“Separate and Unequal,” 62 years later

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Written by: Jamaal Smith

On May 17, 1954, a landmark decision was made when the United State Supreme Court ruled state laws establishing separate public schools for black and white students as unconstitutional. In a unanimous 9-0 decision, the Warren Court stated that “separate educational facilities were inherently unequal,” and violated the Equal Protection Clause in the Fourteenth Amendment. The Brown decision was pivotal in the fight for integration during the Civil Rights era. The expectation was that ALL children would have equal access to quality education and opportunity, which should be a fundamental right, regardless of race. However, 62 years since the historic “great equalizer” decision, black and brown students are again the targets of racial inequality within the educational system.

 

Emma Brown, columnist for The Washington Post, recently reported that, according to the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office, “the number of high-poverty schools serving primarily black and brown students more than doubled between 2001 and 2014.” This study is holding true in the state of Wisconsin, as GOP lawmakers have devised laws that continue supporting “separate and unequal” practices. One of those strategies was the elimination of the Chapter 220 program, which allowed for students of color from high-poverty neighborhoods to attend schools in predominantly white suburban school districts. In addition, two Republican legislators, State Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills) and State Rep. Dale Kooyenga (R-Brookfield), created the Opportunity Schools and Partnership Program, a law intended to hand underfunded MPS schools to private, unaccountable operators. Cities like New Orleans and Detroit have been subjected to similar “Recovery Districts” with catastrophic results, but the commonality that exists between those cities and Milwaukee is that these laws are constantly imposed on black and brown communities without input. The OSPP legislation was passed in the middle of the night without a public hearing even taking place.

 

The OSPP legislation hands authority to a Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele with no college degree, who appointed Dr. Demond Means, Superintendent of the predominantly white Mequon-Thiensville School District, as the Commissioner over a predominately nonwhite district. Abele and Means created a proposal that claims MPS can still remain in tact even if one of the schools were moved under the OSPP district, which is inconsistent with the law. At a recent debate with MTEA Executive Director Lauren Baker at Marquette University, Rep. Kooyenga even stated that he was not a supporter of Dr. Means’ proposal because it counters what was written in the legislation. What is most disconcerting with Abele and Dr. Means is that they both admit the OSPP legislation is an unjust law, but insist the democratically elected school board of MPS should give up local control of their publicly-funded schools. Based on this rational, Civil Rights leaders should not have fought against the injustices within Jim Crow because they were law, right. Or the Black Codes, which brought about involuntary labor on freed slaves for minor “infractions” passed by southern states after the Civil War.

 

Just as it was not acceptable to comply with an unjust law then, the same ideology should exist on unjust laws now. An unjust law is no law at all!

 

We must continue the fight against modern day segregation and racial discrimination within our education system. Our children deserve our efforts to stand up for their future just as those before us stood for ours. Bishop Desmond Tutu said, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” In the face of an obvious wrong, the time is now to stand and fight for what is right!

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Chris Abele Continues to Change His Tune on MPS Takeover

Chris Abele now says, in a recent Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article, that he won’t take over any MPS schools as a part of the state directed public school Takeover. He only wants to provide support and wrap around services for MPS students and families. Last month, Abele’s appointed Takeover czar, Demond Means, told a crowded room at the Washington Park Senior Center that they planed to take over multiple buildings. A few months ago, Abele said he was going to take over only empty buildings.

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How many times does Abele get to rewrite the narrative on the MPS Takeover? How many times can he consult with his Republican friends who sponsored the Takeover and cut deals to give him cover during a hotly contested County Executive election? If Abele was to win the election, how many MPS schools would be threatened with takeover then?

 

The Takeover legislation specifically says at least one school falls victim this year. Abele says he talked to the legislators and they said he could ignore the Takeover program’s rules. He admits he will break the law and be supported by the same Republican legislators who created the law. Where does this chicanery end?

 

The Milwaukee community won’t be fooled by this trickery. These are our schools, our children, not some political football.

 

The Web We Weave When We Aim to Deceive from MTEA Union on Vimeo.

Please sign this petition demanding public community schools that have a proven record of success. We want community schools, not takeovers!

Movement to Stop School Takeovers Building Momentum in Milwaukee

The resistance is rising.”

– Keron Blair – Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools

Saturday’s citywide convening of School Defense Committees brought together parents, students, educators, community members, and politicians from all around the city and beyond to take the next step in the fight against public school takeovers and advance public community schools for Milwaukee.

