Educate All Students, Support Public Education

April 5, 2020

Why is the Milwaukee county executive race so important to Betsy DeVos?

Filed under: Charter Schools,Privatization,Vouchers — millerlf @ 2:26 pm

By Marva Herndon -April 4, 2020 Wisconsin Examiner

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos speaking at the 2018 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos speaking at the 2018 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland. By Gage Skidmore CC BY-SA 2.0

Betsy DeVos, President Trump’s Secretary of Education, has long funded politicians who support voucher and charter-school schemes through her group, the American Federation for Children. The same American Federation for Children has funded school privatization efforts all over the country. Betsy DeVos is partly responsible for one of the biggest school reform disasters in the country – the privatization of Detroit Public Schools.

Now comes the election on April 7, 2020 — the Milwaukee Perfect Storm. Throughout this country the coronavirus pandemic has disrupted education at all levels. Betsy DeVos and local allies including the Milwaukee Metropolitan Association of Commerce (MMAC) see this disruption as a perfect opportunity to push their takeover agenda to the Milwaukee Public Schools. That’s DeVos is pouring tens of thousands of dollars into the race.

What could be the takeover mechanism? The County Executive and the Opportunity Schools program!

Most Milwaukee residents may have forgotten the Opportunity Schools & Partnership Program (OSPP) established by Wisconsin Act 55, in the 2015-2017 biennial budget. This legislation is still waiting to be executed by the Milwaukee County Executive. Chris Abele explains in a letter at the end of the Legislative Audit Bureau report on the program why he did not carry out the implementation of this statute, which lacked both state funding and local political support.

Why is it that so many school privatization figures are interested in the County Executive race? The OSPP requires the Milwaukee County Executive to select a program commissioner to operate the new school district it creates. This new district is created by selecting up to five Milwaukee Public Schools deemed failing on the Wisconsin Report Card to be transferred over to the new opportunity district each year. The new district must turn over these schools to a currently operating charter or voucher school. With additional deals or maybe contracts even a new school operator can join in this financial feast on the children and taxpayers of Milwaukee.

What does the school operator receive in the OSPP?

The expectation that the students come with the school building, along with the current per-student dollar amount paid to charter operators – between $8100 and $8900 per student.

School buildings and all the contents – statute is unclear whether the desks, computers and other equipment transfer with the building or if these items remain the property of the school district.

Termination of schools’ existing district employees – If an MPS school is transferred into the program, the program commissioner must terminate the school’s existing employees who are MPS employees and may reassign the school’s staff out of the school.

What does the program commissioner get?

The commissioner may charge each entity operating an opportunity school a fee of up to 3% of the total per-student payment the entity receives, not to exceed a combined total of $750,000 annually from all entities.

What do Milwaukee children and taxpayers receive in return?

  • Disruption of their education that provides no continuity in curriculum
  • For students with IEP’s (Individualized Education Program) or special needs, mental health services – there are no requirements that their needs be met
  • Loss of civil rights in charter or voucher schools
  • No accountability of any type to taxpayers
  • Loss of local control by elected school board
  • Loss of use and access to taxpayer-owned properties
  • Disaster for the city and MPS district as this program is not funded by the state and the city of Milwaukee holds the debt for the MPS District

Is the OSPP the reason that Betsy DeVos, MMAC, Howard Fuller, Chris Abele and many others are throwing around their influence and money in this election? What do you think?

Disclaimer: I am speaking as an individual, not representing any organization or government office.

Marva Herndon, who was first elected to the Milwaukee Public School Board in April 2019, is a graduate of West Division High School, has enjoyed a 25-year career as a computer programmer, and changed careers after retiring from Harley Davidson in 2009. She and her husband, Carl, are parents of four daughters, all MPS graduates. Their grandchildren who reside in Milwaukee either are MPS graduates or are currently enrolled in MPS.

March 23, 2020

3 Minute Privatization Video: Must See

Filed under: Privatization,Vouchers — millerlf @ 10:44 am

May 25, 2017

NPR report on school vouchers in light of Trump/DeVos attempt to destroy public education

Filed under: Vouchers — millerlf @ 8:23 am

The following links take you to the NPR reports. To listen to the radio interview go to the “listen” link at the top of the written NPR report. The first report (Link 1)  includes an interview with Howard Fuller and Wendell Harris. Fuller chooses to berate the NAACP. This is the same Howard Fuller that endorsed Betsy DeVos (Hear Fuller’s endorsement at:

Link 1:

Link 2:

Lessons On Race And Vouchers From Milwaukee

May 16, 2017 Claudio Sanchez

Howard Fuller (left) is one of the architects of the voucher program in Milwaukee; Wendell Harris led early opposition to vouchers.  LA Johnson/Getty/NPR

The Trump administration has made school choice, vouchers in particular, a cornerstone of its education agenda. This has generated lots of interest in how school voucher programs across the country work and whom they benefit.

