A look at the 2020 Milwaukee Public Schools Referendum

Annysa Johnson:

Voter support for the Milwaukee Public Schools’ $87 million referendum was so widespread in the April 7 election, it passed in every ward but two, regardless of racial and socioeconomic makeup.

That’s a dramatic and profound shift from 1993 when older, white voters overwhelmingly rejected the district’s last plea for additional funding.

Any number of factors may have played a role, advocates and observers said: changes in the political and demographic makeup of the city; the size of the request; the proposed uses for the money — for people, not buildings; and the well-financed and organized messaging campaign.

And while there were variations in the level of support, the referendum drew a majority of yes votes even in neighborhoods with relatively fewer children and where a significant number of voters cast ballots in the Republican primary.

“To me, the big story is how overwhelmingly popular the referendum was in almost every part of the city, particularly when we saw striking divisions on the ballot, including the mayor’s race, the county executive and the Democratic primary,” said John Johnson, a research fellow with the Marquette University Law School’s Lubar Center, who analyzed the election results for the Journal Sentinel.

“To have an issue that unites voters across all those other political divides is really quite significant.”

Is the MPS Tax & Spending Increase Referendum Good for Milwaukee?