Friday, September 18, 2015
Why we oppose the takeover of Milwaukee's public schools
On Friday morning, thousands of parents, educators, students and community members gathered outside more than 100 public schools in Milwaukee. Our purpose: to stand up as a community to celebrate each individual public school in our community, and to voice our opposition to a proposed public school takeover in our city.
A public school takeover plan, passed as part of the state budget last July, looms over our schools, our children, and our city. State legislators have charged Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele with choosing a school takeover czar or "commissioner" this fall. The commissioner would then choose one to three schools to convert into privately run charter or voucher schools for the 2016-'17 school year. In each subsequent year, up to five schools could be handed over to private operators.
Milwaukee parents and community members are concerned about this plan for several reasons:
■The plan threatens the entire Milwaukee school district — not just the schools identified for takeover. More than 40% of children in Milwaukee already attend privately run charter or voucher schools. When taxpayer money is taken away from public schools to fund privately run charter and voucher schools, public school students lose funding and opportunities. Eventually, the financial burden will become too great for our public school system to bear. Similar challenges have brought school systems to their financial brink in districts from Detroit to Chester Uplands, Pa.
■The takeover plan offers no new ideas or resources to help children succeed. Milwaukee already has 25 years of experience with a failed voucher school program and privately run charter schools with a checkered history. Simply changing who runs a school does not lead to student success.
■The takeover schools will leave students without critical services. Voucher schools and privately run charter schools are not required to meet the needs of special education students or English language learners. It is an outrage that a privately run charter or voucher school could take over a public school and then refuse to educate the students who used to be enrolled there, due to their learning needs.
■School takeovers will eliminate good jobs in our city — particularly for African-Americans and Latinos. Takeovers have hurt the local economy in New Orleans, Memphis, and Detroit. They have eroded, in particular, middle class communities of color. And they have led to a less diverse teaching force.
■Most significantly, the school takeover plan eliminates democratic local control, disenfranchises black and Latino communities, and punishes mostly students of color. A recent report by the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools shows that across the nation, school takeovers happen almost exclusively in African-American and Latino communities: Of nearly 50,000 students whose schools were taken over, 97% were black or Latino.
Milwaukee parents have a different plan to improve schools by turning them into Community Schools — a nationally recognized model that increased graduation rates in Cincinnati by more than 30%. State legislators who want to help should support this proven model.
Public school students in our state are under attack. From billions in budget cuts to the constant threat that your school may not be there next year, uncertainty reigns. Parents, educators, community leaders, and students are right to demand better.
Our spirits were buoyed Friday morning when we stood shoulder to shoulder with public school supporters who are ready not only to support and protect our schools, but to lift them up and strengthen them as we build the schools and communities our children deserve.
This commentary was submitted by Ingrid Walker Henry, co-chair, Schools and Communities United; Dr. Tony Baez, former director Centro Hispano; the Rev. Willie Briscoe, president, MICAH; Angela McManaman, president, Parents for Public Schools; Christine Neumann-Ortiz, executive director, Voces de la Frontera; Gina Palazzari, interim executive director, Wisconsin Jobs Now; Fred Royal, president, NAACP Milwaukee branch; and Kim Schroeder, president, MTEA.
Printed originally in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, September 18, 2015 http://www.jsonline.com/news/opinion/why-we-oppose-the-takeover-of-milwaukees-public-schools-b99579300z1-328199071.html