The oldest school voucher program was created in Milwaukee in 1990 with a singular focus on African-American students living in poverty. This school year, the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program issued nearly 28,000 vouchers for low-income kids to attend dozens of private and religious schools at public expense.

Over the years, though, most voucher recipients have performed no better academically than their public school peers. In some cases they’ve done worse. So who exactly is benefiting? It’s a question that has raised serious misgivings in Milwaukee’s African-American community. So much so that some of the city’s prominent black leaders today are divided.

Howard Fuller and Wendell J. Harris, in many ways, represent that split.

Harris is currently on the Milwaukee school board. As a member of the NAACP’s education committee in Wisconsin, he was one of the original plaintiffs who sued the state in 1990 in a failed effort to block vouchers.


The Promise And Peril Of School Vouchers

Fuller, a professor at Marquette University, is one of the architects of the voucher program. He’s also a former superintendent of the Milwaukee Public Schools and founder of the Black Alliance for Educational Options, a national pro-voucher and school choice group.

Fuller’s support for vouchers is pretty straight-forward. He says most of Milwaukee’s African-American students are trapped in failing schools. These kids’ parents, says Fuller, should have the right to choose a better school for their children because very little else that the African-American community has fought for has helped rescue poor black children in need of good schools.

“After (Brown vs. Board of Education)”, says Fuller, “people thought that integration was going to lead to equal education for black kids. It didn’t. Since then, there’s a long history in Milwaukee to try and get poor black children educated.”

People back then, Fuller adds, “didn’t know just how far behind black children were, and there were administrators who didn’t want that data to get out. Some said it would give fodder to racists who believed that black children could not learn.”

Way before vouchers, Fuller says, black leaders in Milwaukee even proposed an all-black school district to address the specific needs of African-American children.

“People accused us of being racists, segregationists and on and on,” says Fuller.

After that idea was shot down, a proposal to give vouchers to black families took root. Fuller joined Polly Williams, an African-American state legislator from Milwaukee and a Democrat, to push a school choice bill through the Wisconsin Legislature.

Fuller and Williams envisioned a small program that would encourage the community to create more private schools for black children. But in 1995, when the Wisconsin Legislature allowed religious schools to come into the voucher program, some leaders, including Williams, felt that white people who ran the city’s private Catholic and Christian schools would take over the program.

“Which is exactly what happened,” says Wendell Harris, who had led the opposition to vouchers in Milwaukee.

“My argument with Howard Fuller is that Catholic and Christian schools used this opening to, in essence, save their schools,” says Harris. “If you set up a Christian academy and your main interest is to get a few hundred children to improve your [school finances] and you use Christianity as the draw, these schools have exploited persons’ beliefs for their own private gain,” Harris argues.

“In our community,” adds Harris, “a lot of people believe that if they can get their kids into a safe place so they can pray every day, they may be able to save their child’s life. Education is secondary.”

Howard Fuller disagrees that voucher proponents “exploit” black families.

“I’m in this to empower parents,” he says, “not to empower private or religious schools. I also didn’t get in this for people who already have money to get more money to pay private school tuition.”

But critics of vouchers say it’s only a matter of time before conservative lawmakers seek to lift the income restrictions on the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program.

Vouchers, Fuller insists, absolutely need to target poor black children, period. He says that’s why he was so puzzled when the NAACP late last year called for a moratorium on charter school expansion.

“There’s thousands of black parents who are going to exercise the best option for their children and they don’t care what the NAACP says,” Fuller argues. “The hypocrisy in America is that so many of the black leaders and policymakers who are adamantly opposed to choice, use it for their own children.”

But Harris, a prominent member of the NAACP in Milwaukee, says it’s the political agenda of the school choice movement that many black leaders oppose.

“You’ve had this marketing effort to demonize public school teachers and public schools for the last 25 to 30 years,” Harris says. “So black parents are convinced that public education is the problem.”

I ask Harris, “What do you say to the grandmother who’s raising five grandchildren and who says ‘I don’t want kids in Milwaukee public schools to fail, but I don’t want my grandkids to fail either?’ ”

“I feel that lady’s pain,” Harris responds. “She wants a safe place for her children where they can get the education they need. But private and public schools don’t play by the same rules.”