The morning started of with passionate and thought-provoking speeches and calls to action from Alliance to Reclaim Our School’s Keron Blair (video), Dyett School hunger striker Jeanette Taylor (video below), and author and educator Isabel Nunez (video).

Saturday's speakers included (from left to right) Keron Blair, Jeanette Taylor, and Isabel Nunez.

Saturday’s speakers included (from left to right) Keron Blair, Jeanette Taylor, and Isabel Nunez.

Following the morning speakers, the real work of the day began. Attendees met in small groups, where they worked through School Defense Committee (SDC) toolkits that provide individuals and groups with the blueprints to organize locally in their building, church, or community group against public school takeovers.

These SDC Toolkits are available to parents, students, educators or community members, who want to organize others in their school community to stand up for public schools. All those organizing SDCs will be making sure to hold their first meeting by January 31st, 2016. It was also announced that on February 17th,  2016  Milwaukee will be joined by over 20 other cities in a third round of walk-ins for public education.  The next convening of SDCs will take place on March 20, 2016. Details will be released when they become available.

Saturday’s emcee Angela Walker introduces attendees to the School Defense Toolkit.

The School Defense Committee Toolkit includes:

Click on the links above to view and print sections of the toolkit, or click here to download a toolkit.

Anyone who decide to organize a School Defense Committee should fill out this form so we can track who is organizing School Defense Committees. Be sure to include the date for your first School Defense Committee gathering.

As Jeanette Taylor ended her speech, “We are the leaders we’ve been waiting for,” and now is the time we must act to ensure public education is not killed on our watch.

I Went on a Hunger Strike to Save Public Schools from MTEA Union on Vimeo.

 

Reagan High School Student Explains Why MPS Students Walked Out Monday

Reagan High School student Rafael Diaz is wise beyond his years. Rafael’s school is not on a list to be handed over to third party operators, but that doesn’t mean he and his classmates aren’t fighting back. Watch to see why he and other Milwaukee Public School students walked out of classes on Monday afternoon.

Why Milwaukee Students Walked Out from Occupy Riverwest on Vimeo.

Attend the MPS “No Takeover Information Night”

Parents for Public Schools of Milwaukee is honored to have been asked to be a co-sponsor of this IMPORTANT night of learning and action surrounding the proposed Takeover of Milwaukee Public Schools.

Please join Milwaukee Public Schools leadership and PPS-MKE to learn more about the contents of the MPS Takeover proposal and what we can all be doing to inform our community at large and how we can continue to build momentum to push back against this egregious action.

***There may be a location change. Date & time will remain. Stay tuned for update as necessary. Thank you.***

Monday, June 8th 6PM
MPS Central Office Auditorium
5225 W Vliet

Details to come. Flier distribution to come from schools!
Plan to attend; we will PACK THE AUDITORIUM!
Bring other parents and community members with you.
Educators and Support Staff — join us!

PPS-MKE is dedicated to fight for our public schools.
Not One School
Not One Student
to the Takeover

Download the MPS flyer here.

Students Walk Out to Protest MPS Takeover

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Students took to the streets today to stand up for public schools in Milwaukee and protest a proposed takeover of their schools. Students walked out of their classes at several area schools and joined together in front of South Division High School, a school that could be targeted for takeover under a plan being advanced by Rep. Dale Kooyenga (R-Brookfield) and Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills).

While many of the students who are actively protesting against the takeover attend schools targeted for takeover, others attend some of Milwaukee’s highest-performing schools. At a rally last week, Reagan High School student Paola Gonzalez told the crowd: “Reagan is not in danger of being privatized, but I am here to stand in solidarity…once one of our schools is targeted, all of MPS is targeted. Senator Darling and Representative Kooyenga, you do not represent the city. You have no business telling us what to do.”

Schools and Communities United: Auer Avenue Defense Rally Statement

Schools and Communities United co-chairs Jenni Hofschutle and Ingrid Walker-Henry release the following public statement after a powerful Wednesday Auer Avenue Defense Rally in response to an offensive press release from Senators Alberta Darling and Representative Dale Kooyenga.

“As hundreds linked arms to protect Auer Avenue School from takeover yesterday, Sen. Darling and Rep. Kooyenga issued a press release attacking Auer children, families, and educators for low test scores, and criticizing the the Auer community for standing up for their public school.
Schools like Auer Avenue — where families are struggling with poverty, segregation, joblessness, and lack of health care — need support from state legislators, not attacks and takeovers.
Darling and Kooyenga’s claim that students and parents are “forced to attend Auer Avenue Elementary School” is an insult to parents who choose Auer Avenue for their children, and shows a total lack of understanding about Milwaukee’s educational landscape.
We call upon Sen. Darling and Rep. Kooyenga to listen to residents of Milwaukee about what our schools need to be successful. Come and visit Auer and other MPS schools and talk to parents, staff and students.
We also call upon those who care about the children in Milwaukee to stand up and protect Auer Avenue School and all public schools that are the foundation of a democratic society.”

