Educate All Students, Support Public Education

February 29, 2012

MATC Is Under Attack From Republicans

Filed under: Grothman,Republicans,Wisconsin Class Warfare — millerlf @ 12:36 pm

Last week a Wisconsin senate committee passed SB 275 that will remove all nine members of the MATC district board and replace them with a board selected by a new, less democratic and representative appointment committee composed of the Washington, Ozaukee and Milwaukee County Executives and the Milwaukee County Board Chair.

The bill is an outrageous power play by Republican politicians who have never supported MATC or its students and who slashed their funding by 30% last year. It was bottled up in committee until it was amended to be exclusively about MATC.

There was no public hearing on the bill. Nor did its authors, Senator Glen Grothman (R) and State Representative Mark Honadel (R)  discuss the proposal with the MATC board chair, Melanie Holmes, MATC’s President Dr. Michael Burke or the appointment committee chair, Dr. Michael Bonds.

The bill eliminates the current board including all four minority members, none of whom are even eligible to reapply under the new criteria established by the bill.

The proposal gives Washington County 25% of the board appointment committee’s authority even though only 2.4% of MATC’s students come from Washington County and its investment in the college, 4.3% of total funding, is minimal.

Ozaukee County which provides the college with 14.4% of its funding will also be empowered with 25% of the board appointment authority. So, two counties that provide MATC with 18.7% of its funding will control 50% of the appointment authority, while the city of Milwaukee home to 57% of our students gets no representation.  And Milwaukee County which contributes 84% of our funding gets only 50% of the appointment authority.

The bill destroys the college’s historic commitment to shared governance by eliminating the employee representative seats on the board.

The legislation was clearly designed to remove particular board members, including attorney Peter Earle, the lead attorney challenging the manipulative Republican redistricting maps that were developed in secret and in probable violation of the United States Constitution; Ann Wilson, who directs a non-profit agency; and Alderman Tom Michalski of Oak Creek.

Lauren Baker, the Director of Career and Technical Education for the Milwaukee Public Schools, will also be removed despite being featured in the latest issue of the Milwaukee Business Journal for being a great bridge between industry and education. Fred Royal, the Secretary of the Wisconsin Technical College Board’s Association would also be dismissed.

This bill is an assault on the democratic process and on the college. If passed, the governing body of the college will be people with no experience or knowledge of the college or its students. That’s like putting someone with no flying experience in the cockpit of a transatlantic flight!

Why is the board being dismissed?

MATC, unlike the state of Wisconsin, has been a model of fiscal responsibility, maintaining its AA1 bond rating while the state’s was reduced. MATC has a reserve find of 22%. The state barely has one. MATC’s costs per student are the state’s average despite running 25% more programs than any other technical college. This is nothing more than a power play by power hungry politicians that will hurt our students.

You can help stop this bill by calling your state representative and politely urging them to kill this bill.

If you don’t know your state representative’s contact information you can find it here:

For more information on the bill see:

February 23, 2012

New Charter School May Put Students at Risk

Filed under: Charter Schools — millerlf @ 6:30 am

News Conference – New Lighthouse Charter School

The “Women Committed to an Informed Community”  conducted a news conference at the location of the New Lighthouse Charter School onFebruary 25th, at 4200 West Douglas Avenue to discuss the following:

Our objective is to bring attention to the approval of this facility to be used as a school for (644) K-12 grade children.  This is a former steel processing factory! 

Once you see this location, you will agree this should not be used for a school.  The health, safety and welfare of children is paramount.  The reasons for our objections are as follows:

  1. No environmental testing has been conducted at this site.  When asked,  the Department of Building Inspection stated that the City only requires Environmental Testing for buildings owned by the City.   Since this is private, no environmental testing is required.
  2. Electric transmission/distribution lines/tower is located in the rear yard of this building.  Studies are ongoing regarding the health risk to children when exposed to high electric magnetic fields.  Such exposure may cause cancer and leukemia among many other illnesses.  Much of the research we conducted suggests that schools should not be placed near these power lines.
  3. There is also a major concern that children will climb the electrical tower as it is in the rear, very close to the building and there is nothing to keep children from climbing it.
  4. There is also an active railroad track just over the rear fence.  If any outdoor toys are placed on the property, there is a potential for children walking the railroad tracks to climb the fence to play.  Again, children are at great risk.