Harris argues that public schools have to take all children, including those with learning disabilities and behavior problems. Private and religious schools aren’t required to accept or retain them. And if they do, they’re not required to disclose their expulsion and suspension rates.

“The issue of public money with no oversight, I have a problem with that,” he says.

Fuller argues that the real issue here is parental choice, and in Milwaukee he says it’s working for black families. I remind him that the data from Milwaukee’s voucher program doesn’t support his assertion that vouchers are benefiting students in terms of their academic performance.

Fuller doesn’t dispute this but says test scores shouldn’t be the only metric with which to gauge the success of vouchers.

“What I’m saying to you is that there are thousands of black children whose lives are much better today because of the Milwaukee parental choice program,” he says. “They were able to access better schools than they would have without a voucher.”

Wendell Harris isn’t convinced, but concedes that vouchers are here to stay.

“We fought with everything we had” to stop vouchers, he says. “That battle is lost. What we have to do now is try and make this thing the best it can be to support our children.”


May 15, 2017

The Promise And Peril Of School Vouchers in Indiana

Filed under: Vouchers — millerlf @ 2:12 pm

May 12, 2017 Heard on Morning Edition Eric Weddle Peter Balonon-Rosen Cory Turner


Teachers rallied at the Statehouse in Indianapolis in 2011 to protest Gov. Mitch Daniels’ attempts to curb collective bargaining, implement merit pay and create a voucher system that would send taxpayer money to private schools. Darron Cummings/AP Wendy Robinson wants to make one thing very clear. As the long-serving superintendent of Fort Wayne public schools, Indiana’s largest district, she is not afraid of competition from private schools. “We’ve been talking choice in this community and in this school system for almost 40 years,” Robinson says. Her downtown office sits in the shadow of the city’s grand, Civil War-era Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. In Fort Wayne, a parking lot is the only thing that separates the beating heart of Catholic life from the brains of the city’s public schools. In fact, steeples dominate the skyline of the so-called City of Churches. Fort Wayne has long been a vibrant religious hub, home to more than 350 churches, many of which also run their own schools. Fort Wayne’s superintendent of public schools, Wendy Robinson, is not afraid of competition from private schools. While the city’s public and private schools managed, for decades, to co-exist amicably, that changed in 2011, Robinson says. That’s when state lawmakers began the Indiana Choice Scholarship Program, a plan to allow low-income students to use vouchers, paid for with public school dollars, to attend private, generally religious schools. Six years later, Indiana’s statewide voucher program is now the largest of its kind in the country and, with President Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos openly encouraging states to embrace private school choice, the story of the Choice Scholarship — how it came to be, how it works and whom it serves — has become a national story of freedom, faith, poverty and politics.


