Sunday, September 7, 2014

UWM Charter School Uses Bribery to Increase Enrollmen

Originally posted at the MTEA blog 
The University of Wisconsin- Milwaukee should be ashamed.
Urban Day — a UWM charter  — is using bribery to increase enrollment.
Urban Day, on its website, in radio commercials and in flyers (photo above) distributed in the neighborhood, is promising $100 to anyone who recommends a student who will enroll and be present on the third Friday of September.
As educators know, the third Friday is used by the state to determine a school’s funding. As many MPS teachers also know, there is a history of students from voucher and charter schools transferring to an MPS school after that third Friday count.
For years stories have circulated of private voucher and privately-run charter schools offering incentives to parents to enroll their kids – gas cards, gift cards, and even money.
But UWM’s cash-for-students plan stoops to a new low.
On its website, Urban Day has a full-page graphic of $100 bills with the headline: Refer a Student, Earn Money.”  The flyer meanwhile states: “Earn Free Money!!!” by convincing people to enroll in their school.

The flyer goes on to note: “For every new student who is enrolled at school on September 19th and has you as a reference: We will pay you $100. (No limit on the number of students, but students must be present on September 19th for you to receive money.)”

Urban Day originally was a private voucher school, and for years had been touted as an exemplary community school. It became a UWM charter school in 2010.
Urban Day’s flyer did not include any information about the school’s curriculum or offerings. Nor did the flyer (or website) note that in 2011-12 and 2012-13 the school met “few expectations” on the new statewide report card — the second lowest rating, just above “no expectations.”
In 2012-13, only 8.6% of Urban Day students had special needs, compared to nearly 20% in MPS.
UWM is supposed to be the flagship public university in our city. It should be ashamed.

    Sunday, June 8, 2014

    Which Side Are You On? Should public policy promote discrimination?

    St. Marcus, a private voucher school, wants to buy Lee Elementary, a public school. The decision comes before Milwaukee’s Common Council in coming weeks.

    Taxpayer funding of private schools raises any number of problems. But this particular controversy rests on one essential question:

    Should public policy promote discrimination, in particular discrimination against gay people and women?

    Last week, supporters of democracy and equality won a well-deserved victory when a federal judge overturned Wisconsin’s ban on gay marriage. The victory was the culmination of decades of struggle, with supporters of gay marriage often dismissed or criticized in the early years.

    The controversy over St. Marcus raises similar issues of equality versus discrimination. Will politicians who support gay marriage have the courage to say “no” to the sale of Lee Elementary to St. Marcus?

    St. Marcus is a private voucher school that is connected with St. Marcus Evangelical Lutheran Church, which is part of the conservative Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran synod. The synod’s core beliefs include:

    • Homosexuality is a sin
    • Living together outside of marriage is a sin
    • Women are not to hold positions of authority over men. (The St. Marcus School Council is appointed by the church’s all-male board of directors, and the school council chair must be a male. Women are not allowed to vote for the church’s board of directors.) 

    As a religious-based school, St. Marcus and its teachers are expected to defend and promote the synod’s beliefs.

    If the Common Council approves the sale of Lee Elementary to St. Marcus, the voucher school hopes to enroll an additional 850 students who will be taught the synod’s beliefs. An estimated $5 million more per year in taxpayer dollars will be used to promote the synod’s beliefs.

    This is the question the Common Council faces. Will it approve the sale to St. Marcus, knowing that it is thus using public policy to promote and expand publicly funded discrimination?

    Or will council members do the right thing and say “no” to publicly funded discrimination?

    Let me make it clear. This is not a question of religious freedom. I was raised Lutheran (in a more liberal synod) and my wife was raised Catholic. We have any number of relatives who disagree with our beliefs, and we disagree with theirs. It’s no problem. We all respect religious freedom.

    St. Marcus should be free to promote its religious views. But not with taxpayer dollars and a public policy stamp of approval.

    The Milwaukee voucher program was set up by the state legislature and Milwaukee voters have never had a chance to vote on this controversial program. This is a chance for the Common Council to defend democracy and equality and say “no” to policies of discrimination.

