Recent birth counts point to rapidly shrinking school enrollment in Milwaukee

Many things affect a school (or district’s) enrollment, but the most important is simply how many children live there.

In Milwaukee, recent birth trends point to a future of dwindling class sizes, beginning in elementary school and working their way up through the higher grades. Absent a spike in the birth rate or a big change in migration, the three sectors—district, charter, and private—will find themselves fighting over a shrinking pie.

Across the 1990s, the number of babies born fell by 13%. Then, the trend stabilized, even growing slightly, until the Great Recession. 773 fewer babies were born in 2010 than 2009, and annual declines continued after that. From 2009 to 2019, the number of births fell by 17%.

The COVID-19 pandemic caused a drop in births similar to the Great Recession a decade prior. Births fell by 540 in 2020, 439 in 2021, and 358 in 2022. Losses stabilized in 2023, when the preliminary count shows 7,905 births, still 14% lower than prior to the pandemic.

line chart showing births to mothers residing in the City of Milwaukee

During the 2010s, schools across all sectors reaped the benefits of Milwaukee’s stable birthrate during the 2000s. Many of the twelfth-graders who graduated this year were born in 2006. Since then, the annual number of births has dropped by 31%.

In the next graph, I compare the number of first graders entering any school in Milwaukee (district, charter, or private) with the number of babies born six years prior. Subsequent first grade enrollment is lower than births because more young families move out of Milwaukee than move into it. However, the size of the gap has remained fairly steady across the 19 school years for which I have data.

In every school year, the number of first graders enrolling has been 21% to 15% lower than the number of babies born 6 years ago. In other words, first grade enrollment has always been between 79% and 85% of the total births 6 years prior. In 2023-24, the figure was 83%, and in 2022-23, 81%.

line graph showing the relationship between the number of first graders and the number of kids born 6 years earlier in the City of Milwaukee

Because of this stable relationship between births and subsequent first grade enrollment, we can use recent births to forecast the size of future first grade classes.

In the 2023-24 school year, 7,956 kids enrolled in first grade at any school within city limits. Six years prior, about 9,568 kids were born in the city. The children who will enroll in first grade in 2029-30 have already been born. In Milwaukee, they number 7,902.

If Milwaukee retains young families at the best rate from our recent past, it would still mean a decline of 16% in the number of first graders over the next 6 years. Retaining families at the worst rate would result in a 22% reduction. The simple linear model I use in the above graph predicts a 19% drop.

Again, these predictions are not based on a forecast of future birth rates; they are based on the number of babies who have already been born. Some combination of retaining more young families and attracting more migrants (domestic and international) could alter this trajectory. But the current path clearly points to a drop of nearly 20% in the number of first graders by the end of the decade. That decline will then work its way through elementary, middle, and high schools over the 2030s.

Continue ReadingRecent birth counts point to rapidly shrinking school enrollment in Milwaukee

Remembering President Lovell’s Leadership on Water Issues

Marquette President Michael R. Lovell

On September 19, 2014, Dr. Michael R. Lovell delivered his inaugural address upon taking office as Marquette University’s 24th president. That day Dr. Lovell announced that Marquette would expand its role in the water sector, encouraging Marquette faculty, staff, and students to develop water solutions “that will change the world.” This was not an isolated commitment; it extended Dr. Lovell’s history of strong support for water initiatives and continued during the decade he spent at Marquette’s helm.

With the news of his untimely passing last week, my purpose here is to reflect on the significant legacy Dr. Lovell leaves behind in the water sphere, as most recently embodied in Marquette’s evolution as a center for work aimed at helping to solve the world’s water problems.

Today, the growth in Marquette’s interdisciplinary water research team evidences the university’s unwavering commitment to the subject. The group includes faculty members from a variety of disciplines including biology, economics, education, engineering, law, and political science. Its members have expertise in water and wastewater treatment technologies, stormwater management, materials and sensors, sustainable and resilient communities, water law and policy, hydrology, and many other areas.

Dr. Lovell was always proud to mention the interdisciplinary projects the team was pursuing, often making it a point to note how many different academic units were involved from across campus under the guiding hand of Dr. Jeanne Hossenlopp, Vice President for Research and Innovation. Most recently, the water group secured Marquette’s largest ever federal award for water research, a large-scale interdisciplinary research partnership with the United States Army Corps of Engineers to promote healthier environments for both military personnel and civilians. 

Of course, these research efforts are only one aspect of Marquette’s commitment to water innovation. The university also has become a leader in water education, sustainability, and community engagement and partnerships. It is training future generations of water leaders in a variety of academic disciplines.

