Today the Wisconsin Legislature will begin debate of the state’s budget. Yet, one of the most controversial components isn’t an expenditure, it’s the proposed elimination of local residency requirements. As written, the bill would ban local governments from requiring public employees from living within their borders.
So, what does this have to do with education?
Well, education leaders in favor of this approach say that it will open the city’s borders to qualified teachers who live in the suburbs. They say that this would be a good thing for Milwaukee Public Schools because it would expand its pool of candidates.
That can only bring benefits, right? In the short-term, yes. In the long-term, absolutely not.
The City of Milwaukee is seeing strong development and growth in many of its neighborhoods. This is in part because young people are choosing to live in vibrant East Side neighborhoods and then choosing to settle down in more residential parts of the city. When I was knocking doors for the Obama campaign last fall in the Riverwest and Harambee neighborhoods, I met a number of young homeowners excited about the prospects of the city. In most cases, these individuals were employed by some entity of the city.
So, where’s the problem? Let me look to my colleagues.
Of the four certified teachers at my school, three of us live in the City of Milwaukee. We’re a private institution, so one teacher lives in the suburbs already. Aside from me, the other two city residents would love to have a district job. On the matter of residency, they’ve made it clear that if they could move to the suburbs and have a district job, then they would take both in a heartbeat. That’s half of the teachers in my building. Think about all those police officers, fire fighters, EMS, teachers, and city workers who provide tax revenue to our city and our schools. If half, or even a quarter, decide to move out of Milwaukee over the next decade, it would halt much of the development and growth the city has seen in recent years.
This isn’t just theory. Look at Detroit. Yes, people left after the rebellion/riots in 1967. Yes, people left after bussing went into effect in the 1970s. Yes, people left after the election of the first Black mayor. But the elimination of the residency requirement is what eliminated Detroit’s middle class and put the city into the fiscal death spiral it’s facing today. If I were in the Wisconsin Legislature, I wouldn’t take the risk of making Milwaukee the next poster child of America’s urban ruins.