    The voucher schools’ ability to discriminate against gay people and women is part of larger problems. To name just a few:

    • Private voucher schools do not have to adhere to open meetings and records requirements. (Public schools do.)
    • Private voucher schools, unlike public schools, do not have to educate all children. Unlike public schools, they do not have to provide ELL or bilingual education. Unlike public schools, they do not have to provide all needed special education students. Unlike public schools, they can expel or suspend students at will, with no constitutional protections of due process and free speech.
    • Private voucher schools, unlike public schools, do not have to adhere to Wisconsin law that prohibits discrimination against students on the basis of sex, sexual orientation, pregnancy, marital or parental status.

    Over the years, private voucher schools have drained more than $1.3 billion in taxpayer dollars from public schools. Due to funding cuts, public schools have been forced to reduce art, music, physical education and libraries, and have drastically enlarged class size.

    Voucher schools have been used to privatize, defund and dismantle the Milwaukee Public Schools — even though MPS is the only institution in the city with the capacity, commitment and legal obligation to educate all children.

    All these controversies swirl around the proposed sale of Lee Elementary to St. Marcus.  

    Voucher supporters are adept at framing the program in rhetoric of “choice.” But with the current controversy over the sale of Lee Elementary to St. Marcus, there is no escaping this fundamental question:

    Should public policy and taxpayer dollars promote discrimination? If you believe so, then vote for the sale. But be clear: that is what your vote means.

    But if you believe that public policy should defend democracy and safeguard equality, the choice is clear. Say “no” and don’t sell Lee Elementary to St. Marcus.

    Friday, May 23, 2014

    A New Teacher Union Movement is Rising

    A revitalized teacher union movement is bubbling up in the midst of relentless attacks on public schools and the teaching profession. Over the next several years this new movement may well be the most important force to defend and improve public schools, and in so doing, defend our communities and our democracy.

    The most recent indication of this fresh upsurge was the union election in Los Angeles. Union Power, an activist caucus, won leadership of the United Teachers of Los Angeles, the second-largest teacher local in the country. The Union Power slate, headed by president-elect Alex Caputo-Pearl, has an organizing vision for their union. They have worked with parents fighting school cuts and recognize the importance of teacher – community alliances.

    In two other cities –Portland, OR, and St. Paul, MN – successful contract struggles also reflect a revitalized teacher union movement. In both cities the unions put forth a vision of “the schools our children deserve” patterned after a document by the Chicago Teachers Union. They worked closely with parents, students and community members to win contract demands that were of concern to all groups. The joint educator-community mobilizations were key factors in forcing the local school districts to settle the contracts before a strike.

    The St. Paul Federation of Teachers involved parents and community members in formulating their contract proposals, which emphasized lower class size, less time spent on test prep and testing, and increased early childhood services. Working with parents they staged a massive “walk-in” to schools when 2,500 people – educators, parents, community members and students – walked into school in unison in a show of solidarity.

    The Portland Association of Teachers organized support from religious leaders, the NAACP, and the Portland Student Union. They conducted petition campaigns and generated public support. Ultimately the school board agreed to many of the PAT’s proposals, including hiring 5% more teachers to reduce class size, and a substantive increase in planning time for elementary teachers.

    Social Justice Unionism
    For years a small but growing number of union activists, myself included, have promoted a vision of social justice teacher unionism that builds on the lessons of past, but pushes the envelope well beyond traditional unionism. We promote an organizing model with a strong dose of internal union democracy and increased member participation. This contrasts to a business model that views union membership as an insurance policy where decision-making is concentrated in a small group of elected leaders and/or paid staff.

    We also are redefining the role of teacher unions so that we become the leading professional force in our communities to defend and improve the craft of teaching and the quality of public education.

    Another essential part of social justice unionism is the recognition of the key role played by coalitions of parents, students, educators and community – on city and school levels. Such coalition work must deal not only with educational issues, but broader non-school issues such as living wages and voter and immigrant rights.

    Teacher leaders in Los Angeles, Portland, St. Paul and elsewhere have drawn inspiration from the transformation of the Chicago Teachers Union. Led by Karen Lewis and other activists, the CTU organized a successful strike in September of 2012. The strike won significant improvements in the quality of schools and received overwhelming community support, despite the efforts of an appointed, corporate-dominated school board and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.  Their strike was anchored in months of member and community organizing, and the CTU continues to organize on numerous educational and community fronts.

    Different Conditions,
    Of course, teacher unions must respond differently depending on conditions they face.

