Educate All Students, Support Public Education

August 30, 2014

Diane Ravitch Blog on Milwaukee Voucher Schools

Filed under: Vouchers,Women Committed to an Informed Community — millerlf @ 12:11 pm

Milwaukee: Ruth Conniff on the Disgrace of Voucher Schools
by dianeravitch

Last May, Ruth Conniff, editor of “The Progressive,” joined a group of other women on a tour of voucher schools in Milwaukee. The others included another journalist, a state legislator, and Milwaukee grandmothers Gail Hicks and Marva Herndon.

“Herndon and Hicks formed a group called Women Committed to an Informed Community, also known as the “mad grandmas,” to bring attention to the voucher schools popping up all over the largely African American north side of Milwaukee in strip malls, rundown office buildings, old car dealerships, and abandoned factories.”

What they saw should chill the ardor of the most doctrinaire followers of Milton Friedman. Vouchers began in Milwaukee nearly 25 years ago based on the claim that they would save poor black children from “failing” public schools. Today, Milwaukee should be a national symbol of the failure of vouchers. Yet state after state is endorsing vouchers, egged on by the Friedman Foundation and rightwing think tanks.

Let’s be clear. Vouchers, charters, and choice have failed the children of Milwaukee. The city ranks near the bottom of all cities tested by the federal NAEP, barely ahead of Detroit. Black children in Milwaukee score behind their peers in most other cities and states. Study after study shows they don’t get better test scores than their peers in public schools.

“”We are talking about the schools that fall under the category of LifeSkills Academy,” says Hicks, referring to a Milwaukee voucher school that made headlines last year when the couple that owned it fled to Florida, taking with them millions in state education funds and leaving sixty-six students suddenly stranded, with no school.

“Many of the schools Herndon and Hicks are concerned about are religious. But “we are not talking about schools associated with long-established churches,” Hicks says.

“In racially divided Milwaukee, most of the mainline parochial schools that take voucher students are run by Catholic and Protestant churches on the largely Hispanic south side, Herndon explains.

“On the north side, it’s just loaded with fly-by-night, hole-in-the-wall schools, gas station schools,” Herndon says.


“The $6,442 per pupil in public funds attached to vouchers is more than the cost of tuition at many parochial schools. That, along with start-up funds for new voucher schools, creates a powerful incentive for cash-strapped parochial schools and unscrupulous, fly-by-night operators alike. As a result, parents in voucher districts have been inundated with marketing calls, flyers, and advertisements at taxpayer expense urging them to send their kids to private school for free.

“Nowhere is the problem with turning public schools over to private business more evident than in Milwaukee, the birthplace of school choice.

“Academy of Excellence” is spelled out in snap-on plastic letters above a phone number on a temporary-looking sign on West North Avenue.

“A teacher stands in the doorway of a rundown office building with peeling orange paint on cinderblock walls, watching children jump rope in the parking lot between rows of cars. A few little girls crouch on the sidewalk, drawing with chalk.

“Pastor George Claudio of the StraightWay Vineyard Christian Fellowship greets us inside.

“He has been serving as principal here since September, although he has no background in education, he explains.

“I’m not a trained principal, so my approach has been more of a business and leadership approach,” he says. “I don’t know much about academics, so I’m on a crash course, relying on the teachers in the building.

“Everybody here is way below the poverty level,” he adds, as we peer into a classroom where four-year-old kindergarteners are lying down for a nap on the dirty indoor/outdoor carpeting. A teacher snaps out the lights.

“Despite the dirty carpet and peeling walls, and a first-floor bathroom with no toilet paper, no paper towels, and heavy scribbling in the stalls and over the sink, Pastor Claudio is proud of how much better things look here since school started in September, after a major cleanup. Last fall, he tells us, the lights didn’t work.

“This building has flipped through several voucher schools. The last resident was BEAM Academy, an Edison charter school. “Edison” plastic tags still adorn some of the classroom doors. Another Academy of Excellence school, on the south side, is in even worse shape, the pastor tells us.

“There are three Academy of Excellence schools in Milwaukee, run by the Association of Vineyard Churches, a conservative, evangelical sect.

“Every morning, Pastor Claudio leads the school in a daily devotional.

“We use the Bob Jones University curriculum,” he says.


