Educate All Students, Support Public Education

September 28, 2011

Anti-Affirmative Action Event Draws Protest

Filed under: Racism,Right Wing Agenda — millerlf @ 4:41 pm

Despite days of public outcry, the UC Berkeley College Republicans on Tuesday proceeded with a highly publicized satirical bake sale that protested an Affirmative Action-like bill currently awaiting approval from Governor Jerry Brown.

The Huffington Post first reported about plans for the bake sale when it appeared in a Facebook post from the Republican group. The post advertised pastries price-adjusted for gender and ethnicity, including cupcakes priced at $2.00 for white men and $1.00 for Latinos, with a price break of $.25 for women. The final line read: “Hope to see you all there! If you don’t come, you’re a racist!”

Although the plan was slammed by students and civilians, the bake sale went ahead as scheduled.

The result: a highly charged free-for-all protest that included student Democrat organizations, angry minority groups, the media and, according to SFGate, even an opposing Harry Potter-themed table, selling “enchanted Costco muffins,” priced differently for pure bloods and muggles.

The bake sale was also attended by Ward Connerly, a former UC Regent and the author of Prop. 209, the 1996 proposition that prohibited public institutions from considering race, sex or ethnicity when accepting applicants.

Many students called the bake sale insensitive and accused the Republican organization of mocking the struggle of minority groups. Angry protesters screamed chants, staged a lie-in and carried signs, reading: “Don’t UC us?” Others pushed through the crowd to buy the baked goods, showing support for the Republican group.

“We agree that the event is inherently racist, but that is the point,” Berkeley College Republicans President Shawn Lewis wrote in response to earlier opposition. “It is no more racist than giving an individual an advantage in college admissions based solely on their race (or) gender.”

Senator Ed Hernandez, who authored the controversial bill, has defended its intentions, pointing out that it will not require universities to accept applicants based on race, gender or ethnicity, but that it will simply allow them to consider these factors, which is currently prohibited. In an email with SFGate, Hernandez wrote:

[I am] profoundly disappointed that a group of young, smart people, who are attending one of the greatest universities in the country, not only dreamt up this bake sale but have elected go go through with it despite the fact that numerous members of their campus community are deeply offended by the idea…[the bake sale is] a perfect example of why I introduced this bill in the first place. If campuses were as diverse as they should be we’d see much more tolerance exhibited at the UC than we currently do.

September 25, 2011

United Church of Christ: Education as Civil and Human Right

Filed under: Civil Rights Movement Today — millerlf @ 8:56 pm

The United Church of Christ (UCC) has taken the stand that the conventional wisdom on school reform is wrong and the church needs to care about it. In a recent message, the UCC said “all children have the right to an opportunity to learn, not as a matter of competition or where they live, but as a civil and human right. We must guarantee all students access to high-quality early education, highly effective teachers, college-preparatory curriculum, and equitable instructional materials and polices.”

The full message can be found at

Walker School Cuts Keep Coming

Filed under: School Finance,Scott Walker,Wisc Budget Bill — millerlf @ 8:56 pm

Budget means districts drop agriculture programs …. really

Governor Walker keeps telling us that the 2011-13 budget is working for school districts, but the evidence keeps mounting that it’s not OK for kids, their schools, or their communities.

For example, a recent column that ran in several state newspapers admits there will be changes to many of our school districts, including “31 ag programs that laid off teachers, reduced teaching hours, or were simply eliminated”─and that’s just this year. And remember, folks, this is in The Dairy State of all places.

To read the full article go to: (

School: It’s way more boring than when you were there

Filed under: Education Policy — millerlf @ 8:55 pm

Wednesday, Sep 14, 2011

New studies show that the disappearance of art, music and even recess is having a devastating effect on kids

By Daniel Denvir
School: It's way more boring than when you were there

Forty-nine million or so American children have returned to public school classrooms that are, according to many critics, ever more boring. Preparation for increasingly high-stakes tests has reduced time for social studies and science. Austerity state and federal budgets are decimating already hobbled music, art, library and physical education budgets.

“When reading and math count and nothing else does, then less time and resources are devoted to non-tested subjects like the arts, science, history, civics and so on,” education historian Diane Ravitch, a well-known high-stakes testing critic and one-time proponent, writes in an email to Salon.