    I know. I am from Milwaukee, WI. I was elected president of the Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association, the largest union local in the state, just weeks after Governor Scott Walker and his Koch brother friends imposed Act 10 on public sector workers (except the police and firefighter unions that had endorsed him).

    Act 10 took away virtually all collective bargaining rights, including the right to arbitration. It left intact only the right to bargain base wage increases, and even those are limited to a yearly cost of living index. The new law ended fair share and payroll dues deduction. It imposed an unprecedented annual recertification requirement on public sector unions, requiring a 51% (not 50% plus one) vote of all eligible members, counting those who do not vote as a “no.” Using those criteria, Governor Walker would never have been elected.

    The Governor then further attacked public schools and educators by imposing the largest cuts to public education in Wisconsin’s history. He also expanded the Milwaukee-based private school voucher program statewide further contributing to the defunding of public schools.

    The MTEA’s response has been to accelerate our work as a social justice teacher union. We believe that schools must become greenhouses for both democracy and community revitalization. Our work has included:
    • Building strong coalitions with community, parent, students and religious organizations to fight school privatization and to improve public schools.
    • Creating our own Teaching and Learning Department to reclaim our profession and our classrooms.
    • Establishing a non-profit organization, The Milwaukee Center for Teaching, Learning, and Public Education, that provides an array of teacher-to-teacher professional development.
    • Dramatically increasing member participation in many areas: school-based building committees, neighborhood canvassing, union-sponsored professional development workshops and classes, campaigns and committees advocating for developmentally appropriate early childhood practices, bilingual education, less standardized testing, adequately staffed libraries, and more.
    • Promoting culturally responsive teaching, including bilingual education, learning a second language for all students, and multicultural, anti-racist teaching.
    • Partnering with the district on key reform initiatives such as the rollout of the new state mandated teacher evaluation system and the promotion of community schools within our district.
    • Working to ensure the rights of members who now work under a “handbook,” not a negotiated contract. 

    National Movement
    Whether teachers find themselves in the backward state of Wisconsin, or a state with more progressive labor and educational laws, teacher unions should reimagine themselves and move toward social justice unionism.

    People are stepping up to the challenge. Last August and this spring, the Chicago Teachers Union and Labor Notes hosted meetings of local teacher union activists and leaders to learn from one another.

    Support for these types of move towards social justice unionism appears to be coming from the highest levels at both the NEA and AFT.

    At the 2012 NEA Representative Assembly NEA Executive Director John Stocks called on members to become “social justice patriots.”  NEA President Dennis Van Roekel has promoted the Great Public School initiative that encourages unions to move in these progressive directions.

    Randi Weingarten has been arrested protesting school closings in Philadelphia, and this past March she spoke at the newly formed Network for Public Education conference in Austin, Texas, during which she announced she would recommend that the AFT no longer accept money from the Gates Foundation.

    It is no longer sufficient to just critique and criticize those that are attempting to destroy public education. Teacher unions must unite with parents, students and the community to improve our schools – to demand social justice and democracy so that we have strong public schools, healthy communities, and a vibrant democracy.

    originally published on Common Dreams, May 23, 2014

    Bob Peterson is President of the Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association. A founding editor of Rethinking Schools, he has taught 5th grade for 30 years in MPS. He is co-editor with Michael Charney of Transforming Teacher Unions: Fighting for Better Schools and Social Justice. (Rethinking Schools, 1998)

    Tuesday, May 6, 2014

    Milwaukee's New Jim Crow - Time to Act on May 17

    A recent report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation showed that Wisconsin is the worst state in the country in protecting the well-being of African American children based on 12 key indicators. Milwaukee, home of 2/3s of the state's African American population, is suffering under these realities. It's time for community leaders of Milwaukee to wake up to the growing segregation and inequalities in our metropolitan area.  
    People will have the opportunity to commemorate the Brown v. Board Decision on May 17, it's 60th anniversary, AND to participate in a call to action to address the ravages of segregation and inequality that haunt our community.
    Join us on May 17 to demand  the schools and communities our children deserve. More info at  
    Click here for an English leaflet and a Spanish leaflet for the event.

    Thursday, April 24, 2014

    Our students are NOT for sale!

    A report issued today by the Economic Policy Institute raises serious questions about private companies running Wisconsin schools. Wisconsin legislators have repeatedly proposed that each year, 5% of schools with the lowest test scores should be declared failing and ultimately handed over to private charter school operators – the assumption being that somehow, improvement will follow.

