Madison East Students Take Sen. Ron Johnson to School on Vouchers

Madison East Students Take Ron Johnson to School on Vouchers, Betsy DeVos from MTEA Union on Vimeo.

Wisconsin Republican Senator Ron Johnson has been avoiding constituents since the election of Donald Trump, so he probably thought he could handle some Madison East High School students, but boy was he wrong!

In the nearly 45 –minute Thursday question and answer session, recorded on social media by a student in the audience, Johnson was grilled on his views on public education and an array of other issues. His answers and interactions show just how uninformed his views on public education are and just how brilliant and amazing Wisconsin students are.

The exchange began when Madison East student, Lydia Hester, walked up to the microphone and asked Johnson:

I’m a freshman here at East. I’d like to know how you feel about privatizing schools? How you are able to be here and say that you want to help students when you voted for Betsy DeVos, who has no experience with public schools? DeVos has been pushing for “school choice” for twenty years. This is creating charter schools that replace public schools. Public schools are losing their funding from voucher schools. Public schools are being forced to shut down in Milwaukee. How can you say this will help us?

Johnson responds by telling the students voucher schools offer students a “golden ticket” out of “failing schools,” telling students they needed to watch a one-sided movie that touts corporate education reform, which has exacerbated the condition of public schools. Perhaps Johnson’s campaign donations from school privatizers have clouded his views on this issue. Research (link) continues to show that students in voucher and private charter schools perform no better than students in public schools. As public funds are diverted to the private voucher schools Johnson praises, public school budgets shrink.

Just recently news broke in Milwaukee that a charter school, Universal Academy, abruptly closed its doors on a third school in the city in six months, leaving Milwaukee Public Schools and Wisconsin taxpayers with a nearly $1 million dollar tab. Now families, students, and educators are being forced to scramble and pick up the pieces in the middle of the school year.

Another student followed by comparing Johnson’s earlier remarks about stabilizing the situation in Syria to first stabilizing Wisconsin public schools before experimenting with other reforms:

Earlier in the talk you talked how the solution for refugees (Syria) was to stabilize the area that they’re coming from rather than bringing more here. We could kind of use that as a parallel to what you were just saying about school choice. To say that we can’t all mobilize and leave our places of origin, which is what the refugees want to do, we need to stabilize the situation here so I don’t understand how you can have the two reversed views.

Vouchers have been a destabilizing force for families and public schools in this city for decades. Fly-by-night private schools closing down have become commonplace in Milwaukee and other places that unaccountable vouchers have sunk their roots in. Over fifty voucher schools have closed their doors in Milwaukee, costing taxpayers over a hundred million dollars!

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Graphic from a 2015 blog, when another failed voucher school, Daughters of the Father went under leaving families and MPS in a lurch. Other vouchers schools have failed since.

Finally a third student asked this brilliant question that Johnson handled about as well as Betsy DeVos did in her Senate confirmation hearing:

Do you think we should use standards of proficiency or standards of growth to measure student achievement, especially in relation to English classes which aren’t as straight-forwardly graded as math classes and why?

Johnson’s response:

You’re getting into some pretty esoteric educational pedagogy and I’m not an educator, I’m an accountant, I’m a plastics manufacturer.

Again, why are these politicians, who know nothing about educational policy, playing educator? Johnson forgets to mention that MPS schools were producing great results for students of color up until school vouchers and private charters started diverting money nearly 25 years ago in Milwaukee, the birthplace of a voucher district. Johnson didn’t want to admit that MPS students receive thousands of dollars less in per pupil funding than nearby suburban students, or that legislation to take over a democratically elected school board had been forced upon Milwaukee residents.

Johnson may have thought he could school a bunch of high school students, but these public school students could see right through his lies.

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Photo credit: Joe Brusky

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Milwaukee Private Head Start Operator Offering Cash Bribes for Enrollment

Look what was sent to us!
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The Milwaukee private Head Start operator, Acelero Learning is offering a $50 cash enrollment bribe to entice parents to send their K3-K5 students to their program.
In 2014, It was reported that several private city charter schools were using cash bribes to lure parents away from accountable public operators using public taxpayer money. The campaign was successful in passing a citywide ordinance banning such a practice from the City of Milwaukee charter schools.
It was argued then that an educational institution should be able to attract students on the merit of their academic programs, not on the size of their cash bribe.
Private third party operators shouldn’t be able to earmark taxpayer dollars to recruit students.

Sign this petition ending this practice in the State of Wisconsin.

