State Success Stories: Wisconsin

Wisconsin Music Educators Association

Our affiliated state music education associations do such amazing work on a regular basis. It is one of the things that makes NAfME staff and leadership so proud to do what we do, and proud of the music educators across the country for whom we work. Every so often, a state goes above and beyond and accomplishes some or many goals that will contribute to a bright and prosperous future for music education. We believe these accomplishments deserve recognition, and in our new “State Success Stories” blog series, we will spotlight these states and their accomplishments to show our members what is possible when states dedicate themselves to advocacy.

Our first entry will spotlight the Wisconsin Music Educators Association (WMEA), whose members and leaders were involved with the efforts to bring music back to Milwaukee Public schools, in the passage of a new law that includes music and the arts in annual school district accountability report cards, and their Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion initiative that was funded by a CMA Foundation State Advocacy Grant Award.

music advocates meet with Wisconsin lawmaker
Rep. Joel Kitchens – Wisconsin Assembly District 1
Kati Seiter – WMEA President
Brad Schneider, WMEA Gov’t Relations Chair


The Wisconsin Music Educators Association had a very busy year in 2019, due in part to the groundwork that was laid during previous advocacy Drive-In Days. The Advocacy Committee, led by WMEA President Kati Seiter and President-Elect Paul Budde, with assistance from Advocacy Leadership Force (ALF) member and Government Relations Chair Brad Schneider, went through a deliberative process for determining ”asks” for their annual Hill Days. In 2018, during Lynn Seidl’s term as president, WMEA held their second Hill Day, or a “Drive-In Day.” Their main ask was to include a music, visual art, drama, and dance enrollment data point on the annual Wisconsin School District Accountability Report Cards. This data would be listed as a ”Student Engagement Indicator.” WMEA members met with legislators, including education committee members, and found a sponsor in Representative Joel Kitchens, who authored a bill that included language closely mirroring WMEA advocacy talking points from the original ask. Fast forward to 2020, and Governor Tony Evers signed into law Act 85 on February 5. WMEA continued to build on their success with their 2020 Drive-In on February 12, when they thanked legislators for their support with Act 85 and asked for continued support for music education.

It is important to note that this accomplishment was made without WMEA directly participating in lobbying activities as registered lobbyists. WMEA members, while receiving some guidance and assistance from the association, acted largely on their own and in an individual capacity, meeting with their representatives and testifying in committees to urge the passage of this bill for the benefit of Wisconsin’s students.

WMEA/WSMA Executive Director Laurie Fellenz notes, “In Wisconsin, the lobbying laws and penalties for non-profit charity educational organizations like WMEA are steep, and this has been an educational process for our leadership and members to ensure individual voices speak to the issues while limiting the formal role the association has played during the senate and assembly bill phases.” It speaks to the distinction between lobbying and advocacy, and that while your association may not want to lobby, you can still accomplish a great deal by advocating for the equal access to quality music education that students in your state need to receive a well-rounded education.

To add to a well-coordinated victory at the state level, Wisconsin had a remarkable victory at the local level in the Milwaukee Public School (MPS) district. In 2019, music teachers in MPS, led by Ben Zabor, Erica Breitbarth, Michael Van Pelt, and Raymond Roberts, called on their school board to address disparities in music education offerings in the district, and put forward a proposal that would raise the minimum music requirements for students. As the board considered this proposal, a flurry of support came from students in the district who attended board meetings to voice their support for the proposal, one of which went viral and appeared in the local news. At the end of the process, the board voted to approve an administrative policy that includes required minutes of instruction at all grade levels (K–12) and will require the hiring of approximately 50 new music teachers in MPS over the next five years. Now comes their next challenge: trying to fill those positions. Milwaukee Music Educators Association is circulating a survey to try to identify certified teachers who might be suitable to fill the upcoming vacancies. If you know anyone who might be interested in teaching in Milwaukee, send them this link!

To cap off an incredibly productive year for Wisconsin, the Wisconsin Music Educators Association was one of the recipients of the 2019 CMA Foundation State Advocacy Award Grants. Funded by the CMA Foundation, WMEA’s proposal was for a joint Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee with Wisconsin School Music Association (WSMA) to determine the types of support needed to achieve diversity and equity in Wisconsin’s urban and rural districts. Fellenz is very excited about the committee’s work, stating, “It is an honor to be part of this transformational work to further our impact on all students and educators throughout our state. We have been provided an opportunity to address issues and needs in new ways, and WMEA leadership is a significant force in Wisconsin’s educational landscape.” 

All this great work by WMEA’s members and leaders is a testament to the amazing things that music educators can do when they band together and advocate for their students. Wisconsin Music Educators Association was able to accomplish these things on the state and local level, without ever registering as or acting as lobbyists. Accomplishments like these can serve as templates for what other states can accomplish if they put their minds to it. Congratulations to Wisconsin MEA on a banner year!

We want to continue to recognize our state MEAs on their great work through this new blog series. If you want your state recognized for its accomplishments, reach out to me at

Matt Barusch, State Advocacy Engagement Manager, March 25, 2020. © National Association for Music Education (