Supporters of the self-described “education reform” movement counter that evaluating teachers based on test scores is the only way to ensure good teaching, and that focused attention on reading and math is necessary to boost poor students’ achievement.

But the achievement gap is still wide, and there is (hotly disputed) evidence that students are afforded less time for creative inquiry. A 2007 Center on Education Policy study found that 44 percent of elementary schools had decreased instructional time spent on non-tested subjects since the 2002 implementation of No Child Left Behind, on average reducing time spent teaching the scorned subjects by 32 percent.

A study by the organization Common Core slated for release later this fall has found even more dramatic changes, particularly in elementary school where one teacher teaches all subjects and instructional change can take place more informally.

“We were surprised at the extremity of the narrowing indicated by the teachers who took our survey,” says Common Core executive director Lynne Munson, a deputy chairwoman of the National Endowment for the Humanities during the Bush administration and former fellow at the conservative American Enterprise Institute. “We were particularly surprised to see that not only a narrowing across the grades, but in elementary it’s really been acute. It is overwhelming.”

Andy Rotherham, a researcher for Bellwether Education and a columnist at Time magazine, counters that while curriculum narrowing exists it is much smaller than the heated rhetoric would suggest, and that the blame lies not with testing but with poor instruction. He also questions the CEP study’s methodology, and points to a 2009 Government Accountability Office study that found only 7 percent of teachers reporting a decrease in art instruction between the 2004-05 and 2006-07 school years.

“The problem we have right now is arguing over measuring sticks, but the real problem is a capacity problem,” says Rotherham. “We’re asking schools to jump over bars that they’re not able to jump over.”

The push for a narrow curriculum dates to the 1990s, he says, and so cannot be pinned exclusively on No Child Left Behind. Indeed, the problem of poor schools lacking resources for arts and music is an old one.

Whatever the cause, bored students take notice and are not showing up to class — especially poor kids of color. A February 2011 report by Youth United for Change found that boredom was one of the greatest factors driving students in Philadelphia to drop out — just 63 percent of students graduate within six years. The students who conducted the survey use the term “pushed out” to highlight the forces driving young people out the door.

“It’s so much time put into the testing, and it gets boring,” says Romeo Rodriguez, a 21-year-old who left a number of Philadelphia schools and a study author. “To sit there and read constantly, the same questions that they ask every year.” Young people interviewed for the survey said there was too much test prep and too few extracurricular activities, arts and vocational training.

The change is coming from the top. No Child Left Behind was President George W. Bush’s signature education policy initiative, requiring schools to make Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) on reading and math tests or face tough penalties — including closure. President Barack Obama’s Race to the Top grant competition consolidated the focus on reading and math, and leveraged federal funds to push states to tie teacher evaluation to student test results.

Schools are now asked to do a lot more with a lot less. The 2009 federal Recovery Act (stimulus) saved an estimated 342,000 education jobs. With just $2 billion of $39 billion in funds remaining, catastrophic cuts are now in place — with more likely in coming years without a major boost in state and federal funding.

More than 290,000 school district jobs have been eliminated since August 2008, according to a study released last week by the left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. More than 190,000 of those jobs were eliminated over the past year. A majority of 24 states studied (representing two-thirds of the nation’s students) had cut funding — sometimes drastically: South Carolina, Arizona and California each cut more than 20 percent. And since state education budgets are generally allocated through formulas that prioritize aid to low-income students, districts with the bulk of such students often take the greatest hit. Once again, it seems likely that the poor are suffering from the most boredom.

At the “lowest-performing” schools, which also tend to be the poorest and least white, schoolwide pep rallies are common in the lead-up to test day, and schools hang large banners celebrating their AYP achievements. Poor schools are desperate to make AYP on standardized tests.

“We had rallies to try to hype up people for PSSAs [Pennsylvania System of School Assessment],” says Rodriguez. “To be honest, they didn’t work.”

Principals make it clear to teachers that test scores are paramount. From the president to the superintendent on down, math and reading tests are the only lens through which academic achievement and school success are interpreted. Adult jobs are on the line, and forced conversion to privately managed charter schools loom.