The safety of children should be the most important issue when school building locations are selected.  The City of Milwaukee does not have specific standards/guidelines or restrictions for school buildings.  Please help us in demanding that standards/guidelines or restrictions for schools are developed by the Milwaukee Common Council.

Note – this school is owned by Andre Agassi Ventures (tennis pro).

Women Committed to an Informed Community

(Marva Herndon, Gail Hicks, Harriet Callier)    414-350-3027

New Bill Will Degrade Special Education in Wisconsin

Filed under: Special Education,Vouchers — millerlf @ 6:20 am

Following is a call by the parent group I Love My Public Schools.


New education bill AB110 takes funding for special-education services and educators from public schools, allows voucher schools to hire non-certified special-education teachers and services, and does not provide suitable funding to address the needs of moderately to severely disabled students. Skip to the bottom of this message for a call to action, or keep reading for more details on this fast-tracked legislation. AB 110 degrades the quality of special education for students in public and voucher schools.

Background: This past fall, AB110 was introduced in the Wisconsin Assembly. During the public hearing, all disability groups in Wisconsin opposed the bill. Legislators from both sides of the aisle recognized that this bill would not pass. Rep. Litjens, the sponsor of AB 110, has submitted a rewritten version. Disability groups in Wisconsin continue to oppose it for many reasons — described below. The biggest problem: the bill does not require private schools to have any special educators or related services expertise (e.g.,therapists) on staff. Sen. Vukmir has introduced the same bill in the Senate as SB 486. AB 110 will be voted on by the Assembly Education committee TOMORROW @ 10 AM. No testimony is taken during this hearing. Although no official announcement has been made, it looks like SB 486 will have a hearing during the afternoon of Feb. 28th.
The funding mechanism in AB110/SB486 is highly problematic:

  • Wisconsin does not fund special education students on a per pupil basis. AB110 does does, withdrawing per-pupil funding for collectively used services such as teachers, aides and therapists, from public schools, making it more likely that special-education students in public schools will no longer receive the services they need.
  • The bill does not provide a tuition cap: students with moderate to severe needs will not receive a voucher that covers the full cost of their education.

This will have three negative effects:

·         These students will be unlikely to find voucher schools that will serve them for the amount of their voucher.

·         The voucher program will likely appeal to families whose children have less complex disabilities, leaving increasingly underfunded public schools with a higher proportion of students with the most complex needs.

·         Low- and possibly moderate- income families who seek to attend a private school which has a tuition higher than the voucher amount will be unable to use the voucher, resulting in vouchers simply serving to subsidize families who can already afford to send their children to private school, rather than giving the monetary choice to families who cannot afford to do so.

While disability groups appreciate the reference to implementing the child’s most recent IEP, that reference becomes less relevant the longer the child remains in the private school (which the bill gives them a right to do through graduation or age 21 whichever comes first). In addition, there are no legal rights that go with that obligation. In other words, what happens if the child’s IEP is not implemented? The bill provides no remedy for that. Finally, as pointed in in point 4, below, without special educators on staff, how can parents have any confidence that private schools can actually implement their children’s IEPs?
This new bill does not require private schools to use DPI certified special educators or service providers.

TAKE ACTION! Please contact your member of the Assembly immediately to express your concerns about AB 110. If you do not know who your Assembly member is, you may call: 1-800-362-9472 or go to  Also contact every member of the Assembly Education Committee and tell them why this bill does not meet the diverse needs of special-education students in Wisconsin. You can find a full list of committee email addresses here:

We will alert you about the Senate Education Committee hearing that is tentatively scheduled for Feb. 28th in the afternoon, when the official announcement comes out. Please attend and testify if you can. If you cannot attend, please submit any concerns you may have to the chair of the committee, Sen. Luther Olsen at: or if your Senator is on the committee, please contact your Senator. The other Senators on the committee are Senators: Vukmir, Grothman, Darling, Vinehout, Larson and Cullen.
Thank you for your attention and intervention on behalf of ALL Wisconsin children with special-education needs, in ALL Wisconsin schools.