Our story begins in Fort Wayne, where the state now spends $20 million a year on voucher students, more than in any other district. This year, $1.1 million of that $20 million went to one private, K-8 school: St. Jude Catholic School. The story of St. Jude St. Jude opened its school doors in March of 1929. By 2011, when the state unveiled its voucher program, the school enrolled 479 students. That first year, a small number received vouchers: just 28. Then something happened to the program that began a remarkable shift, not only at St. Jude but across the state. Father Jake Runyon saw it happening and told his parishioners. “We’ve been seeing some financial troubles here at St. Jude Parish,” Runyon said in a formal presentation that was recorded in 2014 and posted on the church’s website. The parish was in its third straight year of financial losses.
One big reason for the losses: The church was pouring money from its offertory into the school and neglecting repairs to its steeple and cooling system. Then, Runyon shared the good news: After an attempt by the state teachers union to kill the young voucher program, Indiana’s Supreme Court had found it constitutional, allowing families to spend public school dollars in private, religious schools. Not long after, the program was expanded dramatically to include children who had never attended a public school. Suddenly, many St. Jude students qualified. All they had to do was apply. “The effect on that this year,” Runyon told parishioners in 2014, “it would have been $118,000 of money we just left there, that the state of Indiana wanted to give me, and we weren’t able to take advantage of it.” Runyon’s presentation — since taken down from the church’s website — was a pitch for a new way of distributing financial aid to St. Jude students, one that would maximize the money coming in through vouchers and allow the parish to use more of its offertory elsewhere. When word of the plan reached beyond St. Jude, though, it appeared to confirm the greatest fears of public school advocates: that vouchers were a giveaway to the state’s cash-strapped religious schools at the expense of struggling public schools. This year, according to state data, nearly two-thirds of St. Jude’s students now receive public dollars to help pay for their private school tuition. Runyon, who is still Pastor at St. Jude, declined repeated interview requests. In the beginning School Vouchers 101 “Social justice has come to Indiana education,” Gov. Mitch Daniels said in 2011 after the state made several big changes to its education system. Among those changes was the new voucher program, capped at 7,500 children, to allow low-income students to use state education dollars to attend private schools. “The ability to choose a school that a parent believes is best for their child’s future is no longer limited to the wealthy.” Of the children in that first voucher class, 2011-2012, most had two things in common: They were low-income and had attended public school. “Public schools will get first shot at every child,” Daniels said back then in a speech to the conservative-leaning American Enterprise Institute. “If the public school delivers and succeeds, no one will seek to exercise this choice.” Daniels, who is now the president of Purdue University, predicted that the voucher program was “not likely to be a very large phenomenon in Indiana.” He was wrong. In 2013, Mike Pence succeeded Daniels as Indiana’s governor, and, within months, the now-vice president oversaw a dramatic expansion of the program. Lawmakers added new pathways for students to qualify, making the voucher more accessible to children who had never attended a public school. They also expanded the program’s reach to include some middle-class families.
Voucher enrollment doubled in one year. “It’s actually grown almost exponentially as you look at the numbers,” says the law’s proud architect, state Rep. Robert Behning, a Republican. It’s also popular, according to a 2016 survey conducted by EdChoice, a group that advocates for vouchers and other forms of school choice. Today, more than 34,000 students are enrolled in Indiana’s Choice Scholarship Program — 3 percent of students statewide. To qualify, parents have to meet certain income limits. For a full voucher, worth 90 percent of what a state would spend in a public school, a family of four can earn no more than $45,000 annually, but students whose parents earn up to $67,000 can still qualify for a half-voucher. And for children already in the program, their family income can rise to nearly $90,000 annually. The biggest headline from the program’s growth is this: Today, more than half of all voucher students in the state have no record of attending a public school. Exhibit A: Fort Wayne. “We’re not losing kids from our schools [to vouchers],” says Superintendent Wendy Robinson. “We’re now just having the state pay for kids who were never going to come here anyway.” In fact, Father Jake Runyon alluded to this in his 2014 presentation: “The vast majority of the people who qualify for the Choice Scholarships were already here,” he assured his Fort Wayne parishioners after the voucher program expanded. “So it’s not necessarily the case that we’re getting tons of new students. But it’s that a lot of the students are here.” Fort Wayne is a microcosm of what’s happening statewide, with tens of millions of state taxpayer dollars paying for children to attend private schools without, as then-Gov. Daniels had suggested, giving public schools “first shot.” Behning, the law’s tireless defender, argues that all parents deserve to choose their child’s school, even those who have traditionally opted out of the public system. “The intent of the program was to give parents choice,” says Behning. The parents of children in private schools, he says, “are taxpayers just like the parents in a traditional public school.” This shift in the program’s rules, begun by Pence in 2013, has led to a shift in student demographics as well. White voucher students are up from 46 percent that first year to 60 percent today, and the share of black students has dropped from 24 percent to 12 percent. Recipients are also increasingly suburban and middle class. A third of students do not qualify for free or reduced-price meals. While the program was once premised on giving low-income, public school families access to better schools, this year fewer than 1 percent of voucher students used a pathway, written into the law, that’s meant specifically for students leaving failing schools. “When you look at that trend data, it is alarming,” says Jennifer McCormick, the state’s new Republican superintendent of public instruction, and a former public school teacher. She says of the old narrative that vouchers were largely meant to help low-income students escape underperforming public schools: “That’s not necessarily the case” today.


May 6, 2017

NewYorkTimes: The Broken Promises of Choice in New York City Schools

Filed under: Vouchers — millerlf @ 10:50 am
Ayana Bryant, guidance counselor at Pelham Gardens Middle School in the Bronx, looked on as students headed to class last month.

It was a warm Sunday morning, the breeze sweeping aside the last wisps of summer, and 31 students from Pelham Gardens Middle School in the Bronx had signed up to spend the day indoors, at a showcase for New York City’s public high schools.

The annual fair kicks off the city’s high school application season in September, and Jayda Walker, 13, arrived with a plan.

An eager young woman with an easy smile, Jayda wants to be a divorce lawyer, and at the fair, held at Brooklyn Technical High School, she planned to focus on schools with a legal theme, located in Manhattan. She had already looked through the high school directory, an intimidating tome the size of an old-fashioned phone book, and thought Manhattan offered more variety. Besides, she said, she wanted to get out of the Bronx.

