Archives for category: Vouchers

A radical privatization proposal has been inserted into the Wisconsin state budget and approved by the budget-writing committee. The plan initially applies to Milwaukee (where the public schools outperform voucher schools and get similar test scores to charter schools), but it could be extended to Madison, Racine and other “large, racially diverse” school districts. Under the plan, a commissioner would be appointed and have the power to fire all staff, both teachers and administrators, and hand the school off to a private operator to run as a charter or voucher school. In other words, public assets, schools paid for by the community, will be given away to private operators.

Under the plan, an independent commissioner appointed by the county executive would take control of three of the lowest-performing schools in the district after the 2015 school year. Everyone who works at the school would be fired and forced to reapply for their jobs. The commissioner could also convert the schools into private — but non-religious — voucher schools or turn over operation to an independent charter school.

For the first two years, up to three schools could be chosen. After that, five more a year could be added.

Republican supporters of the plan said they wanted something dramatic to turn around chronically failing schools in Milwaukee. The most recent school report card ranked 55 schools within the district as “fails to meet expectations,” the lowest of five rankings.

Some Democratic legislators were outraged:

But Democrats said the plan does nothing to address the root causes of problems in Milwaukee schools, including high poverty, and they argued the Legislature should not interfere in running the city’s schools.

Democratic Sen. Lena Taylor, the only lawmaker from Milwaukee on the Joint Finance Committee, blasted the proposal as part of a history of diverting resources from public schools in Wisconsin’s largest city.

“For years, individuals who sit on this committee and in this building have known that they have been raping the children of MPS,” Taylor said.

The comparison drew a sharp rebuke from Rep. Dale Kooyenga, R-Brookfield, one of the plan’s authors.

“I just find that sick,” he said. “That’s actually sick.”

Taylor refused to back down.

“I get it. The word ‘rape’ sounds offensive,” she said. “But when you consider the fact that 15 out of 100 kids can read on grade level while $89 million have been skimmed from the education of kids, and that you don’t invest it in even the crisis areas, who are you fooling?”

Given the demonstrated failure of voucher schools and charter schools in Milwaukee to outperform the public schools, you might expect that the Legislature would stop expanding both forms of privatization. But you would be wrong. Here are some recent legislative actions, as reported by blogger Steve Strieker:

 
The WI GOP committee members moved forward with a vote on their education budget package that does the following:

 
Removes the cap on statewide vouchers and prohibits districts from levying to replace the lost state aid

 
Creates a special needs voucher program

 
Allows operators of privately run charters to open new schools under conditions specified by the legislature

 
Allows for the takeover of struggling public schools in Milwaukee under the control of an appointed commissioner to convert them to voucher or charter schools while paving the way for similar takeovers in other school districts

 
Provides for licensure of individuals with minimal qualifications, some with little more than a high school diploma, to teach in our public schools
Requires passing a civics exam to graduate from high school

 

 

 

It turns out that most of the applicants to the voucher program (86%) previously attended a private school, not a public school. This is a subsidy to families whose children already are enrolled in private schools, not an “escape” for “poor children trapped in failing public schools” (reformster talk).

 

 

 

http://dpi.wi.gov/sites/default/files/news-release/dpinr2015_53.pdf

One question that I have puzzled over again and again is why anyone who really cares about the quality of education would be a proponent of school choice, for example, vouchers for religious schools and charters run as a business. We have an abundance of evidence that these choices don’t usually produce better education. Children from low-performing schools are not being sent with public money to Exeter, Andover, Deerfield Academy, or Sidwell Friends. Instead, they are going to Backwoods Rural Evangelical Church or Mall Academy, which has few certified teachers, no curriculum, and teaches creationism; or they are going to Charter Schools, Inc., where profits matter more than education.

 

This article in Salon by Conor Lynch asserts that the GOP (and I would add, many Democrats who have been bamboozled as well) and corporate America (via ALEC) are complicit in the dumbing down of America. Some candidates, and he singles out Ted Cruz, willingly slander Harvard University (which he attended) as a haven for Communists (and I thought the days of McCarthyism were behind us) and ally themselves in opposition to the scientific evidence about climate change.

 

I have no beef with anyone’s religious beliefs as long as they leave me alone to practice my own religion (or not). But when religion and politics are intermixed, it is not a healthy blend.

