MPS Takeover: A Failed Idea Will Fail Milwaukee’s Kids

An Auer Avenue parent speaks at last Wednesday's

An Auer Avenue parent speaks at last Wednesday’s “No Takeover” action at Auer Avenue Elementary (Photo credit: Joe Brusky).

By Bob Peterson May 15, 2015

During my 30 years of teaching fifth grade, I’ve always encouraged my students to look critically at problems and to learn from mistakes.

Sen. Alberta Darling’s and Rep. Dale Kooyenga’s plan to take over public schools in Milwaukee does neither.

The few details in their plan provide no framework for actually improving academic achievement. Equally important, the plan ignores the Milwaukee community’s experience with similar efforts to dismantle our public schools and undermine our democratic institutions.

There are several glaring problems with the Darling-Kooyenga plan.

■Not learning from mistakes. Attempting to improve public schools by turning them over to private charter or voucher operators has been tried before — and failed. For 25 years, vouchers have been a conservative’s dream: no unions, no school board, no state-mandated curriculum or regulations. What has been the result? Voucher schools on the whole perform worse academically than the Milwaukee Public Schools.

Voucher schools have drained over a billion dollars of taxpayers’ money away from public schools and into private schools with little public accountability. The defunding of public schools has meant larger class sizes, less individual attention to students and greatly reduced access to art, music, libraries and physical education within Milwaukee’s public schools. Let’s fully fund our public schools and fix them, not abandon them.

■Undermines democracy. Governance is not the problem with our schools — Milwaukee arguably has more governance options than any urban system in the country. The rhetoric around governance in the Darling- Kooyenga scheme is a smokescreen to get rid of democratically elected and accountable school boards and schools.

There are two ways to undermine democracy. First, by attacking voter rights through limiting early voting options and requiring photo IDs. Another way is to remove entire institutions from democratic control. Yes, democracy can be messy, but the alternative is worse. If we decide to abandon every democratic institution that is not up to our hopes and dreams, why not get rid of the U.S. Congress? Or the Wisconsin Legislature?

■Part of a coordinated attack. The Darling-Kooyenga plan can’t be viewed in isolation. It’s in the context of Walker’s budget that continues deep cuts in public education across the state, and increases statewide privatization of public schools. In addition, Walker’s budget eliminates Chapter 220 — the only educational program in Milwaukee designed to reduce racial segregation in public schools and improve equal opportunity for students of color.

■Exacerbates inequality. Data show that privately run charter and voucher schools serve significantly fewer students with special needs, English language learners and more difficult to educate students. Students are counseled out and pushed back into public schools. The Kooyenga-Darling plan will only increase this problem.

Photo credit: Jill Engel-Miller

Photo credit: Jill Engel-Miller

■Refusal to learn from other urban areas. Other urban districts have tried similar takeovers, with disastrous results. A takeover plan in Detroit is costing the state $72 million, with the mayor raising strong objections. In Memphis, several national charter operators have repeatedly proposed new schools, only to abruptly cancel their plans. And in New Orleans, thousands of students — including those with special needs — are being underserved. Let’s learn from, not replicate, the problems that have come up in these other cities.

■Continues Milwaukee’s plantation mentality. The plan’s colonial implications — what MICAH President Rev. Willy Brisco calls the “plantation” mentality that dominates social policy in Milwaukee — are disturbing. Milwaukee is the most segregated metropolitan region in the nation. Sixty years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court, in its Brown decision that was fundamental to overthrowing Jim Crow segregation, noted that “separate is inherently unequal.” It should give people pause when two white suburban legislators propose having a white county executive appoint a “commissioner” to be able to pluck schools away from the democratically elected school board of an overwhelmingly nonwhite district.

If we want to truly provide equal education opportunities, why not try something truly radical? Why not build a countywide school system — democratically elected and controlled and open to all children, regardless of the ZIP code where they were born? Not only would this open up well-funded schools with excellent opportunities and learning conditions to the children of Milwaukee, it would attack the dual problems of segregation and inequality that plague our region.

■Sending the wrong message to our children. What message do we send to the next generation when we condone a plan to remove control of public institutions from a democratically elected board? When we undermine a superintendent with a doctorate from Harvard University and instead place public schools in the hands of a “commissioner” to be appointed by a county executive who doesn’t even have a college degree and was not elected to run schools? When we allow a plan that specifically says the children of Milwaukee do not need licensed teachers?

Hundreds showed up Auer Avenue Elementary for an action against the takeover.

Hundreds showed up at Auer Avenue Elementary for an action against the takeover.

These are just some of the many problems in the Darling-Kooyenga plan.

This proposal should be rejected by anyone who believes in democracy and the importance of educating all children.

The Milwaukee Public Schools is the only institution in the city with the capacity, commitment and legal obligation to serve all our students.

Our schools are the foundation of our democracy and of our future. Let’s unite to support and improve our public schools, not abandon them.

Bob Peterson is president of the Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association. He has taught 5th grade in MPS for 30 years.

