“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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Amid Pressure from Public Education Advocacy Groups, City of Milwaukee Charter Finally Closing

Northpoint Lighthouse charter school had problems from the very beginning when they put their students in an abandoned steel processing plant.

Northpoint Lighthouse charter school had problems from the very beginning when they put their students in an abandoned steel processing plant.

Thanks to the work of a broad community coalition, Schools and Communities United (SCU), the Milwaukee Common Council’s Steering and Rules Committee, the city charter Northpoint Lighthouse Academy will be closing at the end of the current school year. This city charter was a textbook example of why privately run charters, operated outside of the elected school board, are bad for students and taxpayers.

Northpoint was part of a privately run charter chain, co-owned by former tennis star Andre Agassi. The chain received immediate disapproval for choosing to place the school in an abandoned steel processing plant:

“There are a lot of issues as it concerns the health and safety and welfare for the children. In this case, we’ve got a power tower and transmission lines in the backyard of this facility,” Marva Herndon said.

Schools and Communities United's Marva Herndon and Larry Hoffman testify before the Steering and Rules Committee on the city's charter school performance in January of 2015.

Schools and Communities United’s Marva Herndon and Larry Hoffman testify before the Steering and Rules Committee on the city’s charter school performance in January of 2015.

For over a year, SCU has been calling for the closure of the Northpoint and other poorly performing city charter schools. As the coalition noted, the school never provided a stable environment for the families and students it served, as indicated in this 2014 SCU report.

• Of 14 classroom teachers to start in September 2013, 7 remained the entire year. Of the 7 vacancies, 2 were refilled during the year and 5 were left unfilled. Also, 2 out of 4 ‘other instructional staff’ remained the entire year.
• At the end of the 2013-14 year, three teachers did not have a DPI license.
• In interviews with Charter School Review Committee consultant, teachers noted a “lack of concrete disciplinary policies,” “lack of instructional support, coaching and teacher accountability,” and “minimal communication and involvement with parents.”

At the January 27th Charter School Review Board meeting the decision was made to close Northpoint at the end of the current school year. This is a definite win for public education advocates. However, supporters of public education must still be vigilant, as illustrated by Milwaukee’s recent experience with King’s Academy. King’s Academy was put on probation for poor performance, but instead of risking being shut down, its administration declared that it would cease to operate as a city charter and would instead re-enter the voucher program. Rather than being closed, it escaped accountability for its poor performance. Let’s hope that Northpoint does not try the same ruse.


Live and Recorded Public meetings of CHARTER SCHOOL REVIEW COMMITTEE on 2016-01-27 5:30 PM for The City of Milwaukee, WI

Source: CHARTER SCHOOL REVIEW COMMITTEE on 2016-01-27 5:30 PM – Jan 27th, 2016

How a City of Milwaukee Charter School Dodges Accountability

King’s Academy charter school has been a city of Milwaukee 2R charter school for six years. Because of the work of a small group of committed Milwaukee residents to make the city’s Charter School Review Board more transparent and accountable, more attention has been placed on how the city scrutinizes contracts with charter schools like King’s Academy. Much of that attention has been placed on King’s Academy for a poor record of performance and red flags in several key areas highlighted in this 2014 report prepared by the Schools and Communities United coalition.

Screen Shot 2015-12-16 at 7.31.06 PMA report like that would seem to surely ensure the school’s removal from the city 2R charter program given such a long track record of poor performance, but who needs to be held accountable when all you have to do is go to another school system. That’s exactly what King’s Academy did at the August 13, 2015 CSRB meeting in announcing that they would no longer be seeking a contract with the city and instead would be heading back to the Wisconsin voucher program (so called Milwaukee Parental Choice Program):

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This was the response from Schools and Communities United to Board President Michael Murphy on King’s Academy and their sudden transition back to the voucher program, effectively dodging any accountability or track record as a school.

King’s Academy and other sham school operators will continue this voucher shell game of legalized corruption that fails Milwaukee students. Voucher schools run from accountability and hide from transparency. Public tax dollars belong in public schools. It is far past time to declare a moratorium on the failed private voucher system in Milwaukee.

Citywide Convening to Stop the Takeover of MPS

Stand up for the public schools our students deserve! Save the date!


Join us on Saturday, December 5th as students, parents, educators, and community allies collaborate to build a longterm strategy that both defeats the proposed Takeover of MPS, while also laying the groundwork for a new vision that embraces the successful public community schools model.

This meeting, which is being organized and planned by concerned MPS parents will both educate and activate those willing to take the necessary steps to reach these goals. Parents, educators, community members, students are all invited!

This event is being organized by Schools and Communities United. More details coming so check back on this page for updates.

Facebook event page is here.

Stop the Takeover of MPS – Attend the Schools and Communities United General Meeting

The students of Milwaukee Public Schools excel when given the support, time, & tools needed to learn. If we’re serious about making sure our students receive the opportunities they deserve then we need to do what works. That means smaller class sizes, more one-on-one attention, a wider array of community supports (nutrition, health, and after school programs for any student who needs it) and the best possible materials, resources and educators available. We need vibrant community schools, not private takeovers. We have to continue to fight for the schools we want for our students and the Schools and Communities United​ coalition is how we do that. Please join this general meeting open to the public.

Parents, students, educators and community members held hads around Auer Avenue School last May in defense of their students' public schools.

Parents, students, educators and community members held hands around Auer Avenue School last May in defense of their students’ public schools.

What: Schools and Communities United General Meeting (open to the public) When: Monday, August 3rd Where: Washington Park Public Library (2121 N. Sherman Blvd) The Facebook event page is located here.