The pastor says that two-thirds of the students probably would benefit from special education, but the school has no trained special education staff. Indeed, teachers in voucher schools don’t need teaching certification. Instead of special education, the children get tutors–college kids and volunteers from the church. In the middle school science class, a sign on the wall says, “In the beginning God created the Heavens and the Earth—Genesis 1:1” a poster in the hallway says: “God can see your heart and he knows that it is wicked.”

The school will double in size this fall when it enrolls 200 students from Myanmar who don’t speak English.


Conniff concludes:

“The latest battle of the mad grandmas is against new laws that would force the sale of public school buildings to private school operators.

“The public schools are just being raped,” says Hicks. “A lot of schools no longer have gym, no longer have art, language, higher math. Schools don’t have the money because they’re sticking money in charter schools and vouchers, which are businesses.”

“In Milwaukee, eighth graders are attending what purports to be a public school to study science and learn creationism.

“Third graders are absorbing a strange home brew of art, finance, and bible passages.

“Immigrant children straight from refugee camps in Myanmar are landing in a school that looks like a refugee center, to be immersed in English and a harsh religious ideology that teaches them that their hearts are wicked.

“All of this is supported by the public with tax dollars.

“It looks like the end of society.”

Ruth Conniff’s reporting is persuasive evidence that the once strong belief in separation of church and state was sensible protection for the common school system. Now that the wall of separation has been penetrated, all manner of Bible schools are getting public dollars. Does anyone believe that the children of Milwaukee are better served in these schools than in the public schools? And what remains of public education when children are withdrawn to attend voucher schools and charter schools?

Can anyone honestly say that the children in these publicly-supported voucher schools are getting a good education that prepares them for college and careers in the 21st century?

May 14, 2012

Attempts in Milwaukee to Put Schools in Unsafe Buildings for Profit

Bad Players, Shady Business Deals.

By Harriet Callier [] 09May2012 Milwaukee Community Journal

Welcome to new (Unsafe, Emotionally Challenging) School where “Gun Safety Will Be Practice at all times around the children.” Dieter insists on putting a school into this building because ‘it pays!’ He explains that he made some bad choices in other business deals with this building and he needs to make his money back.

While we want the best possible education for our children, parents and grandparents have a long list of factors to weigh in finalizing those decisions. Questions regarding physical and emotional safety should be on the checklist. Increasingly, Milwaukee Kindergartens and K4-12 schools are circumventing the rules to open under challenging—even dangerous circumstances. On May 15, another instance of this will occur if our elected officials do not hear to the contrary.

See Picture School Denied by Zoning board

Academy of Excellence – 633 South 12th Street (Case# 111483) also uses the name
Whole Village Institute and the side street address 1236 W Pierce. (Case#31075)

In late July 2011, Randall (Randy) Melchert, Anna Horneck and Matt Boutilier (File# 31075) were DENIED by the City of Milwaukee Board of Zoning and Appeals for their request to put a Christian school into a heavy industrial area above an air gun target practice business in a building that is owned by James (Jim) Dieter. Melchert has close ties to VCY Administration; Boutlier and Horneck have ties to Churches whose congregations meet outside of Milwaukee proper—as far away as Hartland, WI.

In the actual videotaping of the public hearing, Melchert was questioned regarding the safety and welfare of the children—ages 2 to 18+—who would occupy this school for the better part of a school day. Specifically, the questions related to the heavy flow of tracker trailer units to surrounding manufacturers and produce warehouses. A more telling question asked about the only entrance to the school’s space (to the left of the car in the photo) that empties directly onto the sidewalk/street for 120+ school children and 48 daycare children ages 2 – 4 years of age.

Melchert made every effort to explain away BOZA’s direct questions. What could not be captured here is was the emotional distress that these children would have been subject to with men in full-gear paramilitary camouflage and gas mask running throughout the building in actual target practice. The school shares the building with Airsoft Jungle Club. The guns and gear in the video and website closely resembles what we seen in the pictures of the war on Al-Qaida and Afghanistan. The Club requires everyone to fully acknowledge that “anyone stepping on the PROPERTY” should be protected with eye and body protection. Their videos show the Club making target practice use of the full range of the building.

So why the discussion about a BOZA denial. Dieter/Melchert are going back into the City Council for a permanent variance that would allow them to put children into this building. This time they won’t waste their story with the BOZA folks because they will talk directly to the a panel of Aldermen with the request to change the overall code of the building from heavy industrial to mixed use.