“The research is not clear,” writes Ravitch, “but a great deal of anecdotal evidence suggests that affluent districts are preserving a balanced curriculum, while poor and minority students are likely to have larger classes and a bare-bones curriculum.”

Supporters defend the predicament as a sad necessity.

“The bigger pressure, I think, is making sure that kids are ready to graduate high school and have the possibility to go on to college,” writes Kelly Centolella, a 7th grade math and science teacher at a Los Angeles charter school and Teach for America alumnus. “If the decision is between a seventh grader taking an extra math class to make him or her ready for algebra or taking an art elective, I would be hard-pressed to not pick the extra math class.”

Critics dispute that math and reading drills have closed the divide, and say recent cheating scandals in cities like Atlanta and Philadelphia indicate that some testing gains may be illusory. Rather than changing course, however, school districts are simply moving to tighten security measures — though monitoring is still weak.

Bob Peterson, a 30-year veteran teacher from Milwaukee, argues that poor kids are most in need of a well-rounded education.

“Those are the kids that most need a robust education because their parents don’t have the money to fund those things after school and in the summer,” says Peterson, a longtime activist who recently took office as president of the Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association.

Ravitch says that when teachers get cut, arts and the humanities are the first people to go.

“When decisions are made about layoffs, decisions are made about which subjects are necessary — the tested ones — and which are expendable — those that don’t count on the federal scorecards. So librarians are cut; art and music teachers are cut; testing budgets are not touched,” she writes to Salon.

A 2010 study by the National Art Education Foundation found some improvements in arts curriculum development since 2002. But art teachers had an overwhelmingly negative attitude toward No Child Left Behind. They reported decreased staffing and funding, higher teaching loads, and students being pulled out of class for remedial work and test prep. A June 2011 study from the Center for Arts Education found that New York City lost 135 art teachers since the 2006-07 school year, and that about 23 percent of city schools have no licensed art teacher at all.

Even science, which President Obama heralded as the key to American prosperity during his 2011 State of the Union Address, is hurting. Science teachers complain they face reduced teaching time, and participation in science fairs nationwide has suffered.

“Less practical” subjects fare even worse, and the humanities are under increasing attack from higher education to elementary school.

“It looks like the only way humanist educators and their students are going to get to the top is by hanging on to the coattails of their scientist and engineering friends as they go racing by,” writes Stanley Fish, a defender of the beleaguered liberal arts.

Bored children can find little respite: Recess, the midday distraction long treasured by listless youth, has declined as principals try to squeeze every last minute of instructional time from the school day. A 2005 Department of Education study found that students averaged only 26 minutes of recess per day, with poor kids getting even less.

Even kindergarten has found itself on the losing end of a war against play. Instead of playing house, dressing up or drawing, 5-year olds now busy themselves with math worksheets. A 2009 study by the Alliance for Childhood found that kindergartners in Los Angeles and New York City spent six times as long on literacy and math (two to three hours daily) as playing (30 minutes).

“The importance of play to young children’s healthy development and learning has been documented beyond question by research,” write authors Edward Miller and Joan Almon. “Yet play is rapidly disappearing from kindergarten and early education as a whole. We believe that the stifling of play has dire consequences — not only for children but for the future of our nation.”

“Preschool,” they warn, “is rapidly following suit.”

  • Daniel Denvir is a staff writer at Philadelphia City Paper and a contributing writer for Salon. You can follow him at Twitter @DanielDenvir. More: Daniel Denvir

September 20, 2011

Wisconsin Charter Expansion Facing Roadblocks

Filed under: Charter Schools — millerlf @ 1:29 pm

Despite changes, charter school expansion bill faces a headwind

SUSAN TROLLER | The Capital Times | Posted: Tuesday, September 20, 2011

A bill to create a state-level charter school authorizing board is drawing skepticism from some Republicans in the Legislature.

A controversial bill that would create an independent, statewide authorizing board for charter schools is facing a tougher path now that Republicans have a razor thin 17-16 edge in the Wisconsin Senate. The legislation is designed to expand charter school choice in Wisconsin and to allow charters to be formed even in communities where they are not approved by local school districts.

