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WUWM's Emily Files reports on education in southeastern Wisconsin.

MPS Invites Public Input On How To Spend $506 Million In Federal COVID Relief

Milwaukee German Immersion third grade class
Emily Files
Milwaukee German Immersion third grade teacher Susan Richardson talks to students on their first day back in classrooms since March 2020.

Milwaukee Public Schools is holding five listening sessions beginning Thursday evening on how to spend its windfall of federal COVID relief.

MPS is expecting about $772 million in one-time funding from the three federal stimulus bills. The funding is known as ESSER, which is short for Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief. It’s intended for COVID-related expenses like air quality upgrades and learning recovery. The money can be spent over the next three years.

MPS already spent much of the first round of ESSER funding, $41 million, last year. The school board passed a plan for the $225 million second round, which includes major investments in HVAC renovations, textbooks and staff professional development.

The third round of funding is the biggest — about $506 million. That’s close to half of MPS’s annual budget. The district is required to get public input, which is where this month’s listening sessions come in.

At a school board meeting last month, several students shared their ideas. Jaylen Whatley said a whole year of virtual learning was hard on students.

"I think we need funding for more mental health resources and more after-school programming so students can get back into social atmospheres and keep them from running the streets," Whatley said. "Students deserve someone to talk to so they can heal from the rough year they have and also keep them 100% in the classrooms."

MPS has five priorities for the ESSER III funding: accelerated learning, health and wellness, facilities, technology, and clubs and activities.

"We have the five areas that we talked about, so that works out kind of nice with the $500 million number, where you can think about $100 million each," said MPS Chief Financial Officer Martha Kreitzman. "Although that might not be the way to prioritize things. And I think as we hear from our community and get more input, we’ll be able to better think about which priorities raise to the top."

MPS is receiving the most aid per student out of all Wisconsin school districts. That’s because 90% of the funding is distributed based on student poverty levels.

The listening sessions begin Thursday night at the Wisconsin Conservatory of Lifelong Learning. There are four more at other schools through next week. One of the sessions, on July 15, will allow for virtual participation.

An MPS spokesperson said there will also be an online survey for people to provide feedback.

Listening session dates:

  • Thursday, July 8 (5:30-6:30 p.m.): Wisconsin Conservatory of Lifelong Learning (WCLL), 1017 N. 12th St.
  • Saturday, July 10 (9:30-10:30 a.m.): North Division High School, 1101 W. Center St.
  • Wednesday, July 14 (5:30-6:30 p.m.): South Division High School, 1515 W. Lapham Blvd.
  • Thursday, July 15 (5:30-6:30 p.m.): Vincent High School (in-person and virtual), 7501 N. Granville Rd.
  • Saturday, July 17 (9:30-10:30 a.m.): Reagan High School, 4965 S. 20th St.

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Emily is WUWM's education reporter and a news editor.
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