ILMPS parents

Voucher Chaos in Florida

Filed under: Vouchers — millerlf @ 6:12 am

McKay scholarship program sparks a cottage industry of fraud and chaos

By Gus Garcia-Roberts Miami NewTimes NewsThursday, Jun 23 2011

Christopher Vaughn spent three years in a McKay high school before discovering his credits were worthless.

From June 2006 through November 2010, the woefully cash-strapped Florida Department of Education (DOE) forked over $2.057 million to Julius Brown, former middle school basketball coach and cofounder of a string of obscure sports apparel businesses.

Sheldon "Klassy" Klasfeld surveys his kingdom, Academic High in Boca Raton.

Michael McElroy
Sheldon “Klassy” Klasfeld surveys his kingdom, Academic High in Boca Raton.
Academic High's graduation hall

Michael McElroy
Academic High’s graduation hall
The money was in the form of tuition vouchers for kids with physical and learning disabilities to attend the South Florida Preparatory Christian Academy, the Oakland Park K-12 private school of which Brown — a looming and lean former basketball pro with a slug-like mustache — was founder, president, principal, athletic director, and boys’ basketball coach.

As is customary with schools that receive the vouchers, provided by the John M. McKay Scholarships for Students With Disabilities Program, the DOE didn’t inquire about Brown’s curriculum or visit South Florida Prep’s campus to make sure it was safe for schoolchildren. In Florida, private schools essentially go unregulated, even if they’re funded by taxpayer cash. South Florida Prep also received at least $236,000 from a state-run tax-credit scholarship for low-income kids.

While the state played the role of the blind sugar daddy, here is what went on at South Florida Prep, according to parents, students, teachers, and public records: Two hundred students were crammed into ever-changing school locations, including a dingy strip-mall space above a liquor store and down the hall from an Asian massage parlor. Eventually, fire marshals and sheriffs condemned the “campus” as unfit for habitation, pushing the student body into transience in church foyers and public parks.

The teachers were mostly in their early 20s. An afternoon for the high school students might consist of watching a VHS tape of a 1976 Laurence Fishburne blaxploitation flick — Cornbread, Earl and Me — and then summarizing the plot. In one class session, a middle school teacher recommended putting “mother nature” — a woman’s period — into spaghetti sauce to keep a husband under thumb. “We had no materials,” says Nicolas Norris, who taught music despite the lack of a single instrument. “There were no teacher edition books. There was no curriculum.”

In May 2009, two vanloads of South Florida Prep kids were on the way back from a field trip to Orlando when one of the vehicles flipped along Florida’s Turnpike. A teacher and an 18-year-old senior were killed. Turns out another student, age 17 and possessing only a learner’s permit, was behind the wheel and had fallen asleep. The families of the deceased and an insurance company are suing Brown for negligence.

Meanwhile, Brown openly used a form of corporal punishment that has been banned in Miami-Dade and Broward schools for three decades. Four former students and the music teacher Norris recall that the principal frequently paddled students for misbehaving. In a complaint filed with the DOE in April 2009, one parent rushed to the school to stop Brown from taking a paddle to her son’s behind.

“He said that maybe if we niggas would beat our kids in the first place, he wouldn’t have to,” the mother wrote of Brown. “He then proceeded to tell me that he is not governed by Florida school laws.”

He wasn’t far off. The DOE couldn’t remove South Florida Prep from the McKay program, says agency spokesperson Deborah Higgins, “based on the school’s disciplinary policies and procedures.”

It’s like a perverse science experiment, using disabled school kids as lab rats and funded by nine figures in taxpayer cash: Dole out millions to anybody calling himself an educator. Don’t regulate curriculum or even visit campuses to see where the money is going.

For optimal results, do this in Florida, America’s fraud capital.

Now watch all the different ways the flimflam men scramble for the cash.

Once a niche scholarship fund, the McKay program has boomed exponentially in the 12 years since it was introduced under Gov. Jeb Bush, with $148.6 million handed out in the past 12 months, a 38 percent increase from just more than five years ago.

There are 1,013 schools — 65 percent of them religious — collecting McKay vouchers from 22,198 children at an average of $7,144 per year.