This is Why Milwaukee Needs a Moratorium on 2R City Charter Schools


The Takeover of the Milwaukee Public Schools didn’t just start with Senator Alberta Darling and Representative Dale Kooyenga’s MPS Takeover bill. It started decades ago and one of the ways it has pecked away at MPS is through the proliferation of 2R city charters. These third party operators are issued charters by the city of Milwaukee. They have a poor track record and like all other schools that are not publicly run, they have no restrictions on who they educate, allowing them to push out students they deem undesirable. They are also not accountable to a public school board elected by the people of Milwaukee, but rather they are an appointed review board with a dubious record of oversight. Our schools need to be accountable to the elected Milwaukee Board of School Directors and not an appointed review board and the four city charter schools highlighted in this blog, show exactly why.


Milwaukee Collegiate Academy

Milwaukee Collegiate Academy is a 2R city of Milwaukee charter school. It operates outside the Milwaukee School Board and is instead accountable to a appointed board.

Milwaukee Collegiate Academy is a 2R city of Milwaukee charter school. It operates outside the Milwaukee School Board and is instead accountable to a appointed board.

Milwaukee Collegiate Academy is in its 11th year of operation, first as a private voucher school and now a Milwaukee City charter. In both 2011-12 and 2012-13, the school expelled 11% of its students. In 2013-14 it expelled 16% of its students. That’s 5 times more expulsions than any other City-chartered school and 10 times more than Milwaukee Public Schools high schools. Its suspension rate was 56% in 2011-12 and 42% in 2012-13, higher than any other City charter school or MPS high school.


Northpoint Lighthouse Academy

The city charter school Northpoint Lighthouse Academy is housed in an abandoned factory.

The city charter school Northpoint Lighthouse Academy is housed in an abandoned factory.

North Point Lighthouse Academy is a Milwaukee city charter school run outside the control of the local school board. Sadly for its students, It is located in a former steel fabrication plant amid industrial and commercial properties and has an electricity tower and a transformer in back. In 2012-13, the school paid a $111,378 management fee to its parent, Lighthouse Academies as “pay down with interest” on prior funding.


Milwaukee Math & Science Academy

The Milwaukee Math & Science Academy has has several affiliates recently raided by the F.B.I.

The Milwaukee Math & Science Academy has has several affiliates recently raided by the F.B.I.

In June 2014, FBI agents raided 19 of its schools in Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois. In July, the corporate headquarters in Illinois was raided. An FBI statement said they were part of “an ongoing white collar crime investigation.” Also in July 2014, the Ohio Department of Education began an investigation into alleged “attendance rate falsification and test tampering” at a Concept Schools facility. Other investigations concern its use of H1-B visas (Visas made available for workers in areas of high need) to bring teachers from Turkey when there is a supply of local teachers.


King’s Academy

King's Academy has been a school for 16 years with little results to show for it.

King’s Academy has been a school for 16 years with little results to show for it.

King’s Academy is in its 5th year as a City charter; before that it was a private religious voucher school for 11 years. In December 2014, the City’s Charter School Review Committee recommended putting King’s Academy on probation, because of poor academic performance and high turnover in staff and administration. In its 16th year as a school, it “hasn’t risen to the level one might expect” (Review Committee member) and has experienced extremely high teacher turnover.

Milwaukee Alderman Tony Zielinski has authored a resolution for a 5-year moratorium on any new City of Milwaukee charter schools. It’s a significant step in the right direction to start to turn back the Takeover of MPS. This resolution will be introduced at the Steering & Rules Committee hearing on Thursday, June 11th. We need to turn out a large crowd for this hearing, in order to begin the process of putting Milwaukee schools back in the hands of the people, and not unelected commissions!

What: Steering & Rules Committee hearing on a 5-year moratorium on any new city of Milwaukee 2R charter schools.

When: Thursday, June 11th @ 1:30pm

Where: Milwaukee City Hall, Room 301-B

Facebook event page can be found here.


Milwaukee’s “Claim to Shame”

Students march in Milwaukee for May Day '15 (photo credit: Joe Brusky).

Students march in Milwaukee for May Day ’15 (photo credit: Joe Brusky).

Originally posted in the report: Fulfill the Promise: The schools and communities our children deserve, published by Schools and Communities United.

Traditionally known for our beer and bratwurst, Milwaukee has a new status: The country’s most segregated region.
When it comes to this country’s New Jim Crow, “We’re Number One.”

Jim Crow—legally mandated segregation, bolstered by beatings, lynchings and restrictions on the right to vote—helped overturn many advances after the end of slavery. Today, the New Jim Crow is taking aim at the gains of the Civil Rights Movement, using tools such as mass incarceration, voting restrictions, gerrymandering, zoning requirements, deportations, and “stand-your-ground” laws.

To cite one chilling statistic in the New Jim Crow: The incarceration rate for African- American men in Wisconsin is the highest in the United States—in a nation that imprisons more people than any other country in the world.

It is impossible to underestimate the impact of Milwaukee’s New Jim Crow on our children, our communities, and our public schools.

In the Milwaukee region, as is true nationally, housing patterns determine school demographics. Due to racial and economic segregation, our schools are increasingly segregated. Due to funding disparities, they are both separate and unequal.

The abandonment of our communities and public schools also has spread to our democracy. In 2011, Wisconsin’s Republican- dominated state legislature passed one of the strictest Voter ID bills in the country, with the issue still before the courts. This spring, the legislature drastically curtailed early voting. The measures are in line with a national campaign to suppress the vote.

If the Milwaukee region is serious about equal opportunity—from jobs to schools to healthcare to voting rights—we must dismantle the region’s racial and economic segregation. It will require a broad-based effort involving transportation, housing, economic development, criminal justice, voting rights, and school enrollment policies.

But it can be done.

Photo credit: Jill Engel-Miller

Photo credit: Jill Engel-Miller

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.