Nothing has changed with the makeup of the community—it is still a very active industrial area. What changed is the name of the school from Whole Village Institute to Academy of Excellence. Because it is a corner lot, Melchert uses the address for the front door where Dieter lists the side entrance. And no one is to be the wiser.

So how can we fix this. From where I stand, it is highly inappropriate to work to circumvent the legal processes—especially for a form of business that will be unmonitored for the most part as these schools have little to no reporting requirements that are released to the public. That concern takes a back seat to the fact that this will put children in harm’s way just to make a dollar.

Remember, nothing has changed in this business district to move it from a heavy industrial zoning. School buses and parents’ cars will all compete for parking and driving space in an industrial area that has no way of defending itself of children darting between parked cars. In fact to the contrary, this zoning change has capacity to take property out of play that is best suited for bringing real, family supporting jobs in large numbers into our communities.

But each of us have a voice that counts. Write or call the Alderman. The most recent appointments to the Zoning, Neighborhood & Development Committee are Ald. Bauman (, Ald. Bohl , Chair (, Ald. Murphy (, Ald. Wade ( and Ald. Witkowski ( The main number is 414-286-2221. This is scheduled as Item#5 on the Agenda at the 9am (City Hall, Room 301B) before the Zoning, Neighborhood and Development Committee.

Lastly, I strongly encourage you to remain informed and engaged. Women Committed to an Informed Community has held several forums throughout the city to get us up to speed on the Charter/Choice Program and how it best fits into each family’s decisions. The Committee invites you to come a Community Forum, Thursday, May 17, 6:00 p.m., Solomon United Methodist Church, 3295 N. Martin Luther King Drive.

Harriet Callier is the Senior Field Agent for ARACOPA Coalition for Social Justice. She is Chair of the Criminal Justice Committee for the Milwaukee Branch NAACP and an active member of the Education Forum with the Wisconsin State Conference of the NAACP. She is an active member of the Community Justice Committee of First Unitarian Society of Milwaukee.

April 17, 2012

Howard Fuller Proposal for Creating New City Charter Schools Critiqued by Community Group

Filed under: Charter Schools,Women Committed to an Informed Community — millerlf @ 4:15 pm


Women Committed to an Informed Community

Milwaukee, Wisconsin

April 4, 2012

City of Milwaukee Common Council c/o The Milwaukee Charter

School Review Committee

200 E. Wells Street

Milwaukee, WI 53202

Forwarded to Email Addresses of Committee Members

Regarding: Charter School Application for Quest-Milwaukee, Inc.

as submitted by Edgar T. Russell, Executive Director for Quest Institute for the Transformation of Learning, Marquette University 750 N. 18th Street, Milwaukee WI 53233 – (414) 288-3055 – v

Dear Chairman Ingram:

The undersigned individuals, on behalf of the Education Forum of the Women Committed to an Informed Community (Women Committed), ask that the Committee consider the following information in finalizing your review of the Charter School Application submitted on February 3, 2012 by Quest-Milwaukee, Inc. Individuals with Women Committed gave testimony during the public hearing (March 2012) for Charter School Applications. We have taken into consideration the defense of the School’s representation at the Hearing and the actual Application Packet from which your written reviews will be made.

The Education Forum of Women Committed to an Informed Community strongly encourages the Charter School Review Committee to defer approval of the Quest-Milwaukee Charter School Application at its April 4, 2012 session. The deferment would allow the entity to either invoke the Appeals process available in the City Ordinance Chapter 330 (typically 30-45 days) or to re-apply during the next application cycle. Deferment would allow the applicant to appropriately respond to missing and incomplete information that is critical in making an informed approval of the proposed network of Quest-Milwaukee schools.


Please note that the following items are listed in no specific order. 1.0 Required Contracts and Collaborations

1.1 It will be necessary for Quest-Milwaukee to secure thorough and ongoing contractual relationships with EdVision as outlined in the Application. This contractual agreement is not identified as either in process or completed. EdVision is the only true model that is similar in nature to the ‘variation’ of education delivery. An alternate plan is not identified should EdVision refuse to contract with Quest-Milwaukee or cancels its contract with the school.

1.2 It will be necessary for Quest-Milwaukee to secure thorough and ongoing contractual relationships with Microsoft / Google Chrome as outlined in the Application. This contractual agreement is not identified as either in process or completed. Is this contract predicated on the existing Microsoft Agreement with Wisconsin Department of Public Institutions? An alternate plan is not identified should Microsoft / Google Chrome refuse to contract with Quest-Milwaukee or cancel its contract with the school.