She and her classmates arrived early and were at the front of the line, with hundreds of people behind them eager to get inside. But for many of the students from Pelham Gardens, and others like them, it was already too late. The sorting of students to top schools — by race, by class, by opportunity — begins years earlier, and these children were planted at the back of the line.

To read the full article go to:


March 24, 2017

Wisconsin State Payments Per Pupil for Private School Vouchers Set to Exceed Public Schools

Filed under: Vouchers — millerlf @ 1:36 pm

OneWisconsin  March 23, 2017

Less Accountable, Growing Private Voucher Program Puts Bigger Strain on Public Schools, Taxpayers

MADISON, Wis. — Under Gov. Scott Walker and the Republican-led legislature, less accountable private voucher schools have reaped a financial windfall both in the amount of state tax dollars they receive and the number of students for which they are paid state tax dollars. As reported in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, all across Wisconsin public schools are now feeling financial pressure as the voucher program drains resources from them, and new data shows per pupil state revenue payments for vouchers are on average poised to exceed those for public schools.

“Once again we see how Gov. Walker and his Republican allies have tipped the scales in favor of private school vouchers, and how the rest of us are paying for it,” commented Scot Ross, One Wisconsin Now Executive Director.

A memo released this week from the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau finds Gov. Walker’s 2017-19 state budget would hike state general purpose revenue supported payments to private voucher schools to between $7,757 and $8,403 by 2018. By comparison, the memo reports state revenue support per pupil support for public schools would be $6,703 under Walker’s budget plan.

The statewide expansion of the voucher program and funding changes passed by Walker and the Republican controlled state legislature mean that resources are now taken directly away from public schools to subsidize private school vouchers.

According to data from the Department of Public Instruction and as reported in the media, the majority of students participating in the expanded statewide voucher program were attending private school before getting a publicly funded voucher.

While private schools are able to collect public tax dollars through the voucher program they are not held to the same standards as public schools. Research in Wisconsin and nationally has also found that less accountable private voucher schools produce no better and in some cases worse student achievement.

The growth of the private school voucher industry in Wisconsin has been fueled by campaign donations and spending on behalf of state politicians by voucher backers. Among the prominent backers of pro-voucher Wisconsin politicians is Donald Trump’s Education Secretary, Michigan billionaire Betsy DeVos. She and her family are among the individuals who, as of last year, larded Gov. Walker with $2 million in direct contributions. Overall, pro-school privatization individuals have made $4 million in direct contributions to Wisconsin political candidates from 2008-2016. DeVos’s American Federation for Children (AFC), a pro-voucher special interest group, has also spent over $5 million to help its favored politicians in Wisconsin.

In addition, One Wisconsin Now’s research found that the Bradley Foundation, until recently overseen by Gov. Walker’s gubernatorial and presidential campaign chair, has underwritten a massive pro-voucher propaganda campaign. Between 2005 and 2014 the Milwaukee based right wing foundation poured $108 million into groups supporting vouchers.

Ross concluded, “Private school vouchers are a financial albatross on state taxpayers and public schools. We see again how the only people they’re paying off for are the private schools taking vouchers and the Republican politicians that keep taking our money and spending it on the program support by their donors.”

# # #

One Wisconsin Now is a statewide communications network specializing in effective earned media and online organizing to advance progressive leadership and values.


February 12, 2017

Barbara Miner L.A. Times Op-ed: Critique of Private School Vouchers

Filed under: Vouchers — millerlf @ 10:11 am

If you care about our public schools and our democracy, beware of Betsy DeVos and her vouchers

Betsy DeVos’ confirmation marks the first time a vice president’s tie-breaking vote was needed to confirm a presidential Cabinet appointment. Feb. 7, 2017.

Barbara Miner:  L.A. Times Feb.9, 2017

The confirmation hearings for Betsy DeVos provided an inordinate amount of drama: guns and grizzlies, an all-night talkathon on the Senate floor, and Vice President Mike Pence’s tie-breaking vote — and with good reason.

DeVos, now confirmed as secretary of Education, is not just another inexperienced member of the president’s Cabinet. She is an ideologue with a singular educational passion — replacing our system of democratically controlled public schools with a universal voucher program that privileges private and religious ones.

If you care about our public schools and our democracy, you should be worried.