    The report, “Do Poor Kids Deserve Lower-Quality Education Than Rich Kids? Evaluating School Privatization Proposals in Milwaukee, Wisconsin,” was authored by Gordon Lafer and can be viewed here.

    A key conclusion: turnover schemes provide no guarantee of school improvement.  What’s worse, teaching and learning is threatened at privately run charter operators whose bottom line is expansion and turning a profit for investors. 

    Some of the worst conflicts of interest were found at the Rocketship charter chain, which uses a “blended learning” model to cut down on costs – placing students in computer labs run by low-paid attendants for a significant part of the school day.

    According to Lafer’s report, student achievement has not improved at Rocketship – in fact, seven of its schools failed to achieve Adequate Yearly Progress in 2012-13. And, a Department of Education study showed that one of Rocketship’s key software programs, DreamBox, had “no discernible effects on mathematics achievement for elementary school students.”

    But Rocketship continues to use DreamBox software despite a lack of results. Lafer connects the dots: Two major investors in Rocketship, Reed Hastings and John Doerr, are also primary investors in the DreamBox software company.

    Following the money is important when it comes to our tax dollars. When Wisconsin taxpayers fund charter operators to the tune of $7,925 per student, we expect the money to be used for the child’s education. At Rocketship, not only is the money going to for-profit software companies, it’s also being used to fund Rocketship’s extensive growth plan in other states. Rocketship’s business plan states that the charter operator will pay “relatively high facilities fees” to a sister company called LaunchPad, so that “the profit margin will be used to finance new facilities.”

    Parents, educators, community leaders, and legislators would do well to read this report and question proposals that turn public schools over to Rocketship or any other charter operator. The Milwaukee Common Council, in particular, should stop the blanket authorization of Rocketship expansion in Milwaukee in light of the report’s findings.

    The relationships between Rocketship’s investors, the software companies they own, and the way that the software is used at the school – despite the lack of student outcomes – should raise red flags for anyone concerned about how tax dollars are spent in Wisconsin.

    Sunday, April 20, 2014

    Senator Paul's visit to a Milwaukee voucher school criticized by community leader

    The following public letter by Milwaukee community leader Tony Baez questions why supporters of private school vouchers in the Latino community would host a visit by Senator Rand Paul considering his strong anti-imigrant stance. I am reprinting it here with permission of Dr. Baez.

    April 19, 2014

    Dear friends,

    The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel published the following article announcing that Rand Paul and Rachel Duffy will be the speakers at an event of St. Anthony's School next Wednesday, April 23.  

    This is truly amazing! Rand Paul, together with a few other influential Republicans in the US Senate and House, have been the stumbling block preventing immigration reform in this country. Senator Paul, in particular, has been hateful and inhumane in his references to the undocumented, and has even made proposals to take citizenship away from children born in this country to undocumented parents. Constitutionally, he can't. But that is the type of disgusting rhetoric from the mouth of this incredibly nasty and inhumane libertarian politician. Rand Paul, elected into office with the push of billionaires and the Tea Party, is definitely among this party's most extreme and insensitive members.  

    Paul has also been a leader in the movement to reverse Obamacare, and return to a time when the health and insurance industries depraved 48 million Americans of insurance and health care. Senator Paul has been an advocate of the rich, and is known to promote racist thinking against civil rights legislation. In other words: Senator Rand Paul is horrible on Latino and Black issues, a racist, and an enemy of immigrants, so why bring to Milwaukee?

    We have stood by to see the growth of vouchers in the Latino community and Latinos for Choice, but we can not allow insults and the manipulation of poor and working class Latinos. Most Latinos who enroll their children in voucher schools do not know that they are being used by Latinos for Choice to promote to power extremists that work against important immigration reform, health reform, necessary safety nets for the needy, and Latino empowerment. 

    Since yesterday there has been a huge reaction in the Latino community by many who see this as offensive! Senator Paul's coming to Milwaukee must not be treated as an expression of "another" point of view by some in the Latino community. Persons with dignity and true concern for Latinos in this country take offense to Paul's presence and presidential campaigning. Frankly, no one in their right mind should support this racist, insensitive anti-immigrant person --and this is an objective point of view. We urge you to let people know that this is totally unacceptable. 