2.0 Staffing and Class Size

2.1 Too few appropriately certified teachers:

2.1.1 Entity lists only one teacher per location per discipline for as many as 475

Students with no back-up process when the ‘one teacher’ is not yet hired or

resigns. These start-up schools are known for high levels of staff turnover. 2.1.2 Unlicensed paraprofessionals will provide the daily interactions that are

reserved for licensed teachers in the EdVision model.

2.1.3 The EdVision model is designed for use in a small-school environment. Quest-Milwaukee’s use of this model will greatly exceed the desired staff/pupil ratios.

  • Grouping (class size) in the EdVision Model is 20 students to 1 licensed teacher;
  • Grouping in the Quest-Milwaukee Model is 22 students to 1 unlicensed paraprofessional with 475 students to 1 licensed teacher.
  • A similar model previously existed in Milwaukee (under the name of Phoenix Charter High School with Grades 9-12) under contract with EdVision but without the support and on-going direction of EdVision. This school had extreme challenges in implementing this education variation model in an urban environment.
  • Open-concept classroom or whole school model is in place at Bradley Tech High School (Milwaukee). Implementation and safety is an extreme challenge for the more mature students (grades 9-12). The Forum has extreme reservations with inclusion of grades 6 -7 into the model with very limited teacher/paraprofessional physical oversight.

 Applicant does not provide data to demonstrate that this will be

of benefit as it relates to the learning process.


2.1.3 Students will be chosen and grouped to include same-sex students of all grades-6th through 12th. Students will be provided online ‘communities for this grouping’ with no indication of on-going monitoring by the paraprofessional (teacher not included in the model). A typical makeup of the physical and online community can include students as young as 11year olds and as mature as 21 year olds. Under normal circumstances, this grouping poses a threat of safety.

2.1.4 Computer technicians are under staffed with one individual slotted to float between multiple buildings for a 100% computer-based delivery system.

2.2 Many of the key school leadership will not be hired and prepared in advance of student enrollment. A pro-active hiring will allow staff to become acclimated to the teaching environment prior to inclusion of students in the areas of responsibilities.

2.3 Students will not have access to training information outside of the physical school plant—specifically because the material will be housed on an intranet. If this is a true intranet, it is not clearly explained how students/parents will approach homework and extracurricular work.

2.4 The Center for Support is a critical element of the organizational resources. The Center for Support will is not scheduled for staffing until School-Year #Three.

3.0 Curriculum

3.1 Each student will develop and implement an individual learning plan. Application does not indicate at what point the teacher or paraprofessional (advisor) will be responsible to amend the individual learning plan to reflect realistic goals for either the learning disabled or the over-achiever.

3.1.1 In the EdVision model, the development and amendments are reserved for the licensed teacher.

3.1.2 Teacher-student evaluations are replaced with student-student evaluations.

3.2 Absent of an existing contract with EdVision (Carpe Diem or other similar models), no actual data is provided in school’s application to indicate success/fail/correction rates. The “extensive research and development” is only mentioned but not included in the Application Packet. EdVision has been implemented in the small-school environment for more than seven years. (Our Education Forum found EdVision implementation data that dates back to 1994 in a Minnesota school.)

3.2.1 No indication that the small-school training model can be transferred

successfully to the whole-school model as identified by Quest-Milwaukee.

3.3 It is not clear what an ‘average’ school day will look like for students. Some show only 2 hours of school-based subject-matter instruction while others show as much as 7 hours of actual main subject instruction. The school day is not clearly defined and only briefly discussed.


3.3.1 The Quest-Milwaukee school year will not lend well to older students who desire/need to work and/or complete community service hours outside of the school. The proposed year extends for 8 weeks beyond the traditional parochial high school. Many, if not all, of the reasonable positions that are available to the age group will be taken.

4.0 Employment Arrangements

4.1 It is not clear in the Application Packet why this Wisconsin employer seeks hiring practices that exceed Wisconsin law. Statutes that are in place at the time of this application submission do not allow for barring of all types of felony convictions.

This greatly exceeds existing law and should be explained. This should be addressed for compliance.

4.2 Health benefits are slotted for only 70% employer share during the first year. Any percentages less that 80% qualifies the employee to be identified as uninsured and eligible to apply for Wisconsin Medicaid for lack of insurance. The Education Forum does not believe that it is the intent of Quest-Milwaukee to place its instructors and staff onto the Medicaid roles. This should be addressed for compliance.

