The Milwaukee Public Schools may have up to $175 million in federal funds withheld due to their failure to meet certain progress requirements.

Wisconsin State Superintendent Tony Evers sent a notice Thursday to Milwaukee Public Schools stating he may withhold the money.

Evers stated he has the authority to withhold or transfer all Title I funds, used for administration and programming, from the district for their failure to meet required Annual Yearly Progress standards tied to the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

John Johnson, spokesperson for the Department of Public Instruction, said the notice is just a preparatory step and there is no money currently being withheld from MPS.

“The notice is simply basically expressing publicly that the State Superintendent takes his responsibilities seriously under law and he has this authority to withhold or defer federal funds,” Johnson said. “This does not mean he will take money and spend it elsewhere. He wants to use that money for the children of Milwaukee.”

Johnson said they have created a number of requirements that schools around the state must meet, including increasing parental involvement, implementing credit recovery programs for kids who fall behind, and creating reading and math blogs. MPS has been successful at implementing some of these, but has failed in other respects.

“It’s important to note that we hope [the notice] increases the responsiveness and current progress on implementing these requirements and the sense of urgency to improve MPS,” Johnson said.

Milwaukee School Board Vice President Peter Blewett said he could not comment on the notice directly, but did say the board is committed to serving Milwaukee children and making sure they get the best education possible.

“The problem with MPS is not that we have too much money. Withholding money is not a good idea even if the superintendent has the authority,” Blewett said. “What the problem is that Milwaukee suffers from inequalities in education and the state school finance system is broken.”

Blewett added withholding funds from MPS would just make it more difficult for them to catch up to other districts and increase the achievement gap. He admitted there are areas where MPS needs improvement, but said the board feels the state superintendent is over-reaching in some of the requirements.

“I have to say that it’s unfair, it’s unequal and it’s unjust,” Blewett said. “The system is broken, it needs to be fixed, and what has happened? Nothing.”

University of Wisconsin educational policy studies professor Adam Gamoran said the reason the superintendent sent out this letter is because of regulations in the No Child Left Behind Act. The act sets targets for school systems, and districts that are unable to meet these targets have sanctions imposed on them.

“Those targets are not real expectations for a school district that starts with a population where student achievement is low because of many factors not under the school’s control,” Gamoran said. “The fact [MPS] don’t make Annual Yearly Progress standards, that’s certainly not unique to Milwaukee and at least as much of a reflection of the school as their environment.”