Spring 2024 Election Recap

Congratulations to public school champions – whatever your results!

Photo from BRISTOL VOTES YES on Facebook.
Photo from VOTE YES FOR MPS on Facebook.

As we continue to gather and assess the results and implications of Tuesday’s election results, we congratulate the countless public school champions who worked so hard to stand up for local students and their public schools this election season. All over the state, new and seasoned organizers worked hard to get out the vote, pass local referenda, educate their communities on the importance of their vote to local kids, and play an active role in getting public education champions to the ballot box. Some of you stepped up to run for office, and many more worked hard to elect public school champions and educate voters.  

Thank you!

We know these champions who worked so hard on the spring elections are exhausted right now, and need time to rest and process all the results and feelings and get ready for next steps. Take time to rest, reflect and celebrate the big and little wins (even where the election results were not what kids needed). We are building capacity – at both the state and local levels, by educating and engaging our communities, and progress can be slow but we are making a difference. Let’s look for ways to pick up the slack where we can, and help make sure the people behind the scenes know we see them there. Take time to show your appreciation for local leaders and the volunteers who power our collective efforts.

According to the Wisconsin Association of School Boards (WASB), about 60% of the state’s 92 referendum questions in 85 districts passed on Tuesday, ranging from 63% of capital referenda to 55% of recurring operating referenda. Baird has confirmed these results and reports some helpful data here.

We saw some inspiring successes (special congratulations to Milwaukee Public Schools and the Yes for MPS campaign for a critical win in the face of unprecedented spending on an opposition effort by the privatization lobby!) and heartbreaking losses, and our hearts are with the communities who worked hard and faced organized campaigns against funding our public schools and came up just short of their goal. There were a lot of districts this spring whose referendum outcomes were decided by a handful of votes in either direction (in Bristol, a heroic effort to pass a much needed measure fell short by just 10 votes). If nothing else drives home the importance of getting organized to get out the vote, that surely does. Every vote matters.

Overall, there were “mixed results” this Tuesday, as Ruth Conniff put it in the Wisconsin Examiner. Her piece and a fantastic story from last week’s “Here and Now” on PBS Wisconsin draw the clear line between years of underfunding from the state and the increasing reliance on local referenda for school funds. For more on why it’s problematic to continue this disequalizing trend of funding our schools by referenda, check out our executive director Heather’s interview on PBS Wisconsin here.

Assessing our context and our impact

We knew it was going to be a challenge. Last spring’s dip in passage rates was a sobering warning. The 2023-2025 budget fell far short of providing even an inflationary increase to our public schools. The misleading political rhetoric we’ve heard from both sides about “historic funding” confused voters and made it easy for those who wish to undermine public schools to capitalize on that confusion and launch aggressive and antagonizing “vote no” efforts. We saw “no” efforts pop up in many communities, most strikingly in Milwaukee, where an alliance of privateers poured money (nearly $500,000.00 disclosed to date) into a misleading campaign opposing the district’s referendum. When their efforts failed, the leader of this effort, former Senator and current head of the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce/MMAC Dale Kooyenga, was dubbed the “biggest loser” of the Tuesday election by Dan Bice. 

We started hearing from individuals and teams about the anticipated 2024 referenda as early as last summer. Requests for help came earlier and more frequently than ever, and with limited resources we do our best to consult and support everyone who reached out. Wisconsin Public Education Network staff, and our school board and referenda support network partners, worked nights and weekends for months to provide nonpartisan election support to so many teams – this is our new reality and it’s clear we’re filling a major need.

Since January, 73 school districts were represented in attendance at our spring election workshops. We provided direct support and mini-grants where we could, and in-kind support in a wide range of ways. We ran billboards and social media ads to encourage voters to get to the polls and support kids at the ballot box, reaching nearly 1 million Facebook and Instagram users with our positive and informational ads and over 1.3 million users when including the ads we helped local teams run in support of their referenda.

In the weeks leading up to April 2, we drove 7,000 visitors to the information on our website, and our two-week billboard campaign in suburban Milwaukee is estimated to have attracted attention to the tune of 747,000.

We also provided direct support to many local-level teams who were working hard to get out the vote and needed resources to make it happen. We supported 14 local communities with texting campaigns, sending 66,050 total direct peer-to-peer texts in this cycle. We also supported teams with mailing postcards, knocking on doors, and coming up with powerful messages, ultimately working in direct collaboration with organizers in 25 unique school districts. A special shout-out to our good friends at the Fox Cities Advocates 4 Public Education, who stepped up to run get-out-the-vote texting campaigns, ads, and pro-public efforts in multiple school districts, with success across the board!

All in all, public education champions made a significant impact on getting out the vote in this election, and while the referendum passage rate has dipped significantly in recent years and after the latest state budget, advocates are springing into action to get organized strategically to do better in the future.

Next steps: winning for kids in August, November, and beyond.

One takeaway is that organizing toward our shared goals as a state matters more than ever, and deliberate local campaigns to educate voters are more and more important. With opposition efforts on the rise, the need for a robust, positive, and strategic pro-public effort to reach voters could not be clearer. Where people are the most organized and best supported to educate voters on what’s at stake, they are significantly more likely to win. 

Newly elected (and new to our Network) school board members are invited to join us on May 8 from 6:30 – 8:30 pm for a virtual workshop, Coming Together for Our Public Schools, our annual advocacy on-boarding session, co-sponsored with our friends at Wisconsin Education Association Council. This event is a critical opportunity for board members to connect to Network partners statewide, and learn more about how to put their big goals for local kids into action and engage effectively with local teachers and their communities once elected. 

To that end, we are investing our organizing energy now on helping teams prepare for the August 13 and November 5 elections to ensure even more passage of desperately needed school referenda, as well as to educate voters on the need to elect education champions committed to fixing Wisconsin’s deeply broken school funding systems.

Look for opportunities to join our organizing efforts at and before our July 30-31 Summer Summit in Madison, and consider attending the WiLD Leadership training April 24-27 in Milwaukee. Registration for an op-ed workshop co-hosted with The Progressive on April 18 is coming soon. Follow WisconsinNetwork.org/events to stay on top of all of these opportunities!

We’re also partnering with issue allies, Network partners statewide, and national organizations like Public School Proud to position our communities and local teams to be ready to support local students however they can. This is big work, and we invite you to join us!
All of this is going to take more people, more resources, and more folks coming off the sidelines to join us to make an impact for Wisconsin kids in the next budget battle and beyond. We invite you to support this work by clicking here. Be the reason Wisconsin kids thrive by supporting our efforts to empower local action with statewide impact at the ballot box and year-round!


We walk away from this election stronger, smarter, and resolved to do more and better next time. We congratulate all who worked on positive, nonpartisan, pro-public efforts this election cycle, and we look forward to supporting many more teams over the rest of the year!

About the author: Wisconsin Public Education Network

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