4.3 The proposed school intends to implement a $250 penalty for unexcused absences. There is no clear financial template to indicate that the employee arrangement will not violate federal/state minimum wage hours. Ultimately, the deduction of $250 from a 3-day pay week may not leave enough compensation equivalent to $7.25 for actual hours worked. This should be addressed for compliance.

5.0 Financials

5.1 Non-profit [501(c)3] approval not in place by original application time. Conversation during Public Hearing referenced a recent approval. Documentation, however, was not provided for inclusion into the Application Packet—which is a matter of public record.

5.2 Conversation during Public Hearing referenced a recent approval by the Executive Board to increase the per-student tuition rate from $7,777 to $11,000. No additional explanation was offered verbally. Documentation, however, was not provided for

inclusion into the Application Packet—which is a matter of public record.

  • The Application Packet, along with any modification should be made

available as a matter of public record. The process of amending an

Application Packet may by a CSRC process that does not currently

lend well to public inspection.


  • The Education Forum’s recommendation is to amend the

responsibilities of the Committee Clerk to include tracking with update notification to all parties requesting release of the public documents, namely submitted Charter School Application Packets. A reasonable timeframe to provide the update notification is within 3 calendar days of receipt from applicant entity.

5.3 Three-year projections included in the Application Packet itemize the expenses of a
preparation year with a fiscal start date of July 1. Missing from the Packet is an

itemization of the expenses for the prior years of preparation. The standard itemization is addressed with a voluntary statement: “Note: This is a new school and does not have prior school year financial information.” To the contrary, the actual operation of Quest-Milwaukee (with Edgar T. Russell identified as Executive Director for Quest) is referenced in petitions to elected officials as far back as January 2011. This would account for two prior school years if the July-June fiscal year is applied as identified by the applicant.

5.4 Use of the Wisconsin Planning Grant ($200,000) is not identified as being a part of

the 2012-13 planning year but was briefly mentioned in the Public Hearing.

6.0 Senior Management and Executive Board Structure

6.1 The discussion of the Executive Board structure for Quest-Milwaukee indicated a composite of eight members. The Application Packet submitted for review, however, only list three members—only two of which were available for the public hearing.

  • Questions regarding the Executive Board members not yet identified were addressed by the Board Treasurer as ‘not enough time to identify prior to the public hearing.” Deferment would allow for additional time to secure and evaluate individuals who will the significant makeup of this decision-making body.
  • It is a serious question of the Education Forum whether a true 2/3 majority can be obtained with the current Executive Board structure given that two of the Members are a husband/wife team.
  • Current Executive Board Chair is also the Chair of another entity that is applying for Charter School approval during this March 2012 approval cycle.
  •  The Education Forum finds is extremely odd that the Application Packet of the second entity was significantly deficient and is encouraged by the CSRC to re-submit for
  • approval in September 2012.
  • The Application references two different Executive Board Chairs in different areas of the Packet. It is not clear if this is an oversight and when the structural changes were made because two of the documents where authored/signed within days of each other.


7.0 Miscellaneous

7.1              The Education Forum would ask the applicant to review and adjust the document

to exclude overly repetitive documentation. Entire sections are repeated throughout the document—with no added value—as much as three times.

7.2             The Education Forum believes that it is a challenging feat—possibly a conflict of
interest—for CSRC Members who are also long-term and life members of the Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO) organization to also take responsibility for approval of an entity that is the product of the organizations founding members. The Education Forum’s opposition here, however, will take a back seat if the remaining items are addressed to the public’s satisfaction.

The Education Forum and the Women Committed feel that it is necessary to express that these requests are from Milwaukee residents who are working to see the achievable school options are available to our children. Those who join us in the Education Forum have worked and volunteered in the Milwaukee Public School system, as well as, private/choice schools at varying grade levels. We do not require our members to express opposition to choice schools. To the contrary, individuals who have recently made application for review as a Charter School through the City of Milwaukee have previously met with the Education Forum.

If you have additional questions during your serious review of this material and its application to your decision-making process, contact information for Education Forum Leaders is provided below.



Harriet Callier, Associate Chair Education Forum


Gail Hicks, Chair Education Forum 414-358-1042

Marva Herndon, Chair

Women Committed to an Informed Community 414-350-3027


Blog at