tying subsidy rates to prices in the private market, which was intended to provide low-income parents with access to the entire market while also relying on competition to keep the state's costs in check. Each of these four policies helped the state achieve its primary goal of providing a sufficient child care supply that would allow low-income parents to move from welfare to work, but at a high cost to the state and at the expense of quality within the child care market.

New regulations impacting school choice program: School closures up, number of new schools down

February 19, 2010

Between the 2008-09 and 2009-10 school years, fewer new schools joined the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP) than ever before. In addition, 13 MPCP schools closed and another three schools merged - the most year-over-year closures the program has seen. In this 12th edition of the Public Policy Forum's annual census of MPCP schools, we find 112 schools are participating in the choice program, enrolling 21,062 students using taxpayer-funded tuition vouchers. The number of full-time equivalent students using vouchers is greater than in any other year of the program's 19-year history; however, there are fewer schools participating today than earlier this decade.

Should It Stay or Should It Go?: Exploring the potential for structural reform in Milwaukee County government

January 22, 2010

Milwaukee County government faces immediate and substantial fiscal and programmatic challenges. The county's structural deficit -- defined as the gap between expenditure needs and anticipated revenues -- is projected to grow from $48 million in 2011 to more than $106 million by 2014, despite several successive years of significant expenditure and staff reductions and anticipation of significant wage and benefit concessions in 2010. This projection is the clearest indication yet that the county's finances are crumbling and that valued services in areas like parks, transit, mental health and public safety face severe degradation without prompt and concerted action. This action could take any of several forms, including the complete elimination of Milwaukee County government. This report, commissioned by the Greater Milwaukee Committee, provides detailed analysis and perspective on the complex issues surrounding that option, as well as other potential structural changes.

The Price of Quality: Estimating the cost of a higher quality earlychildhood care and education system for Southeast Wisconsin

December 22, 2009

Throughout the United States, investments in high-quality early childhood education are seen by community leaders as a strategy for improving outcomes in areas such as K-12 education, workforce development, and economic development. Indeed, many research studies conclude that high quality early learning environments produce social, educational, and economic benefits for children and the communities in which they live. As a result, many state and local governments around the country are seeking to capture these benefits by investing in quality improvement efforts. Wisconsin is no different; the 2009-2010 state biennial budget calls for the Department of Children and Families to create a strategy for improving the quality of publicly-subsidized child care. While policymakers increasingly are looking to maximize the benefits of high-quality early childhood education, budget realities often dictate that they do so while minimizing the expenditure of public funds. Thus, this report seeks to inform these decisions in Wisconsin by estimating the costs of achieving improved quality in child care and early learning programs in southeast Wisconsin and analyzing policy options associated with quality improvement initiatives.

Public Schooling in Southeastern Wisconsin

September 17, 2009

For the 23rd consecutive year, the Public Policy Forum has compiled and analyzed data from Southeastern Wisconsin's school districts in order to better inform policymakers and the public about progress-or lack thereof-on commonly utilized measures of academic achievement. This year's analysis of the 2008-09 academic year indicates cause for encouragement in some areas, but also cause for significant concern.

City of Milwaukee's Fiscal Condition: Between a Rock and a Hard Place

August 28, 2009

This report presents an analysis of the fiscal condition of the City of Milwaukee government, applying a professional financial evaluation system of the International City/County Management Association (ICMA). The city conducted this type of analysis internally during the 1990s, but it has done nothing similar this decade. In March 2009, the Forum released an evaluation of the finances of Milwaukee County also using the ICMA methodology. Milwaukee's city government currently is experiencing serious financial difficulties. The recession hit Milwaukee hard, as it has the region and state, and the negative impact on Milwaukee's businesses and property values has had financial repercussions on city coffers. In addition, the massive decline in stock prices has devalued pension investments. While ranked the second most secure public pension fund in the nation prior to the economic downturn, Milwaukee's pension fund now has an unfunded liability of more than $700 million.