Every state constitution enshrines the right to a free education for all children, and the U.S. Supreme Court has long upheld this right. In its landmark decision in Brown vs. Board of Education, the high court noted that “education is perhaps the most important function of state and local governments.” It went on to recognize its role in a democratic society, calling education “the very foundation of good citizenship.”

Given the controversy surrounding DeVos, Republicans initially may go easy in pushing school vouchers. But beware the bait and switch, the seemingly reasonable initiative that disguises radical change.

Since 1990, roughly $2 billion in public money has been funneled into private and religious schools in Wisconsin, and the payments keep escalating.

For more than a quarter-century, I have reported on the voucher program in Milwaukee: the country’s first contemporary voucher initiative and a model for other cities and state programs, from Cleveland to New Orleans, Florida to Indiana.

Milwaukee’s program began in 1990, when the state Legislature passed a bill allowing 300 students in seven nonsectarian private schools to receive taxpayer-funded tuition vouchers. It was billed as a small, low-cost experiment to help poor black children, and had a five-year sunset clause.

That was the bait. The first “switch” came a few weeks later, when the Republican governor eliminated the sunset clause. Ever since, vouchers have been a divisive yet permanent fixture in Wisconsin.

Conservatives have consistently expanded the program, especially when Republicans controlled the state government. (Vouchers have never been put to a public vote in Wisconsin.) Today, some 33,000 students in 212 schools receive publicly funded vouchers, not just in Milwaukee but throughout Wisconsin. If it were its own school district, the voucher program would be the state’s second largest. The overwhelming majority of the schools are religious.

Voucher schools are private schools that have applied for a state-funded program that pays tuition for some or all of its student body. Even if every single student at a school receives a publicly funded voucher, as is the case in 22 of Milwaukee’s schools, that school is still defined as private.

Because they are defined as “private,” voucher schools operate by separate rules, with minimal public oversight or transparency. They can sidestep basic constitutional protections such as freedom of speech. They do not have to provide the same level of second-language or special-education services. They can suspend or expel students without legal due process. They can ignore the state’s requirements for open meetings and records. They can disregard state law prohibiting discrimination against students on grounds of sex, pregnancy, sexual orientation, or marital or parental status.

Wisconsin has sunk so deep into this unaccountable world that our voucher program not only turns a blind eye toward discrimination in voucher schools, it forces the public to pay for such discrimination.

I attended Catholic schools, and believe that this country’s long-standing defense of religious liberty is a hallmark of our democracy. But the voucher program has distorted this all-important concept of religious freedom.

In the guise of governmental noninterference in religious matters, the voucher program allows private schools to use public dollars to proselytize and teach church doctrine that is at odds with public policy — for instance, that women must be submissive to men, that homosexuality is evil, that birth control is a sin, and that creationism is scientifically sound.

Privatizing an essential public function and forcing the public to pay for it, even while removing it from meaningful public oversight, weakens our democracy. And we aren’t talking about insignificant amounts of money. Since 1990, roughly $2 billion in public money has been funneled into private and religious schools in Wisconsin, and the payments keep escalating. This year alone, the tab is some $248 million.

For more than 25 years, conservatives have used the seductive rhetoric of “choice” to blur the difference between public and private schools. It has been a shrewd move. Individual choice has long been considered a component of liberty.

Used appropriately, choice can help ensure that public education is sensitive to the varying needs and preferences of students and families. But when it comes to voucher schools, it’s clear that “choice” is also code for funneling tax dollars away from public schools and into private and religious schools.

No one doubts our public school systems have deep-seated problems. But the solution is to fix them, not abandon them. Our public schools are the only institutions with the commitment, the capacity, and the legal obligation to teach all children.

With DeVos’ confirmation, the entire country now must answer this question: If public education is an essential bedrock of our democracy, why are we undermining it?

Barbara Miner is a Milwaukee based reporter and the author of “Lessons from the Heartland: A Turbulent Half-Century of Public Education in an Iconic American City” (The New Press, 2013).

Bruce Murphy on Erin Richards Critique of Vouchers

Filed under: Vouchers — millerlf @ 10:10 am

Murphy’s Law

Taking Aim at Voucher Schools

Erin Richards, JS reporter’s story, details disturbing problems — but not in her own newspaper. See Erin Richards’ American Prospect article in full at:

By Bruce Murphy – Feb 9th, 2017 UrbanMilwaukee

A recent, in-depth story in the liberal American Prospect, “Milwaukee’s Voucher Verdict,” raises troubling questions about choice schools. Curiously, it was written by Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Erin Richards while she was on leave from her job, and nothing like it has been published in the newspaper. Even more curious, Richards was the reporter that then-Milwaukee School President Michael Bonds wanted the JS to remove from the education beat, and yet her story if anything suggests more sympathy for public schools.