The lion’s share of that pot ends up in South Florida. Miami-Dade received $31.8 million, more than any other county in the state, and Broward was second with $18.3 million. Palm Beach ranked fifth, with its schools collecting $6.9 million.

But there’s virtually no oversight. According to one former DOE investigator, who claimed his office was stymied by trickle-down gubernatorial politics, the agency failed to uncover “even a significant fraction” of the McKay crime that was occurring.

Administrators who have received funding include criminals convicted of cocaine dealing, kidnapping, witness tampering, and burglary.

Even in investigations where fraud, including forgery and stealing student information to bolster enrollment, is proven, arrests are rare. The thieves are usually allowed to simply repay the stolen loot in installments — or at least promise to — and continue to accept McKay payments.

There is no accreditation requirement for McKay schools. And without curriculum regulations, the DOE can’t yank back its money if students are discovered to be spending their days filling out workbooks, watching B-movies, or frolicking in the park. In one “business management” class, students shook cans for coins on street corners.

And public schools now apparently help with the recruiting. Failing kids, who would sabotage all-important standardized testing scores, are herded en masse to dubious McKay schools.

To read the full story go to:

February 19, 2012

Student Bill of Rights From Youth Empowered in the Struggle

Filed under: MPS — millerlf @ 3:22 pm

Following is a Student Bill of Rights written by student members of Youth Empowered in the Struggle (YES), a youth organization associated with Voces de la Frontera. Over one thousand students, mostly in Milwaukee and Racine, have reviewed the document and given input to its content. YES has also received input from a number of youth organizations and education activists.

I will be introducing the document for discussion to the MPS school board at the March 8th (6:30 PM) Innovative School Reform Committee meeting and public hearing. Please try to attend and support YES.

Student Bill of Rights
Written by the students of Youth Empowered in the Struggle (YES)

Student Power and Voice
I. Students have the right to organize and have a voice in their school.
II. Student representatives should be included in any decision-making that significantly affects
the student body.
III. Students have the right to full disclosure by administration, as do parents, teachers, staff, and
the community.
IV. Students have the right to organize across schools. The students of a district have the right to
establish an inter-school organization in which the issues of different schools are shared and
the entire student community can provide support to ensure that no school is isolated.
V. Students and parents/guardians are to be informed of the students’ rights. Students shall
present the Student Bill of Rights peer-to-peer annually and have access to a copy.
VI. Students have a right to a school environment where all teachers and staff have the right to
collectively bargain.
VII. Students have the right to a desegregated public education system that is not undermined by

School and Classroom Environment
I. Students have the right to a reasonable class size where the teacher can give adequate attention
to each and every student.
II. Students have the right to a focused and peaceful environment through mutual respect between
teachers and students. This should translate into equal power dynamics in the classroom and
expectations applied equally to both students and adults.
III. Every student has the right to a quality education that meets his or her needs. Students have the
right to additional support such as tutoring and support for students with disabilities.
IV. Students have the right to hands-on and cultural activities to enhance their learning experience,
including access to technology, arts, and music. Student input should be listened to in regards
to teaching style and classroom activities in order to craft a classroom environment in which
students learn best.
V. Schools should hold events that foster a positive relationship between the school, parents, and
the community. Schools should also foster inter-generational relationships in order to establish
a stronger school community.
VI. Students have the right to an affordable, nutritious, and dignified lunch that is properly cooked,
as well as a lunch period that allows sufficient time to eat.
VII. If a student’s family financial situation prohibits them from paying school fees, they should
have the right to financial assistance.
VIII. All students deserve access to good transportation to and from school.
IX. All students deserve a school facility that is a safe and adequate space for learning.

Bilingual Education
I. Students have the right to learn two languages, including their home language.
II. Students who are in the process of learning English deserve access to their school’s curriculum
with support in their native language.
III. Students who are proficient in English should still be given the opportunity to continue to
develop their native language fluency and literacy skills.
IV. Bilingual students deserve access to teachers who are certified in bilingual education by the
Department of Public Instruction, bilingual curricular resources and materials, and bilingual
guidance counseling.

