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

MPS Hot Weather Closure Draws Attention To Lack Of Air Conditioning In Schools

Kids walking next to buses
Emily Files
Students at Lincoln Center for the Arts get on buses Wednesday after being dismissed early due to hot weather.

Milwaukee Public Schools sent students home early Wednesday over concerns about hot weather. At midday, there was a heat index of 99 degrees.

There are 37 traditional MPS schools on the early-start calendar — mostly middle and high schools. Officials say of those buildings, 11 have air conditioning.

One of the schools without AC is Lincoln Center for the Arts, a middle school on the east side.

Tyrone Howard was waiting outside around noon Wednesday to pick up his daughter in eighth grade. "From what my daughter tells me, the classrooms are really hot," he said. "The kids are irritable, which means they don’t want to learn because they’re so irritated, and it leads to other stuff."

Howard said the lack of air conditioning in MPS schools has been an issue for a long time. He remembered his wife bringing packs of cold water bottles to classrooms when his daughter was in elementary school.

"It’s kind of upsetting because I know that the schools have funding, so why isn’t that something that’s taken care of?" Howard asked.

MPS Superintendent Keith Posley said there hasn’t been enough funding to air condition all 142 schools. He said during a call with reporters Wednesday that right now, only 17% of schools have AC throughout, about 63% have AC in at least one room and the other 20% have no AC.

"I think the real factor is finances," Posley said.

MPS’s buildings are, on average, more than 75-years-old. Posley said installing AC systems in the old facilities is expensive.

"And that price tag — basically we would estimate around $1.5 million for a smaller building," Posley said. "And when we look at a middle school to a high school, we’re looking at $2.5 million."

MPS is receiving an influx of federal stimulus money from the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief fund. The district is still determining how to spend about $506 million of the funding.

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

Posley said air conditioning is one of many priorities under consideration. "We will continue to put this on the table, continue to talk about this and continue to move forward so we can meet our students’ needs," he said. "And you’re talking about climates and how things are shifting around the country, we have to look at things a little differently."

The hot weather will continue this week, but Posley noted that heat indexes are expected to be less severe. He said a heat index over 95 degrees is a central factor in making the decision to close schools.

The majority of MPS schools reopen for the new school year next Thursday.

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Emily has been reporting on Milwaukee-area education for WUWM since 2018.
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