Some of this work had been ongoing prior to Dr. Lovell’s arrival at Marquette, such as the formation of the Water Quality Center in the College of Engineering and the Law School’s active engagement in the Milwaukee regional water initiative since its creation in the early 2000s. But with Dr. Lovell’s call—and challenge—to all units of the university for greater engagement with matters involving water, these efforts flourished. For example, the Law School announced an expanded Water Law and Policy Initiative that now offers students a wider suite of courses and fieldwork opportunities, regularly hosts public events and conferences, and pursues independent and funded research opportunities.

A discussion of Dr. Lovell’s water legacy would be incomplete without mentioning his work prior to his arrival at Marquette. As chancellor of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, he was a driving force behind the establishment of The Water Council, a key Milwaukee-based organization dedicated to establishing the region as a global hub dedicated to solving critical water challenges. Also under Dr. Lovell’s leadership, UWM announced a plan to create the nation’s first School of Freshwater Sciences.

In closing, it seems appropriate to mention that President Lovell’s focus on water issues was likely rooted in his strong Catholic faith. He often was interested in discussing Pope Francis’s encyclical letter confirming that water is “a fundamental right” that is “indispensable to human life,” and calling for engagement in an “open and respectful dialogue” about water policies, laws, and technologies. Dr. Lovell also signed the St. Francis Pledge, committing Marquette to join many other academic institutions recognizing a duty to care for the environment and protect the poor and vulnerable, among other things. With Dr. Lovell’s passing, it is up to us to steadfastly carry on this important work.

Continue ReadingRemembering President Lovell’s Leadership on Water Issues

Wisconsin State Assembly: statistics on the number of flips, incumbent defeats, and open seats in past elections

Elections for the Wisconsin Assembly haven’t seen much drama for a decade. The decline in ticket splitting among voters across the state, combined with the rock-solid gerrymander drawn in 2011, meant that scarcely any seats changed hands between parties. The “least-change” map adopted in 2022 tipped a few more seats toward the GOP but mainly reaffirmed the electoral status quo.

The new state legislative maps drawn by Governor Evers and passed in early 2024 bear little resemblance to those used previously. Most Wisconsinites live in a new district. WPR reports that “at least 44 state representatives and senators will run in new districts.”

With so much up in the air, I wanted to calculate election statistics from some of Wisconsin’s previous, relatively un-gerrymandered maps. How many seats usually changed hands between the parties? How often did incumbents lose? How common were open seats?

First, here is a graph showing the seats won by each party in each November general election. I begin in 1972, because that was the first year when the Assembly had 99 members (before that, it had 100).

Democrats held a majority of the Assembly from the 1970 election until 1994. Then, Republicans controlled it until 2008. After the 2008 election, Democrats briefly controlled both chambers of the state legislature and the governor’s mansion. The Tea Party wave in 2010 flipped all chambers to Republican control. The balance of power in the Assembly has changed little since then.

bar plot showing seats won by each political party in the wisconsin assembly, 1972-2022

The next series of graphs show selected election statistics for each general election to the Assembly.

  • The number of uncontested seats—where just 1 party fields a candidate—has bounced around. But it has generally been lower in the 2010s than the 1990s and 2000s.
  • Incumbents are rarely defeated. Under the maps in use from 2012-2020, a total of 8 incumbents lost to a non-incumbent challenger.
  • The number of open seats (with no incumbent running) has followed a natural rhythm. In most years, around 15 races feature no incumbent, but every decade or so the number of open seats jumps to around a quarter of the chamber.
  • The number of seats flipping between the parties has rarely been high, but it was especially low during the 2010s. This statistic can only be calculated when the district boundaries are used in sequential elections.
    • There were 396 general elections for an assembly seat from 2014 to 2020. Only 7 resulted in a flip. That’s a flip rate of 1.8%.
    • From 2004-2010, 35 seats flipped, a rate of 8.8%.
    • From 1994-2000, 17 seats flipped, a rate of 4.3%.
    • From 1986-1990, 16 seats flipped, a rate of 5.4%. (Both the 1982 and 1984 elections featured new districts).
    • From 1974-1980, 31 seats flipped, a rate of 7.8%.

Prior to 1972, the Wisconsin Assembly contained 100 seats. This graph shows the partisan composition of each legislature from 1885 through 1971. This data is slightly different than the figures shown above, because it shows party membership of legislators in December of each odd-numbered year. The data I discuss above shows the party composition of the winners in each even-numbered general election.

The Republican Party overwhelmingly dominated the late 19th and early 20th centuries in Wisconsin. Democrats held a majority after only 5 elections during the entire period from 1885 to 1971. During the 1920s, Republicans held almost all the seats in the Assembly and the Socialist Party typically won more seats than the Democrats.

bar plot showing the partisan balance of the wisconsin assembly, 1885-1971

Note: The graph titled “Wisconsin State Assembly General Elections, Selected Outcomes, 1972-2022” has been corrected to show that 26, not 25, seats were contested by 1 party in 2022.

Continue ReadingWisconsin State Assembly: statistics on the number of flips, incumbent defeats, and open seats in past elections