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Biased Author of City’s “MPS Impact Statement” Revealed

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Marva Herndon and Larry Hoffman testify on behalf of Schools and Communities United before the Milwaukee Common Council’s Steering & Rules Committee.

The fox was let into the henhouse.

Charter schools that aren’t part of a public school district can pose a great risk because the funding diverted to them can eventually bring down the district. The Milwaukee Common Council recently passed an ordinance that requires the city’s Charter School Review Committee (CSRC) to produce an Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) financial impact statement for any new charter school they authorize for approval.

The Next Door Foundation school recently applied for a city charter under this new policy.

CSRC staffer Jarett Fields was tasked with the responsibility of researching and writing the very first impact statement to help inform the committee members before making their decision. Fields, who at the time was employed by Marquette’s Institute for Transformational Learning, presented it at the April 4 meeting of the CSRC. Fields’s statement and verbal explanation of it seemed to deliberately minimize the effects the new charter would have on MPS.

The CSRC voted to approve the new charter school and recommend it to the Common Council’s Steering and Rules Committee, which has oversight over the CSRC. But in testimony at the June 2 Steering and Rules hearing, a Schools and Communities United representative pointed out that the statement was incomplete and failed to provide sources for its information. Thankfully at that hearing Alderman Tony Zielinski and author of the impact statement legislation, Ald. Nik Kovac, discovered the real author of the statement — the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL), a right wing, Bradley Foundation funded, anti-public education group!

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That’s right, the same group that takes millions of dollars from the Bradley Foundation to end public schools was allowed to write the first MPS Impact Statement. A study by One Wisconsin Institute states:

In service of the goals of its benefactor, WILL has undertaken an aggressive campaign of actual and threatened litigation to ward off scrutiny of and crackdowns on voucher program abuses, to force taxpayers to underwrite transportation for private school voucher students and to advocate for further expansion of the voucher program in the media and with the release of pseudo-science.

Just last week a “report” that WILL released a while back in support of charter schools was debunked by actual researchers. How are Wisconsin policy makers, taxpayers, educators, and administrators able to make informed decisions about the future of public education when every step of the way WILL muddies the debate with an aggressive agenda aimed at destroying public education.

Jarett Fields, clearly unable to understand the factors involved in school finance or the data provided by the Department of Public Instruction, or MPS,  did not turn to any other Wisconsin education expert for assistance, but instead turned to WILL to write the statement. Fields recently resigned his position as staffer for the CSRC.

Milwaukee City Charter Rocketship “Bleeding Money” to Tune of Two Million Dollars

MMAC President Tim Sheehy at the grand opening of Rocketship in Milwaukee.

MMAC President Tim Sheehy, who according to Rocketship’s website, sits on the charters board of directors.

According to testimony from Carl Cira of M. L. Tharps & Associates, an auditor contracted by the City of Milwaukee, the private charter school Rocketship Southside Community Prep is running a massive deficit. Cira delivered this shocking financial report on Rocketship to the May 25th Charter School Review Committee (CSRC) meeting at City Hall. A recently completed financial audit revealed the charter is running a cumulative deficit of $1.4 million and a projected deficit of an additional $700,000 through the 2016-17 school year.

Cira’s testimony on Rocketship’s financial situation started with his reflecting, “Rocketship: A school I have some concerns about, because, they’re bleeding money, that would be my honest assessment.” CSRC member Joyce Mallory interrupted, “Who lets them pass a budget, with that kind of a deficit?”

Sadly the answer is the CSRC and the City. This financial malfeasance would not be possible in a traditional locally controlled public school accountable to a democratically elected school board, but it seems to happen all the time in the City’s private charter school district. This new revelation comes on top of financial problems already documented at City charter schools including at North Point Lighthouse Academy earlier this year.  Now Rocketship has emerged as the latest example of what happens when public dollars go to these unaccountable charter schools.  Watch video of the CSRC interaction below.

Like Lighthouse, Rocketship in Milwaukee is a franchise – part of a national charter school chain. Although franchisees claim that their parent company will bail them out when deficits occur, that was not the case with Lighthouse.

According to Cira, Rocketship claims its enrollment will increase next year to a point that will make the deficit disappear by the end of the 2016-17 schools year. But that claim doesn’t appear to be realistic. When it opened in 2013, its goal was to enroll 650 students. It started 2014-15 with 435 students. By June the number was 393. Its current enrollment is 420 students. Rocketship’s stated goal was to open eight K-5 schools in Milwaukee by 2017, serving up to 5,000 students. That goal has been drastically scaled back.

City of Milwaukee Charter Rocketship “Bleeding Money” to Tune of Two Million Dollars from MTEA Union on Vimeo.