Freedom from Discrimination
I. Students have a right to freedom from all forms of discrimination. This includes but is not
limited to discrimination based on ethnicity, class, sex, disability, pregnancy, religion, native
language, sexual orientation, gender expression, housing status, self-expression/personal style,
or immigration status.
II. Students have the right to teachers, staff, and administrators who understand the community in
which they are working and have taken anti-racist/anti-bias training.
III. Every student has the right to access high-level curriculum and advanced classes, and to be
encouraged to take these classes.
IV. Students have the right to a culturally diverse, anti-racist curriculum that values ethnic studies
and reflects the student body and the diversity of the United States.
V. Students have the right to form any student organization or group free from discrimination, as
long as the group does not advocate discrimination or harm toward others.
VI. Schools are required to equally enforce policies with all students (dress code, disciplinary
actions, etc.), without discrimination or favoritism. Schools also must evaluate their policies to
be sure they are not inherently discriminatory.
VII. Schools must document the demographics of students who are reprimanded by police in
school, suspended, or expelled, in order to track and protect against racial profiling.
VIII. Students have the right to appeal if they feel they have been discriminated against.

Security and Discipline
I. Every student has the right to a school environment in which they feel safe.
II. Schools should not reflect prison-like conditions or perpetuate this mentality towards the
student body.
III. Schools should attempt to resolve safety issues by investing in the culture of the school,
through anti-bullying initiatives and other programs, rather than relying only on enforcement
IV. Students have the right to be informed of security’s reasonable cause before being singled out
for searching or questioning.
V. Any disciplinary action should seek to address the root of the problem the student is
experiencing, instead of just removing them from the learning environment.
VI. Schools should not rely upon the police to resolve issues that can be handled by mediation by
students, administration, or faculty members through a restorative justice model.
VII. Police and security officers cannot be aggressive, violent, or disrespectful toward students.
VIII. Students have the right to a clear and simple complaint process that produces real results if
they feel they have been unfairly searched or punished, or disrespected by an officer.

Life After School
I. All students have the right to qualified staff who will assist them through their college
application process and encourage them to attain a post-secondary education.
II. Students have the right to access college information such as scholarships, colleges to choose
from, financial aid opportunities for low-income or undocumented families, and the positive
impact of college education.
III. Students have the right to organized counseling programs that will guide and advise them
throughout their high school years. Students have the right to confidentiality in these programs
with the exception of direct and imminent harm to the student or another person.
IV. Students have the right to beneficial activities aimed at improving their self-esteem, physical
well-being, and overall person. This includes the right to health information including full
information about sexual health.
V. Students have the right to be presented with unbiased truths that aid the students in the
transition from school to higher education or the work force. Students who have plans to enter
the work force should be provided with worker rights orientation in the same way that collegebound
students receive support to continue their education.
VI. Students have the right to know what kind of activities and courses favor them in the college
admission process, and to have access to the courses and programs that colleges look for.
VII. Undocumented students should have the right to access in-state tuition rates at the colleges and
universities in their state of residence.

Republican Party, Hispanics for School Choice and Scott Jensen

Filed under: Right Wing Agenda,Vouchers — millerlf @ 1:13 pm

Scott Jensen and Hispanics for School Choice-Both are part of an interlocking network of pro-voucher organizations aligned with the Republican Party.

By Barbara Miner, Feb. 18, 2012

News reports this week exposed the close working — and legally questionable — relationship between Republican legislators, lobbyist Scott Jensen and the pro-voucher group Hispanics for School Choice.

Those involved in the controversy have a long-standing working relationship that is part of a strategic alliance between right-wing billionaires; school vouchers supporters, and Republican Party operatives.

Consider this announcement on the website of “The Hispanic Conservative” more than a year ago, on Jan. 14, 2011:

Last week, Executive Board members of Hispanics for School Choice created somewhat of a buzz as they descended upon the State Capitol to circulate their legislative agenda.  Associates from the American Federation of Children and School Choice Wisconsin accompanied HFSC in separate meetings with Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald, Education Committee Chair Steve Kestell, and Secretary of the Department of Administration Mike Huebsch to discuss a timetable of moving the School Choice program forward.