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Auer Avenue Educator Calls Out Attacks on Milwaukee Public Schools

Auer Avenue educator Ingrid Henry-Walker speaks to over 400 parents, students, educators, and community members gathered to fight the takeover of MPS (photo credit: Joe Brusky).

Auer Avenue educator Ingrid Henry-Walker speaks to over 400 parents, students, educators, and community members gathered to fight the takeover of MPS (photo credit: Joe Brusky).

Auer Avenue Elementary educator Ingrid Henry, who is also an MPS graduate and parent, delivered a powerful testimony against the undemocratic takeover of the Milwaukee Public Schools during Wednesday’s “Auer Community is NOT Your Colony!” action. Sen. Alberta Darling and Rep. Dale Kooyenga want to take away the locally controlled and accountable school board from the people of Milwaukee, while lowering teacher licensure standards for the educators teaching those students, but the people of Milwaukee are fighting back.

“The state of Wisconsin has sent a clear message to the residents of the city of Milwaukee. It has become evident that there are many that do not care for the children and families of our city. Some misguided, unfounded fear of people taking from them has finally given those in power enough leverage to destroy our city.
What do I mean by destroy? I mean cutting food aid to the elderly and children. I mean denying the people a living wage. I mean going forward with laws that will strip many of us of our right to vote. I mean closing schools with qualified teachers and replacing them with a school system that when asked if they would do the same for their struggling schools, every single politician said no.
As a teacher, I know how hard it is for children and their families who live in this city. Education is not the only thing on their mind, survival is. If those people who live in the suburbs want to help Milwaukee; they can do this, provide jobs, a living wage, dental care, health care, glasses, medication, mental health support, new schools, and transportation. Until those with the solutions listen and do what is morally right, I can’t take them seriously.
So I say this to politicians in Milwaukee and all over the state. I’m not compromising. You will not put into place the same legislation that destroyed Detroit. You will not put into place the same bills that bankrupted the Detroit and the New Orleans public schools. You will not follow Chicago and fire veteran teachers and teachers of color, in order to cheapen the work force. You will not sell our buildings to those looking to profit off of our children. You will not sell our children without a fight.
So as a proud MPS graduate I say to the alumni, we need you here to fight for each school. As a proud MPS parent, I say to the parents, we need you here to fight for each school. As a proud MPS teacher, I say educators we need you here to fight for each school. And as a proud citizen of the city of Milwaukee, I say Milwaukee we need each and every one of you ready to fight for each school.”

– Auer Avenue Elementary educator Ingrid Henry

Auer Avenue Educator Calls Out Attack on Milwaukee Public Schools from MTEA Union on Vimeo.

We Elected You to Fight for Us, Not Rollover!

Milwaukee resident Ingrid Walker testifies against a takeover resolution brought forth by MPS School Board President Michael Bonds.

Milwaukee resident Ingrid Walker testifies against a takeover resolution brought forth by MPS School Board President Michael Bonds.

“I am asking you to do what we elected you to do. FIGHT FOR US!”

-Angela Walker

Last Thursday’s MPS School Board hearing provided some pretty dramatic testimony. The residents of Milwaukee have been expecting some form of a school takeover bill from the Republicans in Madison, but they never thought they’d see one from their own school board.

Board president Michael Bonds brought forth a resolution, Thursday night, that aimed at placating GOP politicians in Madison. The resolution performed some of the same functions as Sen. Alberta Darling & Rep. Dale Kooyenga’s Takeover bill, in that it handed a portion of the board’s authority over to an unelected authority, in this case MPS Superintendent Dr. Darienne Driver.

Unfortunately for President Bonds, the public came out to testify against it and the measure was tabled on a 7 – 1 vote, with only Bonds voting for it. One of the many voices for maintaining strong local control through an elected and accountable school board was Milwaukee resident Angela Walker. Watch her 2-minute testimony that summed up what many in Milwaukee are feeling right now about ANY attempt to take over control of their public schools.

We Elected You to Fight for Us, Not Rollover! from MTEA Union on Vimeo.

Join us Wednesday, May 27th at Auer Avenue Elementary where we continue the defense of our publicly controlled and accountable schools and tell those seeking to take over our schools “Auer Community is NOT Your Colony!”

Auer Community is NOT Your Colony

Auer Avenue Elementary is one of the public schools targeted by the Senator Alberta Darling (R – River Hills) and Representative Dale Kooyenga’s (R – Brookfield) Milwaukee Public Schools takeover plan and a symbol of all of our under-resourced schools. Join us as we surround Auer Ave. School and let state legislators and the county executive know that AUER Community is NOT your colony!

This school defense rally will be the first in a series of citywide actions to raise public awareness of what our schools and communities are facing, and how all of our communities can join in the fight to keep democratic control of our schools. OUR SCHOOLS, OUR SOLUTIONS! Join us!

When: Wednesday, May 27th

Where: Auer Avenue Elementary (2319 W. Auer, Milwaukee, WI 53206)

When: 4:45pm

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