Although the bill, introduced by Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, last spring, has been modified from its original form, the amended Senate Bill 22 still doesn’t pass muster with the Department of Public Instruction. Perhaps more importantly, moderate Republican Sen. Dale Schultz, R-Richland Center, says he continues to have “more concerns than enthusiasm” for the legislation.

If he, or one of the Senate Democrats that opposed the earlier legislation, can’t be persuaded that more independent charter schools would benefit Wisconsin students, SB 22 will be in trouble if it moves from the Joint Finance Committee to a vote in front of legislators, likely in October.

“Before we rush to blow the cap off of charter schools, let’s fully understand what the impact will be, especially on our rural schools,” Schultz told me in a recent telephone interview, adding that he has heard from plenty of school board members across Wisconsin who oppose the bill. They are unhappy with the proposal because it gives charter school organizers an option of going through the state authorizing board if they are turned down by their local school board.

“Most of the school boards are just incensed about this. It does take control away from local communities,” he notes. He adds that some of his colleagues in the Legislature share his concerns, and that he is not hearing from constituents that expanding charter school options is a high priority.


State of Georgia Planning to Execute Troy Davis Today at 6 PM Milwaukee Time

Filed under: General — millerlf @ 11:31 am

Following is a statement from Edward Dubose, an NAACP representative from the state of Georgia. He is asking for your help.

In moments of immense sadness, moments that shake the foundation of our faith in the justice system and mankind, adequate words are scarce.

Today, the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles co-signed on the decision to execute Troy Davis.

Despite overwhelming evidence pointing to his innocence — evidence that prompted former FBI Director William Sessions and more than a million others to write in support of clemency — Troy’s execution is scheduled for 7 p.m. on Wednesday, September 21.

His family has been moved by the efforts of the NAACP and supporters around the world. They have asked us to express their thanks to you personally.

They also asked us to tell you that this is not the hour to give up.

For the past two decades that Troy has been on death row, miracles have interceded at crucial moments. Can you help us make a miracle happen now?

Please stand with Troy and his family. Tell District Attorney Larry Chisolm that he has to intercede:

Chatham County District Attorney Larry Chisolm is the man who requested the death warrant against Troy Davis. He’s the glue that holds the case together and, even after today’s news, he remains in a unique position to petition the judge to withdraw the death warrant against Troy. It’s a long shot, but it’s Troy’s best hope.

Please, our last hope is to change the heart of District Attorney Chisolm. Sign today, and we will make sure that every name is hand delivered to his office:

We will soon reach out to tell you how you and your families and communities can organize gatherings in your hometowns to reflect on Troy’s experience, and to offer prayers for his family. But tonight is the time to redouble our efforts, not to back down. Tonight, we hold on to hope.

Please, take one last action and sign the petition today:

Thanks for all of your support,

Edward Dubose
Georgia State Conference President

More on Troy Davis case:


Milwaukee Labor Press Article Spells Out Need for Voucher Tax Transparency

Filed under: Vouchers — millerlf @ 11:14 am

Put truth of voucher tax on city bill, MPS asks

By Dominique Paul Noth
Editor, Labor Press
Posted September 18, 2011

The Milwaukee Public Schools board is requesting another group of elected officials, the leaders of the city of Milwaukee, to engage in a flagrant act of truth in advertising and transparency in government.

They are asking for city property tax payers to be told that 17% of what they think they are paying to MPS is never seen by MPS and is actually filling the gaping financial hole the state — with all its revenue streams – left in the private school voucher program.

MPS supporters of the idea emphasize that it’s not a case of raising taxes but telling the public where their tax dollars are really going.

It has long been the purpose of the end of the year tax bill – which includes an informational brochure — to allow anyone who owns property in Milwaukee to compare tax rates per $1,000 of assessed value levied by every unit of government involved. The bill also lists the citywide tax levies (before tax credits) by governmental unit, which last year put MPS first, followed by the city, the county, the tech college (MATC) and the sewerage district (MMSD). That’s supposed to be truth in advertising.

Wait until the largest property holders and the smallest house owner discover the reality most simply don’t know. An accurate lineup in 2010 would have reflected city first, dropping MPS to second by taking away more than $50 million, with the county third and then MATC neck and neck with the new transparency component, the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP). Sewerage would lag far behind.