HFSC Board Members were also given exclusive entry to a closed caucus in the Grand Army of the Republic Hearing Room before Assembly Republicans  – an access rarely granted to non-profit organizations of any sort for any reason.  Before the 60-member caucus, Board Members of HFSC were introduced communicating the idea that HFSC aimed to be more of a resource to legislators than a needy lobbyist.[i]

Pro-voucher groups are some of the strongest and best-funded lobbyists in the Wisconsin legislature, and have played an increasingly central role in promoting Gov. Walker’s overall agenda. As state Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Madison) noted last year, “The new 800-pound gorilla— actually it’s more of a 1,200-pound gorilla —is the tax-funded-voucher groups. They’ve become the most powerful lobbying entity in the state.”[ii]

Who is Hispanics for School Choice?  What are its connections to Scott Jensen? What is the involvement of the American Federation for Children, a well-known conservative powerhouse headed by a former chair of the Republican Party in Michigan?


February 16, 2012

Visit to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School

Filed under: MPS — millerlf @ 4:58 pm

By Larry Miller

There are many educators in Milwaukee who wake up every morning and ask themselves, “how can I best serve my students today?”

Recently I had a chance to observe some of these teachers at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School. Unannounced, I accompanied the principal into seven classrooms.

Students were engaged, teachers were teaching and the rooms were filled with encouragement. I saw many students enthusiastic and confident in their interaction with their teacher and other students.

One of the things that became very clear to me in visiting these classrooms was that the ratio of students to teacher was reasonable and manageable. But an increase in class size, I fear, would change what I saw.

Throughout the visit the principal talked about the success they were having in reading and math that has been evident on their district internal assessments.

Accompanying us was a college student who has recently organized a cadre of 50 Marquette college students to do after school tutoring 4 nights a week at King. While many critics of MPS stand on the sideline or even work to destroy public education, here is someone who believes in educating all students, with the goal of giving each of them the chance to fulfill their potential.

I say hats off to teachers that are putting their students first, even though you may not feel appreciated. I say hats off to community members, like the student from Marquette, who believes in kids and asks everyone else to do the same.

Republicans Recruit Right Wing Ideologue as Expert on Wisconsin Reading Bill

Filed under: Reading,Right Wing Agenda — millerlf @ 11:42 am

There was a hearing on Feb. 15 about Governor Scott Walker’s “Read To Lead” initiative.

The chief expert that the Republican co-chairs, Rep. Kestell and Sen. Olson, brought in to testify on reading screening and teacher evaluation, was University of Arkansas professor Sandra Stotsky, author of Losing Our Language: How Multicultural Classroom Instruction Is Undermining Our Children’s Ability to Read, Write, and Reason. She has also been involved in the anti-ethnic studies movement in Arizona. Following is an article on Stotsky’s role in the banning of ethnic studies in the Tucson Arizona school district.

February 13, 2012

On Alan Borsuk’s Commentary on New MPS Budget

Filed under: Borsuk — millerlf @ 3:11 pm

By Larry Miller

When does speculation – what MPS parents might do – become suggestions – what MPS parents ought to do?

In a February 12 Milwaukee Journal Sentinel commentary, Alan Borsuk appeared to be on a slippery slope about the woes facing parents of students at top-performing MPS schools.

First, Borsuk claimed our schools are suffering because the district failed to use the “tools” given them by Gov. Scott Walker. He compares MPS to other school districts across the state, asserting that many of them are in the black because of those “tools” – read, stinging cuts to teachers’ benefits.

The truth is that many districts were saved by use of funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). Districts across the state will face similar difficulties to MPS when those federal dollars run out at the end of the school year. For example, the Waukesha school district took advantage of $3.6 million from ARRA to cover this year’s shortfalls. But next year they will not have those funds to fall back on.

Lamenting possible cuts for MPS’s top-performing schools, Borsuk says, “I suspect many of the immersion and Montessori school communities, including many teachers, wish they could charter right now.”

As for parents of kids at those schools, Borsuk wonders whether they’re “… aware that the application period to open-enroll into suburban public schools is open right now?”

Unfortunately, such “advice” only adds to an already difficult situation.

Governor Scott Walker has made disastrous cuts in education. Analysts have pointed out that  Milwaukee is among the hardest hit districts in the country. Inevitably, those cuts will hurt all of our schools.

