In mid-October, Milwaukee Public Schools announced that enrollment for this year was up from a year ago, “reversing a decline that lasted nearly a decade.”
Which is true, except it comes with a big asterisk. When it comes to the roster of schools most people think of when they think of MPS, the enrollment decline continues, and that trend is of great importance when you try to envision where we’re going with the whole education enterprise in Milwaukee.
Now that all the official enrollment counts have been posted for schools where Milwaukee children receive publicly funded education, this is the central fact:
The percentage of children in schools outside the mainstream MPS system has, for the first time, crossed 40%. In other words, two out of every five Milwaukee children whose education is paid for by tax dollars are not being taught by MPS teachers. The percentage has been going up one to two points a year, and that happened again this year.
In short, the main body of MPS continues to lose kids, which ultimately means money, employees and vitality, and the array of other streams of local schools continues to gain strength, which ultimately means — well, actually, I don’t know what that ultimately means, which is one reason why keeping an eye on the trends is important.
How is the MPS statement about increased enrollment accurate? Simple: With Superintendent Gregory Thornton as a key advocate, MPS is increasingly embracing the change in Milwaukee’s remarkably complex school landscape. Which is to say, there was a sharp increase in students in charter schools run by organizations independent of the MPS structure, not staffed by MPS principals and teachers, but authorized to operate by the Milwaukee School Board.