The press release shows not only a complete lack of respect for the students, parents, and educators of Auer Avenue and Milwaukee, but it also shows ignorance of the real facts about MPS schools like Auer Avenue, detailed below and this blog written earlier this week.

Test scores canary in the coalmine at Auer Avenue and dozens of schools like Auer. Fifteen years ago, Auer Avenue was a “90-90-90 school” – shorthand for high poverty, highly segregated, and high achieving. At that time, Auer Avenue had the resources needed to employ a full team of professional educators to meet the needs of their students – a critical piece of the puzzle for student success in neighborhoods with high poverty and unemployment. At that time, Auer and other high-performing, high-poverty schools were fully staffed with librarians, guidance counselors, full-time reading specialists, art, music and physical education specialists, program implementers, technology teachers, paraprofessionals, special education teachers, nurses, social workers, psychologists, speech pathologists, and classroom teachers with small classes that allowed them to provide plenty of individual attention to children.

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Many other schools at that time were also achieving at high levels despite high poverty and segregation:

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What changed? Fifteen years ago, the voucher program was just hitting its stride in Milwaukee. A 15-year streak of defunding public schools – exacerbated by an inequitable state funding system – was just getting started. Since then, over a billion dollars has been siphoned away from the children at Auer Avenue and other MPS schools, and funneled into unaccountable, under-performing voucher schools. Governor Walker put the nail in the coffin in 2011 when he made the largest cut to public schools in Wisconsin history – over a billion in total, with a tens of millions in cuts to MPS.

There is clear evidence that when students living in poverty are prioritized and invested in, with the rich resources necessary to provide students true educational opportunity, their academic achievement thrives. When these supports are withdrawn, student achievement declines.

We know what must be done to increase academic achievement for students in poverty. The people of Wisconsin have the political will to do so, and we expect state legislators to listen. It’s time to acknowledge that vouchers and funding cuts have failed our students, and return to fully funded and vibrant community public schools.

“Stop the Takeover of MPS” Petition Delivery to Senator Alberta Darling

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The names of residents who are opposed to the Takeover of Milwaukee Public Schools have been flowing in, and now it’s time to deliver them to the co-author of the plan to take over Milwaukee’s democratically elected school board.

We will gather at 3:30pm at Wisconsin Jobs Now, (1862 W. Fond du Lac) where we will meet up for rides and carpooling

***We will deliver the “No Takeover” petitions at 4:15pm at Sen. Alberta Darling’s office (N88W16621 Appleton Ave. – just east of Main Street)

After our petition delivery we will continue demonstrating in front of Darling’s office from 4:30-5:30pm.

Facebook event page is here.

Have you signed the petition?

Download the petition to circulate.

Here’s why we OPPOSE the takeover:

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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Form an MPS SCHOOL DEFENSE COMMITTEE

Protect YOUR SCHOOL and ALL PUBLIC SCHOOLS from the TAKEOVER

What is a School Defense Committee? A School Defense Committee is a group of parents, students, educators, community members/organizations, local leaders, faith- and neighborhood-based associations, and businesspeople who are willing to get involved at YOUR school to oppose the MPS takeover plan.

Who needs a School Defense Committee? Every school needs one. The takeover plan will identify specific schools to take over, but all schools are at risk because the plan affects the financial health of our whole district. A threat to one school is a threat to all of our schools.

What actions can a School Defense Committee take to protect all public schools in our city and state? Here are a few ideas for your committee to consider:

  • Hold meetings or informational leafleting (before and after school) to inform parents, students, educators and community members about the takeover.
  • Recruit people from your school community to participate in events and actions that support our public schools and oppose the takeover.
  • Speak to the media and legislators about your school.
  • Go door to door in your school neighborhood to build support.
  • Make phone calls to inform and activate others.
  • Coordinate with people at other schools and in other cities (such as Racine and Madison) to show that our state is united for public schools.

How can we get a School Defense Committee started at our school? Email Amy Mizialko at amizialko@wi.rr.com. Or fill out the slip below and turn it into one of the organizers at today’s event.

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YES! I’ll help organize a School Defense Committee at my school!