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

Here’s how MPS is planning to spend $504 million in one-time federal aid

Emily Files
MPS Superintendent Keith Polsey speaks at a back-to-school press conference.

The MPS Board is set to vote next week on a spending plan for $504 million in federal stimulus funding. To put that number in context, it’s more than a third of MPS’s annual budget of $1.3 billion.

>>MPS Is Deciding How To Spend $504 Million Over Next 3 Years. Staff Say They Need Help Now

MPS expects to receive a total of $770 million from the three rounds of federal coronavirus aid, known as Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief. The district says it already spent $41 million in ESSER I, which was made available to districts in the early days of the pandemic. MPS passed a budget for $225 million in ESSER II earlier this year.

Now it’s deciding what to do with the largest pot of funding – $504 million from ESSER III. The one-time funds are meant to help students and schools recover from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Twenty percent is required to address learning loss.

MPS administration presents plan

MPS administrators divided their plan into five main categories: accelerated learning, health and wellness, facilities and maintenance, technology, and extracurricular engagement.

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MPS administrators divided their funding priorities for ESSER III into five categories: accelerated learning, health and wellness, facilities, technology and extracurricular engagement. This chart shows how the administration proposes divvying up the funding.

The biggest share — $129 million — would go to facilities. In a district where the average school building is more than 75 years old, the funding would pay for new furniture, renovating buildings, installing water bottle filling stations, temperature control modifications, building outdoor classrooms, and more.

The second-largest bucket is technology. MPS wants to spend $93 million on Chromebooks, fiber optic connections, and a range of other hardware and software.

Accelerated learning is the third largest category, at $92 million. That’s where some of the proposals to address learning loss come in: $10 million for tutoring, $3.5 million for extending learning in the summer and on Saturdays, $7.5 million for additional educator hours.

Seventy-three million dollars would go toward extracurricular engagement. That includes updating athletic facilities, and grants for schools to expand after-school activities.

Finally, under health and wellness, MPS wants to spend $62 million. Projects include COVID testing, expanding mental health services in schools, and hiring 15 more school support staff. There is $4.6 million budgeted to build a centralized kitchen where nutrition staff would develop more appealing school meals.

School board amends budget proposal

At a Tuesday meeting, the MPS Board tweaked the ESSER III plan to give individual schools more spending flexibility, increase recruitment and retention and staff, and pay for parent transportation stipends.

Here is a list of the amendments approved by the board in order of cost:

  • $13.6 million to provide $100,000 to each school to spend as they see fit, choosing from a menu of activities allowed under ESSER III
  • $3 million to pay for fresh fruit and vegetable options as additional school meal option
  • $2 million to increase school family engagement budgets and pay for professional development for parent coordinators
  • $1.67 million to fund five new human resources positions to speed up hiring process
  • $1 million for peer-to-peer tutoring program
  • $750,000 to improve the recruitment, onboarding and support for staff at low-performing Comprehensive Support and Improvement schools
  • $500,000 for transportation stipends to compensate families affected by bus driver shortage
  • $500,000 to increase awareness of and access to mental health services in schools
  • $450,000 for Milwaukee Public Schools University to increase teacher recruitment and retention and provide support for employees struggling with MPSU classes
  • $390,000 to replace fire alarms in schools that serve students with hearing loss
  • $225,000 for financial incentives for teachers that make three-year commitment to work in 53206-area schools
  • $200,000 for Milwaukee Public Schools University to support training of bilingual teachers and pay for the damages incurred by teachers who leave other districts to work at MPS

Air conditioning proposal unsuccessful

School board director Aisha Carr proposed using ESSER III to install air conditioning at un-airconditioned schools on the early-start calendar. This August, MPS had to temporarily close early-start schools because of dangerous heat conditions.

“I think about this short-term funding that’s pretty much a once-in-a-lifetime, one-and-done deal — I think that we have a unique opportunity to prioritize the needs of our school buildings,” Carr said. “I think that is going to be a long-term investment that is worthwhile.”

But administrators said installing air conditioning at 28 early-start schools would cost an estimated $140 million and Carr did not have a proposal for which parts of the ESSER III plan would be reduced to pay for the air conditioning.

The board voted 7-2 against the $140 million amendment.

The board will take a final vote on the ESSER III amendments and budget at a special meeting Oct. 14. Written comments can be sent to the board at

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