 

Lynch writes:

 

Ted Cruz has already made it quite clear that, although he went to Harvard, he is as anti-intellectual as they come; embracing conspiracy theories and comparing the climate change consensus to the theological consensus of the geocentric model during the time of Galileo. Cruz has been adamantly opposed to the entire idea of climate change, and was recently named to be Chairman of the Subcommittee on Space, Science, and Competitiveness. Aside from promoting the conspiracy theory that Harvard law is a communist organization, he has promoted other conspiracies that are outright loony, like saying that George Soros was leading a global movement to abolish the game of golf.

 

Marco Rubio is also hostile to anything contradicting his faith, including climate change, while the leading contender for Republican nomination, Scott Walker, has taken the fight directly to academia, calling for major cuts in public university funding in Wisconsin that would add up to about $300 million over two years. He also just fired 57employees from Wisconsin’s Department of Natural Resources this past Earth Day. Predictably, he doesn’t believe climate change is a big issue either, and possibly has the worst record on environment out of all of the candidates.

 

And so the Republican primaries will be full of the usual evangelical type preaching, damning abortion and calling their Democratic contenders “elitist” snobs, while brushing off those so-called “expert” climate scientists and their warnings. But you can only blame the politicians so much. When it comes down to it, this is simply what a big part of the population expects from their leaders — religious buffoons who embrace a paranoid style of politics; where experts and academics are looked down upon as disconnected and deceitful, and where faith in Jesus and the Bible is the ultimate guiding light. Where one is expected to go with their gut rather than their head, and where “professorial” is an insult. Anti-intellectualism is an American tradition, and these new contenders denying scientific facts and calling Harvard a communist institution are simply embracing a populace that individuals like Billy Sunday and Joseph McCarthy once embraced. The alliance of religion and big business has fully incorporated America’s unfortunate anti-intellectualist culture, which has resulted in millions of people voting against their interest because of their own ignorant hostility towards anything that could be deemed elitist. It is a cycle of ignorance and poverty, and it is exactly what the real elites, like billionaire oil men, aim for.

 

The American writer, Issac Asimov, once said, “Anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.’” Unfortunately, this thread has continued to this day, and individuals like Ted Cruz and Scott Walker are here to remind us that ignorance can be quite competitive with knowledge, as long as there’s money behind it.

 

Several governors have slashed spending on higher education–such as Douglas Ducey in Arizona, Scott Walker in Wisconsin, and Bobby Jindal in Louisiana. Why? Do they want to stop young Americans from learning about science and history? In some states, the expansion of charter schools is coupled with the abandonment of teacher credentials. The combination of vouchers to attend religious schools, lowered standards for entry to teaching, and budget cuts for higher education is ominous.

A letter to the editor:

“Private School Tax Credits

New York Times Letter To the Editor: by DONNA LIEBERMAN, Executive Director, New York Civil Liberties Union MAY 22, 2015

Re “Cuomo Promotes Tax Credits for Families of Students at Private Schools”

The right to a meaningful public education is at the core of our democracy, and educational opportunity must be available to all children on a fair and equitable basis, no matter how poor they are, no matter what their educational needs are, and no matter their race, religion or sexual orientation. Unfortunately, the proposal by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York to divert money from public schools to private and religious schools is not about improving public education for all children. It is not about choice. It is about allowing hedge funds and millionaires to siphon money away from public schools to support their narrow idea of what education should look like.

This includes private schools for the 1 percent, religious schools that can throw children out and dismiss teachers for having the wrong faith — or no faith — and privately owned and operated charter schools that operate without accountability and would turn our underfunded public schools into a dumping ground for New York’s neediest and most challenging students.

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/22/opinion/private-school-tax-credits.html?mabReward=CTM&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&region=CColumn&module=Recommendation&src=rechp&WT.nav=RecEngine&_r=0″

The Texas Legislature is so far out of touch with the needs of children and public schools that we can only hope the legislative session ends before any of the proposals for “reform” are enacted. The Texas Observer here gives an excellent overview of what is happening in Austin that might land on the heads of kids and public schools.

Throughout the legislative session, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has painted a dire portrait of hundreds of Texas public schools.

Currently, Patrick remarked during a March press conference, almost 150,000 students languish in nearly 300 failing schools across the state. He vowed to fix the problem.

The measures he championed include red-meat education reform proposals with appealing names: rating schools on an A-F scale; a state-run “opportunity school district” to oversee low-performing schools; a “parent empowerment” bill making it easier to close struggling schools or turn them into charters; expanding online classes (taxpayer funded, but often run by for-profit entities); and “taxpayer savings grants”—private school vouchers, effectively—to help students escape the woeful public system.