    Never should we allow in the name of Latinos the appearance in our community-based institutions of Mr. anti-immigrant Rand Paul. It is even worse when some Latinos dare to manipulate ill-informed Latino parents and children, so as to promote a right wing political agenda. It is a sad day when anyone thinks that because Rand Paul and other extremist support school vouchers, one should support his extremist, insensitive and racist views too. The manipulation of Latinos in this day and age cannot be allowed. If those who enroll their children in St. Anthony know what this hatemonger has been doing all over this country, they would not support this event. 

    We urge the organizers if this activity not to proceed with the visit by Rand Paul. We should stop this event from happening and/or picket the activity. 

    Please see below. and pass this on to others...This is important!

    Tony Baez

    - - - - - - - - - - -

    Sen. Rand Paul coming to Milwaukee

    By Georgia Pabst of the Journal Sentinel April 15, 2014

    U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, the Republican from Kentucky who is considered a possible presidential contender in 2016, will be in Milwaukee April 23 for a roundtable on school choice.
    His visit is sponsored by the conservative The LIBRE  Initiative and Hispanics for School Choice, a local organization that favors the expansion of school choice.
    The roundtable will take place at St. Anthony's Middle School, 2156 S. 4th St. It will be from 10:30 a.m. to noon.
    Rachel Campos-Duffy, a TV commentator and author, is a spokesperson for The LIBRE Initiative. She's also married to Rep. Sean Duffy (R-Wis.).


    Sunday, March 2, 2014

    Rebuilding our schools, our communities and our democracy

    There is an inherent link between strong public schools, healthy communities, and a vibrant democracy. In Milwaukee, all are endangered.

    We cannot rebuild our Milwaukee Public Schools without rebuilding our neighborhoods. Our public schools, in turn, are essential to that rebuilding. But only if we preserve our schools as democratic institutions connected to the community.

    Long before the powers-that-be abandoned our public schools, they abandoned our communities. It is time to call a halt to the politics of abandonment.

    For more than a quarter century, what has been the status quo in Milwaukee? Ignoring segregation. Standing by while job growth bypasses the city and is centered in the suburbs. Living in denial about the need for regional mass transit. Taking money away from public schools and funneling tax dollars into private voucher schools and privately run charter schools. The list could go on.

    To rebuild MPS, we need a new vision. Yet what is being promoted? So-called turnaround plans and a proliferation of privately run schools — which undermine democratic control of our schools and do nothing to improve academic achievement.

    We do not need precious local dollars channeled to national McFranchise charter chains, whether Rocketship, KIPP or Universal Schools. We cannot afford to squander tax dollars on over-paid national consultants who fly in on Monday, leave on Friday, and never make a lasting commitment to either our schools or the children and communities we serve.

    Schools as greenhouses for both democracy and community revitalization

    Our schools can — and must— be greenhouses for both democracy and community revitalization.

    The Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association (MTEA), working with community and parent groups, is developing initiatives to make much-needed improvements in our schools. Here are some.

    • Schools as community centers that provide wrap-around services for children and recreation and adult education for the neighborhood.
    • Schools that educate the whole child rather than turning children into mere test-takers. All schools should have libraries and strong programs in art, music, and physical education. Class sizes must be reduced, and children must have access to quality tutoring.
    • Culturally responsive teaching. This includes bilingual education, learning a second language for all students, and multicultural, anti-racist teaching.
    • Significant parent involvement, from supporting children at home to volunteering in classrooms and being involved in school councils. One important step — hiring parent organizers at each school.
    • Policies that focus on safe schools, restorative justice, and high expectations that help students grow into caring, responsible adults.
    • Stable, collaborative leadership that respect all employees, parents, and students. The revolving door of principals must end.

    These goals are within our reach. MPS already has a number of high-achieving schools that we can learn from. People know of the language schools and programs in Advanced Placement and the International Baccalaureate. Here are other examples.

    • Three teachers from ALBA, a teacher-led school on the south side, were recently named People magazine’s teachers of the year. This school, among other successes, teaches all its students to be bilingual.
    • MPS has the largest public Montessori program in the country, and the MPS schools have long waiting lists.
    • The STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math) programs, with support from the business community, have increased student achievement at high schools such as Bradley Tech and at elementary schools such as Vieau.

    Rather than build on these homegrown successes, city and state powerbrokers want to turn over struggling MPS schools to out-of-state consultants or charter operators. Why not follow the example of Hopkins-Lloyd Community School?

