CEOs and school leaders call on legislature to use surplus for education

On stage at the downtown Pabst Riverside Theater on Wednesday, an unusual mix of delegates from Milwaukee Public Schools, the Milwaukee Bucks, private school supporters and major employers mingled before the house lights went out .

John Kersey, executive vice-president of local real estate company Zilber Ltd., first took to the microphone to explain their shared call to action, which was signed by more than 150 school and community leaders. statewide company.

In their joint letter delivered on Wednesday, the group called on Governor Tony Evers and key lawmakers to use $700 million of the state’s multi-billion dollar surplus to increase aid to schools, which have seen themselves reject inflationary increases in the latest state budget.

The group is asking for additional state aid of $343 per student to keep up with inflation. They are also asking for public funds to reimburse schools at a higher rate for special education costs for students with disabilities, raising the rate from about 30% to 50%.

Lawmakers are due to meet on Tuesday to consider spending excess state funds in a special session ordered by Evers, though Republican lawmakers have the power to end that session immediately without discussion, as they have done before.

The request in the group’s letter is similar but not identical to Evers’ own proposal for excess funds. Evers proposed investing about $611 million in K-12 education, with smaller increases in per-student funding and special education, but additional spending on other programs like testing. lead and mental health services.

Peter Feigin, president of the Milwaukee Bucks and Fiserv Forum, was among those on stage Wednesday, calling on businesses to use their platforms and join in the advocacy.

“From the private sector, we have to share the responsibility,” he said. “It’s got to be a private-public partnership, which is amazing to watch at this point and think of the people who are getting into this right now.”

John Kersey, Executive Vice Chairman of Zilber Ltd., leads speakers to the podium during a Wednesday press conference at the Riverside Theater calling on Governor Tony Evers, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Majority Leader in Senate Devin LeMahieu to use $700 million of the state's multi-billion dollar surplus to increase aid to schools.

Kersey, along with Pabst Theater Group CEO Gary Witt, have been working for more than a year to garner consensus from disparate organizations on education funding.

They couldn’t rally the MPS union, but they got support from the Milwaukee School Board, more than 30 other school districts, more than a dozen private and charter school principals, and a longer list of businesses and community organizations.

Tim Sheehy, president of the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce, said the expenses were significant for the association’s businesses, which together employ more than 300,000 people.

“Employers recognize firsthand the value of a K-12 education in developing the talent they need for a thriving regional economy,” Sheehy said. “And per-student funding is the critical investment for a quality K-12 education system.”

Sheehy said the increased aid would not only help traditional public schools, but also charter schools and private schools that receive tax-funded vouchers.

“Increasing per-student funding is one of the few ways to support all students in the city,” he said.

Paul Blaise, director of business services for the South Milwaukee School District, said federal COVID relief funds flowing to schools have not repaired budget holes left by the state.

“We tried to resist the pressure to use one-time funding for running costs because of the big cliff that would build,” he said. “We should not have had to choose between reducing opportunities for children and creating a fiscal cliff.”

Other school districts supporting the letter included those of Madison, Green Bay, Wisconsin Rapids, Beloit, Kenosha, Shorewood, Whitefish Bay, Fox Point-Bayside, Brown Deer, South Milwaukee, Greendale, St. Francis, Cudahy and others.

Proponents of private and charter schools included Seton Catholic Schools, St. Augustine Preparatory Academy, Dr. Howard Fuller Collegiate Academy, St. Marcus, Carmen Schools of Science and Technology, La Causa, Milwaukee College Prep, the United Community Center, the Milwaukee Excellence and the Hmong. American Peace Academy, among others.

Signatory companies and organizations included City Forward Collective, Milwaukee Succeeds, Wisconsin Rural Schools Alliance, Running Rebels, Greater Milwaukee Foundation, Milwaukee World Festival Inc., Kapco, Husco, Baird, Bartolotta Restaurants, Godfrey Kahn, Lowlands Group, Palermo’s Pizza, Rave and others.

The letter can be found at See the letter and list of signatories below.

Contact Rory Linnane at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter at @RoryLinnane.

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