Patrick has long fought for many of these, but now that he holds one of the state’s most powerful offices it seemed, going into the session, that his reform agenda would be better positioned than ever before.

The president of Texans for Education Reform, Julie Linn, certainly believes so. She boasted in a January editorial about the potential for success under Patrick’s leadership. “The momentum is in place to make 2015 a banner year for education reform in Texas,” Linn wrote.

Teacher groups and public school advocates have a different take. As they see it, Patrick’s agenda is not a recipe for well-intended reforms but an attack on chronically underfunded public schools.

“There is a concerted, well-funded attempt to dismantle public education,” Rev. Charles Foster Johnson, executive director of the public school advocacy group Pastors for Texas Children, told the Observer in March. Johnson blamed elected officials who aim to “demonize and blame teachers and schools for the social ills and pathologies of our society at large.”

Patrick’s education proposals tap the reform zeitgeist that has increasingly gained political favor, both in Texas and nationally, during the last decade.
Patrick’s education proposals tap the reform zeitgeist that has increasingly gained political favor, both in Texas and nationally, during the last decade. From President Obama to presidential hopefuls Jeb Bush and Sen. Ted Cruz, education reform has created odd bedfellows, obscuring policy fault lines between Democrats and Republicans like perhaps no other issue.

Reform critics, though, point out that test scores have always closely tracked family income rather than school quality. They note how schools with high rates of poverty are more likely to be low-performing if the state uses test scores as the primary measuring stick. “The real problem,” Johnson said, “is that we don’t have the political will to assign those schools the resources they need.”

Regardless of where you stand in the debate, with less than two weeks left in the 84th Legislature we can begin to gauge the success of Patrick’s reform agenda, much of which is being carried by his successor as chair of the Senate Education Committee, Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood).

Note how politicians like Dan Patrick, now in the powerful position of Lt. Governor, are quick to bash the public schools after having defunded them by billions of dollars. Patrick, a former radio talk show host of the right, loves vouchers. He apparently does not care that sending public money to religious schools does not improve educational opportunity, although it does weaken public schools.

Every proposal under consideration–like the parent trigger–has failed to make a difference anywhere. Every one of them is straight out of the far-right ALEC playbook.

A-F grading of schools, a Jeb Bush invention, is a typical useless reformster proposal. The letter grades reflect the socioeconomic status of the students in the school. Imagine if your child came home from school with a report that had one letter on it; you would be outraged. That is how crazy it is to think that an entire school can be given a letter grade; it is pointless and it does nothing to make schools better. Kids from affluent districts are miraculously in A schools, kids from poverty are in low-rated schools. What is the point of the grading other than to stigmatize schools that enroll poor kids and are typically under-resourced? I guess the point is to label them as failures so they can be privatized or the kids can get vouchers to go to backwoods religious schools where they will have an uncertified teacher and learn creation “science.”

Texans are a hardy bunch. Those who are fighting for public education have a steep uphill climb. But they won’t give up. They launched a bipartisan coalition to block the testing Vampire that was eating public education, and they can work together to save public education for the state’s children. It won’t be easy. But it matters to the future of the state.

A recent Marist poll showed that Governor Cuomo’s approval ratings fell to 37%, the lowest number since he was first elected. Among Democrats, his approval rating was down to 43%. Perhaps he is pushing vouchers in hopes of bolstering his standing among Catholics and Orthodox Jews. But it is risky. Vouchers have never been endorsed by the public in an election.

The Albany Times-Union is the newspaper of the state capitol in Néw York. Its editorial board penned this scathing editorial about Governor Cuomo’s war on the state’s public schools (read it all, not just this excerpt):

“A governor who perennially complains about schools’ insatiable appetite for money has suddenly found millions of dollars to burn though for his Parental Choice in Education Act. It’s a public-private partnership of the worst sort – the public pays the tab, private schools and wealthy donors reap the benefits.

“Perhaps Mr. Cuomo sees this as another way to break what he calls the “public education monopoly” – as if public schools were not something in which we all have a stake. But Mr. Cuomo seems to have conflated public education with his animosity for teachers’ unions.

“His proposal would allow donors to take a tax credit of 75 percent of their donations to nonprofit education foundations, up to $1 million. Senate and Assembly versions of the bill would allow up to 90 percent. That’s money shaved off a person’s or a corporation’s tax bill – and they could roll it from year to year if the credit exceeded their tax liability.

