Today the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported on an analysis of school spending. According to a report by the U.S. Census Bureau called Public Education Finances: 2010, Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) had 82,096 students in 2009-2010, revenue of $1.27 billion (p. 75), and expenditures of $1.26 billion (p. 77). It also reported “current spending” of $14, 019 per student in MPS.

Except there are a couple of problems with this $14,019 figure, mainly that it does not reflect all of MPS’s spending.

If you do the math and divide the total revenue above by the number of students, you get revenue of $15,356 per student in MPS.

If you divide the total expenditures of MPS by the number of students, you get expenditures of $15,456 per student.

These figures only tell part of the story, however.

If you go to the annual report for MPS for the 2009-2010 school year, you see that actual expenditures were $1.4 billion. This calculates to actual spending of $17,132 per child in MPS for 2009-2010.

Don’t let the article or the Census Bureau report fool you. MPS did NOT spend $14,019 per child. The district actually spent $17,132 of taxpayer money per student, or 22% more than is being reported. And what do we get for this? Students who cannot read or do math.

Why is there a difference? The Census Bureau only includes certain items in its figure for “current spending” in its report. I’m not sure why they prepare the report this way, but it obviously significantly understates the amount Milwaukee Public Schools spends per student.

Read more on school spending here.

And if you’ve bought the lie that MPS is failing because it’s an “urban school,” read this article about how well other urban school districts are doing.


  1. Dave Ellrich, CPA 06/21/2012 at 1:29 pm - Reply

    Nice work on this, Tracey. I have often wondered about the statistics politicians use to manipulate us. Who knows if all the data we hear every day on the US economy is correct?
    Does anyone check it? As the old saying goes;
    “damn lies and statistics”.

  2. Tracy Coenen 06/21/2012 at 1:46 pm - Reply

    Thanks, Dave. I just like to make sure the conversation is framed on facts. I’d hate for anyone to think that MPS “only” spends $14k per student per school year, when the real figure is $17k per student per school year.

  3. Tracy Coenen 06/21/2012 at 1:47 pm - Reply

    P.S. MPS exceeded its approved budget for 2009-2010.

  4. Tony Tagliavia 06/21/2012 at 2:52 pm - Reply

    This data is NOT accurate.

    The total budget figure you referenced includes money that MPS sends to suburban schools to educate students through Chapter 220 and Open Enrollment (students who are not counted in the 80,000 enrollment figure).

    The total budget also includes fee-for-service adult and child recreation programs.

    Feel free to contact me with questions.

    • Tracy Coenen 06/21/2012 at 3:18 pm - Reply

      Tony – The data is absolutely accurate. MPS spent $1.4 billions and it “educated” 82,096 students.

      You want to pick apart the numbers, but it doesn’t change the result. The truth is that those fee-for-service programs appear to be a minimal part of the budget. And although money is paid out for 220, money is also brought into MPS through 220.

      All in all the truth remains that MPS spent $1.4 billion.

  5. Tracy Coenen 06/26/2012 at 1:04 pm - Reply

    Mr. Tagliavia kindly offered to send data to support his contention that my numbers are wrong. Unsurprisingly, he never sent the data.

  6. Nathaniel Baca 06/26/2012 at 2:25 pm - Reply

    Whether it is 14k or 17k, it is unbelievable that this much money is being spent for these results. It is also unfortunate that the numbers are being masked. The school system should pride itself on transparency, not on manipulation and excuses.

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