In a few months, given Gov. Walker’s changes and the last-minute manipulations of the legislature’s joint finance committee, MPCP will likely grow to a $53.4 million burden on Milwaukee property tax payers and could replace MATC as No. 4 on that list. It assuredly will in 2012. And a simple transparency change would drop the citywide MPS levy in the taxpayer’s eyes — about $240 million on the 2011 property tax, rather than more than $293 million. That’s not small change, and psychologically quite different.

The elected officials in charge of accepting the MPS request for basic clarification are both retiring in April and have made their mark in fiscal responsibility, pushing convenience and service for the public. They are city treasurer Wayne Whittow and comptroller Walter Morics. Both could leave office with another laurel of accuracy and transparency by honoring the MPS board’s request. If they ask around, as Labor Press did, they will find the mayor as well as civic leaders look favorably on the idea.

Since state aid covers only about 62% of the voucher tuitions, the city property tax payer picks up 38% of the cost of every voucher school student (works out to about $2,448 per pupil).

But all this has been long hidden from property tax payers, who only see MPS on the tax bill and thus hold the public school system accountable for money it never touched that is going to private schools.

In truth, these taxpayers are billed not only for the largest school district in the state but levied for the sixth largest, which is what the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program has grown to in the city, noted MPS board chairman Michael Bonds at a special meeting in September.

MPS should be entitled to that $50 million plus since it’s the count of MPS kids that provides the rationale. The state sends the money to private schools in the name of voucher school parents. So MPS never gets even a breath of it except for being listed on the tax bill as the recipient and spender of 17% of the total that it never gets,

Why, under the convoluted equalization aid formula employed by the state, are voucher kids invisible? To make Milwaukee seem wealthier and let other school districts where Republicans rule the legislature get a healthier slice of the state pie. No surprise, then, that the erasing of some 20,000 living, breathing children out of the equalization formula doesn’t publicly dismay the other school districts benefiting.

Even when forced to concede the irrationality, the state has refused to repair the blatant flaw despite the urgent request of such officials as Mayor Tom Barrett. Now the MPS is asking for transparency on the bill so at least the public knows what it’s paying for and what MPS is not getting but is still blamed for.

The larger issue is not pro or con voucher schools. Some think they are good for education, though a detailed, carefully balanced University of Arkansas study reveals that MPS does better than most voucher schools and in sum as well as the best even after a decade. No wonder a large percentage of voucher families move their children back to MPS schools after being subjected to the choice program. (The movement back and forth further hurts MPS, since voucher schools get the tax money even as the kids leave and MPS often has to wait nearly a year to count the children in the funding formula.)

The University of Arkansas report criticizes the funding mechanism as an uneven double whammy with an adverse impact of some $47 million on Milwaukee property tax payers. (If only the taxpayers knew, but who reads studies?) It offers options of how the state could avoid this double dip of both refusing to count voucher students in the aid formula and then taking money to support them from the allocation to MPS students.

If you carefully examine what the president of School Choice Wisconsin, Jim Bender, told Journal Sentinel Sept. 13 in response to the MPS call for accuracy, even voucher advocates inadvertently admit it would be more honest to make the money they get a separate item on the tax bill.

The reasons for transparency are more urgent than when a “voucher tax” line was broached four years ago. Gov. Walker has not only expanded the private school tuition support to Racine County (Green Bay successfully resisted the move). In Milwaukee he also eliminated all caps on the number of students that could go into voucher schools and raised the income eligibility well past the originally targeted low income families. Now a family of four earning $72,000 can participate. He also opened the voucher doors to any school in the state.

Already nine schools outside the city are on board — some as far away as Cedarburg and Columbus, most religious schools, some even boarding schools. Now they can take city of Milwaukee children with voucher money.

One irony: private school K-12 enrollment is falling in school districts all over the state – except in Milwaukee, where the voucher program is keeping a lot of private schools alive. Perhaps Walker is seeking to rescue the private school movement by using city of Milwaukee property tax payers as his bank.

The MPS with its request simply wants city taxpayers to know about the shell game. Once you could have argued that underwriting private school tuition for low income children was aimed at giving choice to children always heading to MPS. Walker’s expansion means city taxpayers will underwrite children always headed to private schools.