    Hopkins-Lloyd is reaching out to members of the neighborhood, and is partnering with Milwaukee Inner-City Congregations Allied for Hope, Hepatha Lutheran Church, and Marquette University Dental School. This spring, under the auspices of the MTEA, Wisconsin Vision will provide eye screening and free glasses for all students.

    MPS has many serious challenges. But we must never forget that MPS remains the only institution in this city with the capacity, commitment and legal obligation to educate all children.

    As MPS searches for a new superintendent, it is imperative that the school board build on the strengths of the district’s educators, parents, students and broader community.

    It’s time to say no to privatization schemes that cater to out-of-state educational entrepreneurs. Our children, our schools, and our democracy are not for sale.

    Bob Peterson is President of the Milwaukee Teachers' Education Association.
    Published in the print edition of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, March 2, 2014

    Wednesday, January 29, 2014

    Wisconsin Republicans Attack Democracy and Children

    Republican legislators, using the rhetoric of “accountability,” are aiming for the jugular of public education. A fast-track bill now before the Wisconsin Senate calls for the wholesale privatization of public schools in the state, in particular Milwaukee.

    The bill’s consequences are obfuscated by bureaucratic double-speak, arcane details and complicated loopholes. Fundamentally, however, the bill is a frontal attack on public schools, on democracy, and on poor children. It undermines the Wisconsin constitution’s guarantee of a free and public education to all children. 

    Under the bill, “failing” public schools will be forced to close or be handed over to privately run charters — whether or not a locally elected school board thinks this is a good idea, and whether or not the school board has a community-based improvement plan.

    Under the guise of “accountability,” the bill is a blueprint for turning over public schools to privately run charters, in particular national McFranchise charter chains.

    Under the guise of “accountability,” the bill demands failure. It requires that at least 5 percent of the schools get a grade of “F” every year — no matter how the school is actually performing.

    Under the guise of “accountability,” the bill sets up schools as failures and then uses this failure to promote privatization.

    Devil is in the Details
    The bill transforms the current state report card system into A-F letter grades. The bill states that any  school that receives “a grade of F for three consecutive school years, or has received a grade of F in three of five consecutive school years and a grade no higher than D in the other two school years” will be subjected to sanctions.

    These provisions apply to all publicly funded schools through Wisconsin — traditional public schools, privately run charters, and private voucher schools. But there’s a catch. Consequences for public schools are more drastic, particularly the Milwaukee Public Schools.

    “F” and “D” grades will be counted against MPS this school year. Failing grades will not be counted against non-MPS schools for another two years.

    As is well documented, there is a correlation between poverty and the legislature’s definition of “low performing.” The bill’s impact will be felt most by MPS, where 81 percent of the students qualify for free and reduced lunch.

    The Republican-dominated legislature is known for its antipathy toward Milwaukee, the state’s largest and most important city. But Milwaukee also happens to vote Democratic and is home to a disproportionate number of poor people and people of color.

    Not surprisingly the bill could spell the death knell for the Milwaukee Public Schools, already reeling from decades of privatization via vouchers and privately run charters overseen by the City of Milwaukee and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

    Weak Sanctions for Charters
    The bill sets up dual standards for traditional public schools and privately run charters. For instance, a privately run charter’s first five years won’t count when it comes to determining possible sanctions. Second, grades for privately run charters (almost all of which are in Milwaukee) will not be counted for another two years. As I noted above, grades for MPS schools will be taken into account beginning this school year.

    Weakest Provisions for Vouchers
    As for the bill’s alleged concern with “accountability,” the most blatant hypocrisy involves private voucher schools. Failing voucher schools will not be required to close, but merely prevented from enrolling additional students.

    To cite another glaring problem: the bill does not require voucher schools to adhere to the state’s open meetings and records laws. Nor does the bill call upon voucher schools to respect basic constitutional rights of due process or free speech, or adhere to state anti-discrimination measures in the areas of sexual orientation, marital status or pregnancy.

    But here’s the bill’s most blatant hypocritical move. Voucher schools will not be required to take the same achievement tests as other publicly funded schools. Instead, they will be allowed to use a “nationally recognized, norm-referenced” test, thus making it difficult to compare achievement between public schools and voucher schools. Call me suspicious, but is this because the voucher school students have performed worse than MPS students on the Wisconsin achievement tests?