But it would be a mistake to pigeon hole the story, which is thoughtful, broad in sweep and ultimately a very disturbing look at a Milwaukee education scene where not much seems to be working. Richards begin with a description of the Ceria M. Travis Academy, a fly-by-night K-12 choice school where a teacher was given no curriculum, few books (one out of date) and where just “one student scored at least ‘proficient’ in language arts on the latest state exams, and none were proficient in math, science, or social studies.”

“Half a mile away at Holy Redeemer Christian Academy—another fixture in the blighted neighborhood, where it’s dangerous to walk alone even in broad daylight—just 4 out of 206 pupils tested were proficient in English on the latest state tests. None were proficient in math,” Richards recounts. “Together, Travis Academy and Holy Redeemer have received close to $100 million in taxpayer funding over the years.”

That a school like Travis Academy has been in operation for two decades, Richards writes, calls into question the philosophy behind private school choice, that “Introducing competition to the government monopoly on public schools will lead to higher academic performance.”

From there the story makes many punchy observations, including:

-The 2010 wave election that brought in many Republican-run statehouses has greatly increased voucher programs, growing from 15 states and 24 programs that year to 28 states and 61 programs in 2016, with some voucher programs now reaching beyond low-income students to include the middle class.

-Public money for vouchers doesn’t require much public information. Voucher schools in Wisconsin, “thanks to expansions signed by Republican Governor Scott Walker since 2011—are not compelled by law to hold public meetings or disclose high school graduation or dropout rates. They are not obligated to make public any data on student suspension or expulsion or attendance rates, or any information on teachers, from salaries to absenteeism to a simple roster.”

-Though vouchers were supposed to improve education in Milwaukee, choice schools on average do about as poorly as public schools, and the exceptions among choice schools have tended to be Catholic and Lutheran schools, “which would have never maintained a presence in the inner city serving poor children without taxpayer assistance.”

-There are no state policies in Wisconsin that aim to expand good choice schools and shut down the many dreadful schools because “choice advocates don’t want to give more power to the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction,” which is seen as an advocate of public schools.

-The minority of voucher schools may benefit from weeding out difficult students. Many have stringent discipline policies that allow expulsion for vaguely described offenses. “Grade promotion records… revealed many voucher schools had a student population that dramatically diminished as the grade levels advanced.” The most robust study of choice schools found “more than half the students who started ninth grade in a voucher high school were not still there by 12th grade.” (And when those students leave, they can by law go back to Milwaukee Public Schools.)

-Higher-performing choice schools tend to attract more parents “who are well equipped to make educational decisions.” To enroll at St. Marcus Lutheran, a showcase school for voucher success, parents have to “sign a covenant agreeing to get their child to school on time and to oversee homework… agree to sit down with teachers in their home at least once a year, and attend parent-teacher meetings. And they have to find their own transportation, as St. Marcus does not provide busing.” Public schools can’t make such requirements.

-The disappointing results of voucher schools, instead of triggering calls for change, have simply shifted the rationale for them. “Instead of being championed as a panacea for failing urban schools… choice is now being positioned as a fundamental right that should be guaranteed to all families.” (Republicans, I might add, have also increasingly justified them as cheaper than public schools.)

-As more states have approved voucher programs nationwide public support for them has fallen. “Between 2012 and 2016, nationwide public support for vouchers targeted at low-income students fell from 55 percent to 43 percent.” Interestingly, the support for vouchers was higher among Democrats than Republicans.

-As Wisconsin led the way in choice schools, other states put more emphasis on charter schools. That seems like a great misfortune. For what Richards’ story strongly suggests (and high-profile voucher supporter Howard Fuller concluded at least a decade ago) is that giving low-income parents the power to choose their child’s school does not result in bad ones being rejected. Quite the contrary.

In short, it appears we need the “nanny state” or some form of government oversight, which is what you get in charter schools: In Milwaukee that could be city government or UW-Milwaukee, for instance, that operate as the chartering authority. As Urban Milwaukee columnist and former Milwaukee School Board member Bruce Thompson has concluded, charter schools that are independent of MPS have had pretty promising results.

And it may be that Catholic and Lutheran schools, because they are part of a system of schools, also have more oversight than other choice schools. (The impact of religion is probably a factor as well.)

We might have had many more of these independent charter schools if not for the all the GOP political pressure and conservative Bradley Foundation funding for choice schools.