If the tuition at St. Thomas More High School in St. Francis is $8,200 a year (so listed), there are middle class families that can now get in just paying the $1,758 left over after the state underwriting. If Wayland, the coed boarding academy run by 7th Day Adventists in Columbus, costs $12,000 in tuition, not so for a qualifying city kid who brings along the state’s $6,442, more than a third paid by city property tax payers.

And if city voucher kids wind up providing a steady stream of tax-funded income to these suburban schools, imagine how those schools could play with tuition costs for suburban children.

After two years, when all caps on size come off the Racine voucher program, a local newspaper revealed that property tax payers there will absorb their own hidden $10.4 million hit, so elected officials in Racine confirm they are also looking now at how to create transparent reporting on those tax bills.

Walmart Family Support of Right Wing and Vouchers in Wisconsin

Filed under: Right Wing Agenda,Vouchers — millerlf @ 11:01 am

The selling of school choice

Posted on September 18, 2011

Walmart family heirs and others are changing the face of education in Wisconsin.Heirs to the Walmart fortune, including Alice and Jim Walton, have given thousands to Wisconsin political candidates since mid-2008.

By Bill Lueders
Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism

Public schools in Wisconsin will have to make do with $800 million less from the state over the next two years, under the budget passed by Gov. Scott Walker and the Republican-led Legislature. But state spending on programs that provide public dollars to private schools will see a net increase of nearly $17 million.

Top individual donors to Wisconsin Legislators, 2009-2010

Click here to explore an interactive version of this data.

Sidebar: Are choice schools better?School choice proponents argue that private vouchers give students in troubled school districts the opportunity for a better education. But the numbers don’t always back them up. Read more in a new page

And, for that, these private schools can thank Alice Walton and her family.

Walton, the multi-billionaire heiress to father Sam Walton’s Walmart empire, was the largest individual contributor to successful state legislative candidates in the 2009-2010 election cycle that brought Republicans to power in Wisconsin, according to data from MapLight, a nonpartisan organization that tracks the relationship between money and politics.

Walton, a horse lover and arts patron who lives in Millsap, Texas, gave a total of $16,100 during this cycle to these candidates, the data show. In fact, six of the top 15 individual contributors to last fall’s successful state legislative candidates were Walton family members.

Other members of the Walton clan contributing to Wisconsin candidates include Alice’s brother and sister-in-law Jim and Lynne Walton, sister-in-law Christy Walton, niece Carrie Penner and her husband Greg Penner.

Collectively, these six individuals have given at least $103,450 to Wisconsin candidates since mid-2008, state records show. Walmart’s political action committee gave another $9,750 to successful legislative candidates in the 2010 election cycle, according to MapLight.

Alice Walton. Photo courtesy of Walmart Stores

But the Waltons’ contribution to the state’s choice program — which allocates tax dollars to private schools, most religiously affiliated — goes well beyond campaign contributions. The Walton Family Foundation is a major funder of School Choice Wisconsin, the state’s leading voucher advocate, and other state and national groups that play a role in school choice efforts in Wisconsin.

In just the past several months these efforts have produced major gains, including expanding school choice in Milwaukee and extending it to Racine. A vast and interconnected array of choice proponents, many from out of state, is changing the face of education in Wisconsin.

State Rep. Mark Pocan. Henry A. Koshollek/The Capital Times

“The new 800-pound gorilla – actually it’s more of a 1,200-pound gorilla – is the tax-funded-voucher groups,” says state Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Madison. “They’ve become the most powerful lobbying entity in the state.”

National movement

And in fact, the advancement of school choice in Wisconsin has long benefited from interested outsiders.

In 1997, a group of school choice supporters spent $200,500, more than half from out of state, on postcards and calls to help re-elect state Supreme Court Justice Jon Wilcox. The state Elections Board sued, alleging illegalities. Wilcox and others eventually paid $60,000 in fines — but not before he voted to uphold the constitutionality of Milwaukee’s pioneering voucher program, launched in 1990.

Milwaukee’s voucher program had 20,300 full-time equivalent voucher students at 102 private schools in 2010-11, compared to about 80,000 students at Milwaukee’s public K-12 schools. The total cost, at $6,442 per voucher student, was $130.8 million, of which about $90 million came from the state and the rest from the Milwaukee Public Schools.