Property Values and Taxes in Southeastern Wisconsin

August 6, 2009

County and municipal finance officials in Southeastern Wisconsin soon will receive word from the State of Wisconsin regarding 2009 property valuations within their jurisdictions. That information, in turn, is likely to have a significant bearing on 2010 budget deliberations, as property valuations determine whether county and municipal officials can generate increased property tax revenues without increasing property tax rates. For the past several years, the Public Policy Forum has produced annual reports on property values and property taxes within the seven-county Southeastern Wisconsin region, breaking down the numbers by both municipality and county. This year, we combine the property values and property tax reports as we seek to shed light on the depth of the challenges likely to be faced by local officials in the face of stagnant property values and growing fiscal needs.

Milwaukee Public School teachers link preschool to better performance in Kindergarten

July 23, 2009

A survey of Milwaukee Kindergarten teachers finds nearly all (97%) report they can generally tell early in the school year which children attended preschool and which did not. Teachers also feel that those who attended preschool typically perform much better in Kindergarten and at least somewhat better after that. The survey of 77 teachers of five-year-old Kindergarten (K5) in the Milwaukee public school district (MPS) also finds that most teachers (93%) feel children with preschool or four-year-old Kindergarten (K4) backgrounds are somewhat to much better prepared to enter K5 than their peers. In addition, the majority (83%) feel spending time in preschool or K4 is very important prior to entering K5. These findings hold true for teachers in schools with higher-than-average enrollments of low-income children, as well as teachers in schools with fewer low-income children.

Preparing the Future Workforce: Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) Policy in K12 Education in Wisconsin

June 23, 2009

Last December, the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Education Coalition - a national organization of more than 600 groups representing knowledge workers, educators, scientists, engineers, and technicians wrote to President-elect Obama urging him to "not lose sight of the critical role that STEM education plays in enabling the United States to remain the economic and technological leader of the 21st century global marketplace." While that imperative appears to have resonated in Washington, has it and should it resonate in Madison? This report attempts to answer that question by examining the extent to which STEM skills are a necessity for tomorrow's Wisconsin workforce, whether our schools are preparing students to be STEM-savvy workers, and where STEM falls in the state's list of educational priorities.

Give Me Shelter: Responding to Milwaukee County's affordable housing challenges

May 4, 2009

Few issues better capture the complex and controversial nature of urban problems facing Metropolitan Milwaukee than the issue of affordable housing. Encompassing matters of racial segregation, poverty and failed public-private partnerships, the Milwaukee metro area's struggle to provide a safe, decent and affordable supply of housing to low-income citizens has been a difficult one. Even before the national economic meltdown, countless reports documented the severe housing burden facing low-income citizens in Milwaukee County. That burden, combined with the scarcity of affordable housing in suburban parts of southeast Wisconsin, has cemented the region's place as one of the most racially segregated in the country. In today's economy, those problems have intensified.

When Business Gets Involved: A case study of business community involvement in Illinois' early childhood education policy

January 28, 2009

As the first state to offer universal preschool to three?year?olds, Illinois' experience with early childhood education (ECE) policy reform efforts offers valuable lessons about how such change takes shape. The confluence of factors includes well?organized advocacy groups, the endurance to continue efforts over decades, a supportive governor, and an engaged business community. The description below details Illinois' ECE activities from 1992 to the present, with a particular focus on the business role in ECE policy. Chicago Metropolis 2020 was the main business group involved in ECE efforts, but, significantly, advocates and politicians also continuously cast the issues in language that would motivate economic and business interests.

Milwaukee County-Funded Parks and Cultural Institutions

November 10, 2008

The Public Policy Forum's role in the Audit of Greater Milwaukee's Regional Cultural Assets was to examine the fiscal condition of those cultural assets owned and/or funded by Milwaukee County: the Milwaukee Public Museum, Marcus Center for the Performing Arts, Milwaukee County War Memorial Center, Milwaukee County Historical Society, Charles Allis Museum, Villa Terrace Decorative Art Museum, Milwaukee County Cultural Artistic and Musical Programming Advisory Council, Milwaukee County Zoo and Milwaukee County Parks.