“That this is really a tax break for affluent donors is evidenced by the cumbersome process involved. The state would require taxpayers to apply for the credit before even making a contribution, by first filling out a form saying how much they planned to donate and to whom. It’s a program for folks with accountants on speed dial rather than for average New Yorkers who just want to help out their parish school or local charter school.

“The governor’s program would cost taxpayers $70 million this year, only $20 million of which could go to public schools. The Legislature proposes $150 million, rising to $300 million by 2018; up to half could go to public schools, the other half to foundations or other entities benefitting private schools. But after paying taxes, who’s lining up to write another check to public schools?”

Governor Andrew Cuomo has proposed a tuition tax credit bill that is widely recognized as a backdoor voucher. The tax credits would benefit wealthy individuals and corporations. Cuomo has said this measure is a high-priority for him, and he has campaigned with Catholic clerics and in Orthodox Jewish communities.

The rationale, as with all privatization proposals, is to help low-income students escape “failing schools.” In fact, the plan will drain at least $150 million annually from the state’s education funds, which will harm far more low-income students than those who depart for religious schools.

Bruce Baker has taken a close look at the way the tuition tax credit actually works, and it is very disturbing. He notes that an Orthodox Jewish sect created a tiny village in Néw York called Kiryas Joel. It was started in the late 1970s, is populated mainly by Satmar Jews, whose first language is Yiddish. The village sought recognition from the state as an independent school district, which would have been exclusively religious in nature. In 1989, the legislature complied, but the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the law.

Baker quotes this summary:

“In a 6-to-3 decision, the Court held that the statute’s purpose was to exclude all but those who lived in and practiced the village enclave’s extreme form of Judaism. This exclusionary intent failed to respect the Establishment Clause’s requirement that states maintain a neutral position with respect to religion, because it clearly created a school zone which excluded those who were non-religious and/or did not practice Samtar Hasidism. Indeed, the very essence of the Establishment Clause is that government should not demonstrate a preference for one religion over another, or religion over non-religion in general.”

Ironically, as Baker shows, Cuomo’s proposal would give Kiryas Joel what it lost at the Supreme Court.

Folks, as vouchers and tuition tax credits spread, we are heading into uncharted waters: the state will subsidize Protestant schools, Catholic schools, Jewish schools, Muslim schools, evangelical schools, and schools of every other religion and sect.

Is this about better education? What do you think?

Our Founding Fathers wrote the Constitution and the Amendments with full knowledge of the religious wars that had devastated Europe for centuries. They wanted Americans to have freedom of religion but they did not want the state to establish or sponsor any religion. They were wiser than us.

For Immediate Release:

Contact:
Wendy Liberatore, Statewide Communications Coordinator, AQE
wendy@aqeny.org
(518) 432-5315 ext. 102; cell (518) 491-0454

PRESS RELEASE
Parent, Religious, Labor Groups and Education Advocates Fight to Block Gov. Cuomo’s Flawed Tax Break for Wealthy

ALBANY (May, 18, 2015) – Education advocates, religious and labor organizations and parent groups have joined forces to block Gov. Cuomo’s education tax credit proposal that he has deceitfully dubbed Parental Choice in Education Act.

Disguised as a way to provide needy children with a private school education, the act is a tax credit designed to reimburse wealthy donors who want to contribute large sums of money to private schools. Under the act, state taxpayers will reimburse 75 percent of the donor’s contributions. In the first year alone, the act will cost the state $150 million.

The three dozen organizations decry the tax break as one that siphons taxpayer money from public schools and funnels it into the pockets of millionaires and billionaires. As part of the effort to block the act, the groups will launch a social media campaign and will release more information on the tax break in the forthcoming weeks.

The groups have also released a video that underscores how the act will further burden taxpayers and debilitate public schools.

The long list of opponents to the act are: A. Philip Randolph Institute, AFSCME, Advocates for Children of New York, Alliance for Quality Education, Balcony, Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, Citizen Action of New York, Citizen Budget Commission, CSEA, DC 37-AFSCME, La Fuente, League of Women Voters of New York State, Long Island Jobs with Justice, Long Island Progressive Coalition, Make the Road, NAACP-New York State Chapter, New York City Council of School Supervisors and Administrators, New York Civil Liberties Union, New York State AFL-CIO, New York State Association of School Business Officials, New York State Federation of School Administrators, New York State Parent Teacher Association, New York State School Boards Association, New York State United Teachers, New Yorkers for Fiscal Fairness, Public Employees Federation, Reform Jewish Voice of New York State, Rochester – Finger Lakes Pride @ Work , Rural Schools Association of New York State, School Administrators Association of New York State, Strong Economy for All, The Black Institute, The Council of School Superintendents, United Federation of Teachers, and Working Families Party.