Across the nation, proponents of school choice are sensing opportunity. The National Conference of State Legislatures, a bipartisan policy group, reports that so far this year bills to create voucher programs have been introduced in at least 30 states, and tax credits to those paying private school tuition or giving to private school scholarship funds have been proposed in at least 28 states.

A dozen states and the District of Columbia have school choice programs in place, according to the American Federation for Children, a national school choice advocacy group. (Click here for a state-by-state map.)

And Wisconsin, home of the nation’s first and largest school choice voucher program, in Milwaukee, is a key battleground.

“Wisconsin has a high level of value to the movement as a whole,” says Robert Enlow, president of the Indianapolis-based Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, a nonprofit group that advocates for school choice. The state, he says, is notable for “the high level of scholarship amounts that families can get.” And he’s pleased that Wisconsin is “catching up with the rest of the country” in expanding choice options to other communities, such as Racine.

Critics see the school choice program as part of a larger strategy — driven into high gear in Wisconsin by the election of Walker and other Republicans — to eviscerate, for ideological and religious reasons, public schools and the unions that represent teachers.

“This is a national movement and they are trying to come into Wisconsin now that Republicans are in control to take this opportunity to expand school choice,” says Miles Turner, executive director of the Wisconsin Association of School District Administrators, a professional association for state school superintendents. “I think it is a serious attack on public education in Wisconsin and a watering down of one of the best public school systems in the nation.”

The case for choice

Voucher advocates say they just want to give students an alternative to failing public school systems, which encourages the public schools to do better.

Alice Walton and other family members did not respond to multiple interview requests placed through the Walton Family Foundation since early August. But the foundation states in an annual report that “increasing the quantity and quality of school choices available to parents” infuses competitive pressure into the educational system, resulting in improvements to all schools.

The report cites statistics showing that “the number of children attending their designated public school measurably declined between 1993 and 2007 — from 80 percent of the student population down to 73 percent.”

The Walton Family Foundation highlights “systemic K-12 education reform” as one of the areas in which it is “making a positive difference.” In 2010 it invested $157 million in this cause, including efforts to shape public policy.

This includes $300,000 to School Choice Wisconsin; $250,000 each to three existing or proposed charter schools in Milwaukee and Madison; $275,000 to the University of Wisconsin-Madison for research and evaluation; and a total of $496,000 to Marquette University’s Institute for the Transformation of Learning, headed by school choice advocate Howard Fuller.

The Walton Family Foundation also gave at least $600,000 last year to the University of Arkansas’ School Choice Demonstration Project, which is conducting a multi-year assessment of Milwaukee’s school choice program (see sidebar), including a report earlier this year that has been criticized as too rosy.

Direct contributions

The Waltons are part of a network of groups and individuals pouring money into the state’s political process to advance the cause of school choice.

An analysis by the nonpartisan Wisconsin Democracy Campaign found that individuals and political action committees associated with school choice gave $125,220 in campaign contributions to Walker and another $181,627 to current legislators and committees, most of them Republicans, in the 2009-10 election cycle. Foes of school choice, meanwhile, gave $25,650 to Walker’s Democratic rival, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, and $217,734 in donations to current legislators, most of them Democrats, according to the group.

Gov. Scott Walker reads to students at Messmer Catholic Preparatory School, a private voucher school in Milwaukee. Photo courtesy of John-Paul Greco

The largest legislative recipient of individual and PAC donations from school choice supporters in 2009-2010 was state Senate candidate Van Wanggaard, at $14,399, according to Wisconsin Democracy Campaign. Wanggaard, R-Racine, defeated the incumbent, John Lehman, D-Racine, then chairman of the Senate’s education committee.

Both sides spent much more on independent electioneering activities, including ads and mailings, Wisconsin Democracy Campaign noted. In all, it estimated total spending at more than $3 million for school choice proponents and $1 million for opponents.

Many of the direct contributions to Wisconsin candidates from school choice proponents come through a conduit called the Fund for Parent Choice. Conduits bundle money from individual donors to present to candidates collectively, maximizing their impact.

