State could change how MPS spends

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Wisconsin’s Department of Public Instruction wants to take a more active role in how Milwaukee Public Schools uses $175 million worth of federal money in an effort to improve district effectiveness.

State Superintendent Tony Evers notified MPS Thursday that, due to the district’s inability to achieve adequate yearly progress on state tests under No Child Left Behind, he will use the power granted to him by state and federal law to withhold or defer up to $175 million worth of federal money.

MPS has been classified as a District Identified for Improvement under No Child Left Behind, according to MPS’s Web site.

The money is known as Title I funding, which is a federal grant program targeted at helping low-income students achieve state academic standards, according to the U.S. Department of Education. MPS uses its share for a variety of things, including academic support and parental involvement programs, said School Board President Michael Bonds.

DPI spokesperson John Johnson said the goal isn’t to strip the district of $175 million. Rather, Johnson said it would allow Evers to take a more active role in determining how the money is used.

According to Johnson, the primary objective is to make sure the money is being used for education reform and classroom support and not for administrative purposes.

“I am acting to ensure federal funds are used effectively to improve MPS. No one can or should be satisfied with the current progress in MPS to improve,” Evers said in a news release.

Johnson said the move is unrelated to the failed attempts to pass MPS governance reform in the state Legislature, which would have given Milwaukee’s mayor the power to appoint the school superintendent.

Bonds said he was shocked by the news because aside from special education, the district has been in compliance with the state’s corrective action plan for MPS.

Losing the money would have “devastating results” on the district, Bonds said. The $175 million would constitute about 13 percent of the district’s estimated 2010 revenue, according to district numbers.

MPS relies heavily on state and federal aid in its budget. In each of the past six adopted budgets, state and federal aid made up more than half of the district’s revenue.