MMAC Seeks to Influence Education Policy through Candidate Recruitment
By Larry Miller
The Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce (MMAC) is holding a “campaign training school” on Saturday April 12 to recruit candidates for public office who are in support of what they call pro-educational choice. The MAAC is uniting with the American Federation for Children, a Michigan-based voucher advocacy group, and a New York pro-voucher lobby group that calls itself Democrats for Education Reform.
Billed as a “bipartisan event,” the American Federation for Children (AFC) is anything but bipartisan. The group is led by Betty DeVos, the billionaire wife of Amway founder and former chair of the Michigan Republican Party Richard DeVos. In recent years, she has funneled tens of millions of dollars into school privatization efforts and other conservative initiatives.
The American Federation for Children spent $1.5 million helping Republicans in the recall elections. That includes some $900,000 spent to help Scott Walker fend off a challenge from Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett.
The AFC has roots in Milwaukee. It has shared an address and leadership with its 501(c)(3) partner Alliance for School Choice, both groups promoting public school privatization through voucher programs.
AFC is also a member of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). That’s the organization in which corporate lobbyists have formulated and advanced much of the legislation enacted by Republican-dominated state legislatures across the country. “Stand Your Ground” laws, efforts to restrict voting rights, voucher creation and expansion bills, bills to cut education funding and much more have origins with ALEC.
Representing Wisconsin AFC on the ALEC Education Task Force is former Rep. Scott Jensen. In 2005 Jensen, then Wisconsin Assembly Speaker, was convicted for misuse of his office for political purposes and banned from the state Capitol. Jensen is now one of AFC’s registered lobbyists in Wisconsin.
The MAAC’s alliance is part of a bold step to grow the voucher program in Milwaukee and expand it throughout the state. The AFC has influenced voucher creation and expansion in many states including Indiana and Florida. They attempted to influence the 2012 Milwaukee elections by supporting voucher candidates for Assembly and Senate seats. In that instance, every candidate they endorsed and heavily financed ended up losing. The Milwaukee delegation to the State Legislature, with the exception of Lena Taylor, has taken a strong and principled stand against expansion of taxpayer funded vouchers.
This year’s 16th annual Public Policy Forum report on schools and students in the Milwaukee and Racine parental choice programs provides insights on the characteristics of schools participating in the voucher programs and some early context for reflection on the impacts of major program changes enacted in the summer of 2011. The majority of voucher schools are made up of 80% or more voucher students. WKCE test scores for voucher students continue to lag those of MPS students. This is especially true for voucher students who attend predominantly-voucher schools. Voucher students also exhibit a high level of turnover, moving in and out of schools.
One of the MMAC’s favorite voucher programs is St. Marcus Lutheran School. “High performance” is often used to describe St. Marcus as a model for what are called quality seats for children in Milwaukee. Yet if one looks at the recently released reading data for that school, quite another picture emerges. St. Marcus’s WKCE reading scores, for grades 3 through 8, saw students, meeting proficiency, drop 2 percentage points to 19% from last year.
In this next round of education political warfare being launched by the MMAC, we all need to be aware of false advertising, hidden agendas and what is really at stake for our children.