The fund is administered by the Alliance for Choices in Education, an advocacy organization affiliated with School Choice Wisconsin, founded by Susan Mitchell of Whitefish Bay. Susan Mitchell and her husband, George, are major contributors to the fund.

Propelling the fund are a number of prominent players in the school choice arena, including Betsy and Dick DeVos, the Michigan-based billionaire heirs to the Amway fortune, who have given $39,250 since 2008, according to the state Government Accountability Board.

It is the Fund for Parent Choice through which the Waltons make their contributions to state political campaigns.

From August 2008 to mid-August of this year, the Fund for Parent Choice funneled $354,400 in direct contributions to Wisconsin political campaigns, of which $312,000 was from out of state. More than 90 percent of these contributions have gone to Republican candidates. The largest single beneficiary: Scott Walker, at $58,575.

Walker has been a prominent supporter of school choice. In May he spoke before the annual meeting of the American Federation for Children in Washington, D.C. “It’s not only good for our children,” he was quoted as saying. “I think when you make a commitment to true education reform it’s also good for your state’s economy.”

Behind the scenes

Betsy and Dick DeVos are also main players in the American Federation for Children. Launched in January 2010, the group is an offshoot of an earlier DeVos effort called All Children Matter, which was fined in Ohio and Wisconsin for violations of campaign finance laws.

According to the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, in the fall 2010 legislative races, the federation spent an estimated $820,000 on independent expenditures and “phony issue ad activity” — ads that purport to raise issues but are meant to influence elections. These expenditures are not publicly disclosed.

Wisconsin Democracy Campaign has calculated that the federation made television ad buys totaling $500,000 in three media markets in advance of this summer’s recall elections, all on behalf of Republican incumbents. In those elections, Republicans lost two Senate seats but succeeded in maintaining a one-seat majority.

The federation shares a Washington, D.C. street address with Alliance for School Choice. The boards of directors of both groups are nearly identical; both are chaired by Betsy DeVos and include Walmart heir Carrie Penner.

In 2010, the Walton Family Foundation gave $2.3 million to the Alliance for School Choice.

State Rep. Robin Vos, R-Rochester, co-chair of the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee and a strong backer of school choice, suggests that all of this spending is a waste.

“I believe in school choice because I believe in school choice,” Vos says. “It’s not because of who I know or who talks to me.”

Vos sees voucher programs as part of the solution to troubled public schools. “It is not a panacea, not a silver bullet, it is not an answer for every single situation. In certain situations, however, I believe that it’s an alternative that should definitely be utilized to try and make the lives of these kids in bad situations better.”

In recent years, Vos has received $500 checks from both Alice and Christy Walton. Does he know these people personally?

“I wish I did,” he says with a laugh.

Bill Lueders is the Money and Politics Project director at the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism. The project, a partnership of the Center and MapLight, is supported by the Open Society Institute.

The nonprofit and nonpartisan Center ( collaborates with Wisconsin Public Television, Wisconsin Public Radio and the UW-Madison School of Journalism and Mass Communication and other news media. All works created, published, posted or disseminated by the Center do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of UW-Madison or any of its affiliates.

September 18, 2011

Tony Evers: State of Education in Wisconsin

Filed under: DPI — millerlf @ 5:55 pm

On September 15 Wisconsin’s State Superintendent of Public Instruction, Tony Evers,  gave a “state of education in Wisconsin” address in the Rotunda at the State Capital.

For excerpts go to:

For the full presentation go to:

September 15, 2011

NAACP Data on Dismal Conditions Faced by Milwaukee’s Black Citizens

Filed under: Poverty,Wisconsin Class Warfare — millerlf @ 3:47 pm

The NAACP issued a report in June of this year called Milwaukee Today: An Occasional Report of the NAACP.

As poverty significantly increases in Milwaukee and around the nation the data presented in this report exposes the dire conditions facing African Americans in our city. While the lack of response by too many leaders is appalling, other Milwaukee leaders have willingly supported and encouraged draconian measures by Tea Party Republicans. This is criminal.

Included in the report is an extensive list of the problems faced particularly among Milwaukee’s African American citizens. For example-

“Wisconsin incarcerates Blacks at nearly eleven (11) times the rate at which it incarcerates Whites.”

To see the Executive Summary go to:

NAACP Executive Summary

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