Until every child at MPS can be assured a reasonable class size, decent books, curriculum designed not to teach to the test but responsive to children’s lives and learning styles, we have to say the system is not working.

But for now, we have to do the best we can with limited resources. In my mind, the number one priority is to draw the line at the present class-sizes in our schools.

Adults directly working with students must be a priority. As resources become available, support and reform initiatives can be expanded.

Walker’s Attack on Our Children’s Education Widens

Filed under: Charter Schools,Scott Walker,Vouchers — millerlf @ 12:17 pm

Gov. Walker privileges private voucher schools and once again breaks the public trust

February 12, 2012 By Bob Peterson

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker continues to promote the privatization of public education while refusing to hold voucher and semi-private charter schools accountable.

On Feb. 9, Gov. Walker released a new “Education Reform” bill (Senate Bill 461) that reneged on previous promises to include all schools receiving public dollars in a statewide accountability system.
Most observers had expected the law to include a common report card for public schools, private voucher schools and charter schools. That accountability provision was pulled at the last minute, apparently under pressure from voucher and charter school lobbyists.
Tony Evers, State Superintendent of the DPI, criticized Walker’s backtracking. “This missed opportunity is more than a step backward,” he said.
Last July, Walker co-authored an opinion with Evers in which he said  “that every school enrolling publicly funded students – traditional public schools, charter schools or private schools in choice programs – should be part of this new accountability system.”
Walker repeated that pledge last month in his Jan. 25 State of the State speech when he said,  “Every school that receives public funds – be it a traditional public school, a charter school or a choice school – will be rated by a fair, objective and transparent system.”
A few days after Walker released his truncated legislation, the Milwaukee-based Public Policy Forum issued a research brief detailing the private voucher schools’ expansion, thanks to Walker’s initiatives last spring. (Walker lifted the cap on voucher enrollment, allowed families earning up to 300% of the poverty level to receive vouchers, expanded vouchers beyond Milwaukee to include the city of Racine, and permitted high schools to charge additional tuition to higher-income families. See Barbara Miner’s, “Take a Stand Against Vouchers.”)
The forum’s brief, “Significant Growth in School Choice,” noted that Wisconsin taxpayers are spending an additional $14.2 million this year on the expansion of the Milwaukee voucher program. This contrasts sharply to the cut of approximately $84 million of state aid to the Milwaukee Public Schools for the same school year. (Overall, Walker cut $840 million statewide in funding to public schools last year, while significantly expanding the private voucher school program.)
The brief also reported that most of the new students enrolling in voucher schools were already enrolled in  private schools, underscoring that the voucher program is not about increasing options but funneling public dollars into private institutions.
The Public Policy Forum based its data on surveys of voucher schools (five schools refused to return any information) and from the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction. Among its findings:
• 2,200 additional students entered the Milwaukee voucher program this year and “most of the new voucher users appear to have already been enrolled in a private school.” This brings the total of Milwaukee students receiving public tax dollars to attend private schools to 23,198.
• The additional cost this year to tax payers for the expansion of Milwaukee program was $14.2 million. The new private voucher program in Racine cost over $330,000 and is expected to expand significantly when enrollment caps are eliminated in the next two years. The total cost of the two programs will be $150.9 million.
• Religious schools enroll 85% of all voucher students, at a total cost to the public of $128.3 million.
• “At no grade level did voucher students, on the whole, out-perform MPS students in either reading or math.” The brief described a “wide variance in performance” among the voucher schools “with a handful comparing favorably to MPS and many more having proficiency rates far lower.”
Unfortunately, the Public Policy report does not mention special education, long recognized as an essential issue in safeguarding the rights of all students. Approximately 1.6% of the private voucher school students are classified as special needs students, compared to more than 19% of MPS students.  It’s a glaring, and disturbing omission, akin to researchers in the 1960s neglecting to mention racial disparities.
Throughout our nation’s history public schools have been the corner stone of our political democracy. The stronger, the more inclusive, and the more democratic public schools are, the stronger our democracy. Walker’s privileging of private schools over public and democratically controlled schools is one more reason we need to recall him.
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