“New York cannot afford another poorly targeted tax break,” said Carol Kellermann, President of the Citizen Budget Commission. “The Education Tax Credit would be a costly subsidy for private education.”

“We are concerned that the proposed education tax credit will allow individuals to divert money from the tax stream and send it to favored schools, scholarships and other programs, including religious programming, with no public oversight,” said Robb Smith, Executive Director of Interfaith Impact of New York State. “This bill is designed to permit wealthy donors to make an end run around the New York constitution, which prohibits taxpayer funding of religious education. In the end, the taxpayers will have to make up for the money that is being diverted. We believe in the wisdom of the separation of church and state. We want to see New York fully fund its public school system, not take even more money away from our schools through this misguided legislation.”

“The Reform Jewish Movement affirms the deep commitment of the Reform Movement to the principle of separation of religion and the state which has safeguarded religious liberty for all in this country,” said Barbara Zaron, co-chair of Reform Jewish Voice of New York State (RJV). “This commitment and an equally deep commitment to public education as the cornerstone of the American democratic process drives us to affirm our opposition to any form of governmental aid to elementary and secondary schools under the supervision or control of any religious denomination. Consistent with this traditional opposition of Reform Judaism, we oppose the proposals to allow tax credits for tuition paid and/or scholarships awarded to students of non-public schools.”

“We have yet to see any proof that the education tax credit would address the fiscal issues that face religious schools,” said Barbara Bartoletti, Legislative Director for the League of Women Voters in New York State. “Public schools students should not have to pay the price. We cannot drain public dollars to benefit privately operated schools.”
“Our public schools are called upon to fulfill our state constitution’s promise of a sound basic education for all children, whatever their circumstances, wherever they come from, whenever they arrive,”said Robert Reidy, Executive Director of the New York State Council of School Superintendents. “State government’s first obligation needs to be to honor its promises to public schools, by ending the Gap Elimination Adjustment and rebuilding the Foundation Aid formula – not to launch an expansive new commitment to private schools serving only some students.”

“Providing wealthy campaign contributors tax breaks while public school students are deprived of education resources is outrageous,” said Karen Scharff, Executive Director of Citizen Action of New York. “This plan is nothing but another million-dollar giveaway of public money to super wealthy donors who fund political campaigns.”

“The Governor’s new Parental Choice in Education Act is a veiled attempt to give away our tax dollars to his campaign donors,” said Jasmine Gripper, Legislative Coordinator for the Alliance for Quality Education. “Why should New Yorkers pay for wealthy donors contributions to private schools? This is a multi-million dollar expense for the state and will divert more money away from already struggling public schools. School funding policies should not be made on the whim to a handful of wealthy individuals and corporations. Instead of prioritizing his campaign donors, the Governor should be focused on supporting our public schools, which serve all kids.”

“The private school tax credit scheme Governor Cuomo is pushing is really just more Albany business as usual: the seven billionaires behind the ‘Educational Fund’ gave $4.6 million dollars in campaign cash to get themselves a big tax break,” said Michael Kink, Executive Director of Strong Economy for All Coalition. “Their ‘educational fund’ seems to have done more educating of influential politicians — particularly Dean Skelos and the Senate Republicans — than of students.

“New York needs to drop the reverse Robin Hood shenanigans and stop trying to fund private and religious schools at the expense of public schools,” said New York Civil Liberties Union Executive Director Donna Lieberman. “Education is the foundation for future success for both New York’s children and the state’s financial well-being. Transferring public money to private schools undermines both. It also violates the foundational principle that bars the government from endorsing religion.”

“People make a conscious decision to pay for a private school education instead of using public schools, just like they make a decision to use a private golf course over a public one, or a private beach club over a public swimming pool, are we to subsidize every person’s decision to use a private facility over a public one, where would it end,” said Michael Borges, Executive Director of the New York State Association of School Business Officials.

“Despite its new name, the governor’s education tax credit scheme is essentially a voucher program designed to reward the hedge fund billionaires who contribute to his campaign,” said New York State United Teachers President Karen E. Magee. “The fact is, the governor’s misguided plan would only aggravate the challenges that confront our poorest districts by siphoning critical funding away from students and schools that are most in need.”

