On Sept. 21, concerned Milwaukeeans will gather for the Public Education is a Civil Right March and Rally. Participants will assemble at Milwaukee High School of the Arts and then march to Forest Home Avenue School for a rally.
It’s been nearly 60 years since the Supreme Court’s landmark Brown vs. Board of Education ruling. That decision declared “separate but equal” was not a valid construct when it came to public education. In that case, the separation was between racial groups.
Apartheid, the government-enforced system of racial segregation in South Africa, endured for almost 50 years until the election of the African National Congress led by Nelson Mandela.
So, why is it that in 2013, we in Milwaukee can’t grasp the fact that many of our city’s students, often the most needy ones, do not have the same access to a free, quality education as their peers in the suburbs? In other words, separation by socioeconomic status.
President John F. Kennedy spoke to the vital importance of truly public education.
“Modern cynics and skeptics …see no harm in paying those to whom they entrust the minds of their children a smaller wage than is paid to those to whom they entrust the care of their plumbing.”
Kennedy unknowingly presaged the current budget battles when he added: “Our progress as a nation can be no swifter than our progress in education. The human mind is our fundamental resource.”
Milwaukee is a city where public schools once were nearly as much a given as the right to exist or even to breathe. The native language of many of Milwaukee’s first residents contributed the idyllic word “kindergarten,” meaning “children’s garden,” to our vocabulary.
Those same early Milwaukeeans from Germany constructed some classically designed, incredibly structurally sound school buildings. That literal infrastructure, as a symbol of the esteem with which public schools were held, complemented the integral role public education played in our city’s societal infrastructure.
It is shameful that, given our history, we have to stage attention-getting rallies to make citizens aware of how budget-slashing for schools has made the “public” part of public education nearly a misnomer.
In fiscal year 2012, just 2% of the federal budget was spent on education. In that same time frame, defense and security-related international activities accounted for nearly 20% of total federal spending, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
On the state level, recent reports from teachers unions and some school districts indicate an increased number of teacher firings since Act 10 became law. And Gov. Scott Walker’s subsequent budget provision capping the amount school districts could raise put more strain on their already stretched-to-the-max funding.
If that wasn’t enough to have citizens questioning where public education was headed, expansion of voucher schools to additional counties has meant even greater challenges for school districts trying to provide quality education for all of their students, including those for whom private education simply isn’t an option.
The Public Education is a Civil Right event has a number of focal points for participants to consider as they join in the effort: full funding of public schools to provide a world-class education for every student in Wisconsin; holding all schools that receive public tax dollars, including voucher schools, accountable to the law, taxpayers, parents and children; and, in general, stopping the move to for-profit schools and the privatization of public education.
Sponsors of the event include Parents for Public Schools of Milwaukee, the Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools, Voces de la Frontera, Milwaukee Inner-city Congregations Allied for Hope and the Institute for Wisconsin’s Future. Go to www.wisconsinsfuture.orgfor more information.
Peggy Schulz is a freelance writer and third-generation Milwaukee resident. Email firstname.lastname@example.org