    Direct Target: MPS
    The bill’s authors have done nothing to hide their preference for voucher and privately run charter schools, a preference that harms public schools across the state. But there is one final kick specifically aimed at MPS.

    Across the state, the school boards will be forced to turn schools over to privately run charter organizations, but at least they will have the fig leaf of a voice and must approve the contract. In Milwaukee, the superintendent can act on his own.

    It’s unclear how the bill will play across the state. But stay tuned. Rumors are that the bill is being re-crafted so that it is “less favorable” to the Milwaukee Public Schools.

    Sunday, January 26, 2014

    School Board Committee Acts Against Privatization at Ground Zero

                Supporters of public education and democracy won a well-deserved victory in Milwaukee this week. Now we need to protect that victory.

                After two hours of testimony from an overflow crowd of parents, teachers, students, and community members, a Milwaukee School Board committee removed privately run charter schools from a plan to improve “low performing” schools in the district. The issue goes before the full school board on Thursday.

                Milwaukee is ground zero in the school privatization wars. For a quarter of century there has been a calculated, well-financed, and systematic effort to dismantle the city’s public school system. Conservatives in Wisconsin, emboldened by their control of the state government, have stepped up their efforts to transform public education into a privately run commodity.

                But there is a growing pushback. Teachers and community members are increasingly aware of the essential links between public education, public accountability and democracy.


                In 1990, the state legislature allowed private schools in Milwaukee to receive public dollars; before long Milwaukee had the country’s largest publicly funded voucher program. Interestingly, Milwaukee voters have never been allowed to vote on the voucher program. Likewise, when the state legislature expanded a voucher program across the state last year, the public never voted on the expansion.

                Today, there are about 110 voucher schools in Milwaukee, and 85 percent are religious-based. (Exact numbers for the voucher schools are elusive. Just last month, a voucher school closed in the middle of the night.)

                Over the years the Milwaukee voucher program has eaten up almost $1.3 billion in public tax dollars — and an additional $161 million this year. Yet the voucher schools perform no better on state-administered tests, and in many cases worse, than MPS students.

                Milwaukee is also a national leader in promoting privately run charter schools. In 1998, the City of Milwaukee became the nation’s first city government to establish privately run schools. The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee was also empowered to charter schools.

                In Wisconsin, such charters are described as “independent.” In practice, “independent” is a euphemism for easing the public out and turning schools over to private entities. “Privately run” is a far better description.

                In Milwaukee, as is the case in districts elsewhere, these privately run charters, tend to serve fewer English Language Learners or students with special needs. Overall, the City of Milwaukee and UWM charter schools serve two-thirds fewer students who are English Language Learners, and half as many students with special needs, when compared to MPS schools, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.


                The Milwaukee Public Schools administration and school board have been pressured to charter more privately run charter schools.

                Currently, there are 15 privately run charter schools under contract with MPS. Most of these schools service considerably fewer students with special needs than MPS schools. (Enrollment in the district’s privately run schools has only 11 percent students with special needs compared to the district’s average of 21.3 percent. The disparity with “most restrictive placement” (MRP) students is even more glaring. According to district data, of the students with special needs in the district’s privately-run schools, only 5 percent are MRP, compared to 22 percent in traditional public schools.)  

                The administration wants to increase the number of privately run schools. Responding to community pressure, the school board committee on Thursday took a bold step towards respecting community, democracy, and public accountability. Three committee members – Larry Miller, Terry Falk and Meagan Holman – voted to drop the administration’s plan to bring in more privately run charters.
                In the coming days, intense pressure will be placed on MPS board members to capitulate to the privatizers. The issue will be obfuscated. But this is the fundamental question: Will public education be guided by principles of democracy or by the demands of privatization. Will Milwaukee’s publicly funded schools serve the communities where they are located, or will they be turned over to national McFranchise charter chains?

                There are inherent links between public schools, democracy and community. The right to a public education is enshrined in the Wisconsin Constitution. Furthermore, the Milwaukee Public Schools is the only institution in the city with capacity, commitment and legal obligation to serve all students.

                We need to improve our public schools, not dismantle them.

                Final action on the committee’s recommendation will be taken at the full board meeting Thursday night, January 30.

                Demand that the entire the Milwaukee School Board say “no” to privatization and say “yes” to community-based solutions.

    To read a copy of my testimony I presented at the School Board hearing click here.