I supported school choice as an experimental program back in 1990, but the experiment has gone on for 27 years and choice schools in Milwaukee now constitute what amounts to the second largest school district in the state. And there is no evidence that education in Milwaukee has improved as a result. At what point will this be recognized by state and local policymakers? Clearly we need a new approach.

Richards completed this article while on leave from the Journal Sentinel, and with support from the Spencer Fellowship in Education Reporting at Columbia University. It’s certainly timely, given President Trump’s promise to spend $20 billion in federal funds on choice and charter schools. The experience of Milwaukee, the national trailblazer for vouchers, strongly suggests choice is not the way to go.

The brief controversy over Richards’ reporting in Milwaukee, which arose in the fall of 2014, was reported by Urban Milwaukee and was something of a comedy of errors. There is little evidence anyone with MPS besides Michael Bonds was pushing to replace Richards. And the idea that she has it in for public schools is hard to square with her American Prospect piece.

Of course, reporters like Richards must deal with editors, who can sometimes shape the direction of stories. Beyond that, the conventions of daily journalism, with the inverted pyramid narrative and “balanced” reporting, can often result in murky stories that leave readers with more questions than answers. Richards tells me she hopes to do a two-part article on some of her findings for the Journal Sentinel. I doubt it will be as incisive as this story.

If you think stories like this are important, become a member of Urban Milwaukee and help support real independent journalism. Plus you get some cool added benefits, all detailed here. 

January 7, 2017

Democratic Senator Kathleen Vinehout criticizes pro-voucher candidate for State Superintendent of Public Instruction.

Filed under: State Supt of Public Instruction,Vouchers — millerlf @ 9:29 am

The following two links show the upcoming debate at the state level on MPS, vouchers, and the election of the State Superintendent of Public Instruction in April. The first news release is from John Humphries, a pro-voucher candidate for State Superintendent. The second is a response to Humphries by Democratic State Senator, Kathleen Vinehout.

University of Arkansas Researchers Recycle Debunked Voucher Claims Regarding Crime Reduction

Filed under: Vouchers — millerlf @ 9:25 am

Key Takeaway: Report uses unwarranted causal language throughout, while cheerleading for “Education Savings Account” legislation.

Find Documents:

Press Release:


William J. Mathis: (802) 383-0058,
Clive Belfield: (917) 821-9219,

More NEPC Resources on Vouchers

BOULDER, CO (January 4, 2017) – A new report from the University of Arkansas Department of Education Reform claims that Texas voucher legislation would reduce crime and thereby save the state a cumulative $194 million by the end of 2035. This claim is not warranted and has, in fact, already been discredited.

The report’s calculations arise from another University of Arkansas analysis, by the same authors. The Arkansas researchers had argued that some subgroups of voucher-receiving students in Milwaukee, Wisconsin were less likely to commit crimes as adults. That earlier analysis was reviewed in April 2016 by Clive Belfield, Professor of Economics at Queens College, City University of New York.

There exist multiple errors and limitations in the two Arkansas analyses, but perhaps the most important are the poorly grounded claims regarding causation. As Professor Belfield explained, no causal inferences can be drawn from the type of data and analyses used by the researchers. This means that the researchers cannot responsibly make claims about “results” and “impacts”, as they do in their Texas report.

Professor Belfield observed that, far from establishing a causal relationship between voucher program participation and a reduction in criminal behavior, the Arkansas researchers had not even established meaningful and consistent correlations. As Belfield pointed out, one valid interpretation of the data and analyses presented in the earlier report is that vouchers and crime are, in fact, not correlated.

Instead of engaging with Professor Belfield’s critique of their Milwaukee report, the Arkansas authors used the unconvincing results of that study, plugged in crime numbers from Texas, and estimated that if that state’s legislators were to create a type of voucher program called “Education Savings Accounts” they would (19 years from now) have, in the aggregate, saved their state almost two-hundred million dollars.

“This is a textbook example of garbage-in, garbage-out,” said Professor Kevin Welner of the University of Colorado Boulder, who directs the National Education Policy Center. “A figure derived from a study that does not allow for causal inference cannot then be brought back from the dead and magically support a causal inference in another study six months later. This sort of zombie causation could not possibly be of use to lawmakers looking for trustworthy information.”

Find Professor Belfield’s review on the web at:

Find the recent Arkansas report on the web at:

The National Education Policy Center (NEPC), housed at the University of Colorado Boulder School of Education, produces and disseminates high-quality, peer-reviewed research to inform education policy discussions. Visit us at:

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