“The state’s priority should not be giving tax breaks to the wealthy, but rather investing in its public schools to ensure all students have the resources needed to succeed,” said New York State United Teachers Executive Vice President Andrew Pallotta. “Given that one-third of our school districts in 2015-2016 will be operating with less aid than six years ago, our focus must be on adequately funding public education — not rewarding wealthy campaign contributors at the expense of children in need.”

“This tax credit is just another scheme to reward billionaires. It gives them the power to send money to their favorite private schools, and takes a big chunk out of their tax bill,” said Michael Mulgrew, President of the United Federation of Teachers. “At the same time, it drains money from public schools. Supporters can use all the smoke and mirrors that they want, but in the end this is scam that will hurt public school students.”

“New York’s first obligation is to use tax dollars to adequately fund public education. Yet, there are great disparities in school district financial resources throughout the state. Lawmakers must remedy that situation before they provide tax incentives that would benefit non-public schools,” said Timothy G. Kremer, Executive director of the New York State School Boards Association.

“For New York State to consider diverting available funds away from public education while it has a law that unconstitutionally withholds funds from school districts is unconscionable,”said David A. Little, Executive Director of the Rural Schools Association of New York State. “If that the state cannot afford its public educational system, it certainly can’t afford a second one.”

“Our first priority must be to fully fund our public schools,” New York State AFL-CIO President Mario Cilento said. “We need a financial commitment to provide our public education system with the necessary resources needed to ensure all children get the educational opportunities they deserve. An investment in our public schools is an investment in our future.”

###

Milwaukee is the original laboratory of corporate reform. Since 1990, it has had a thriving charter sector and a thriving voucher sector. Competition was supposed to lift all boats, but it didn’t. All three sectors are doing poorly. Neither the voucher schools nor the charter schools outperform the public schools. The public schools have far more students eith disabilities than the other sectors, which don’t want them. On NAEP, Milwaukee is one of the nation’s lowest performing urban districts.

So what do reformers want now? To set in motion a process to turn all of Milwaukee into a privately-managed system, all charters and vouchers. Failure never deters them from more privatization.

Larry Miller is a member of the Milwaukee public school board. In this post, he describes the current proposal to cripple and destroy the Milwaukee public school system, offered by two suburban Republicans.

The plan, sponsored by Republicans Rep. Dale Kooyega and Sen. Alberta Darling, allows a single unelected official to turn five low-scoring schools over to a charter operator or a voucher school every year.

Miller writes:

“For one, the plan places authority over these schools, dubbed “opportunity schools,” in a single commissioner, appointed by Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele. Theoretically, Abele could provide some oversight of that person, and to a certain extent that commissioner will have to follow state and federal laws.

“But unlike in MPS, there is no democratically-elected governance board; the proposal does not allow the elected Milwaukee County Board any oversight, despite putting the commissioner directly under the county executive (who is elected only once every four years; there are school board—and county board—elections every two years). All power to evaluate and close failing MPS schools lies with this one individual, as does the power to authorize, fund, and monitor the success or failure of these new opportunity schools.

“Let me repeat part of that again: A single, unelected, unknown “commissioner” will absolutely have the authority to close public schools operated by the democratically-elected Milwaukee Board of School Directors, confiscate the buildings, material, and students (maybe? see below) within those schools, and turn them over to private, possibly religious, possibly for-profit operators.

“The proposal suggests in at least two ways that the problem with failing schools is teachers, though thinking only about teachers is stupidly reductive. Any staff in the schools selected to be closed and handed off can reapply for their jobs, but they have to sign a contract that they will not seek representation by a union. Teachers unions, of course, had their authority gutted by 2011’s Act 10, so I am unsure why Kooyenga and Darling fear unions in their “opportunity schools.”

“They also seem to fear fully licensed teachers. The plan allows the commissioner to grant licenses to whoever wants one to teach in these schools. Let’s be clear: the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction makes no provision for such a thing to happen. The federal law governing schools makes no provision for such a thing to happen.

“There are well-established emergency licenses and even alternative certification programs available, sure. But this power, residing in a single individual with, potentially, no expertise or qualification in education, to unilaterally grant licenses to any random person is unprecedented. A quick googling turns up no other program anywhere in the country—even in the “recovery zones” in New Orleans or Detroit on which this program is modeled—that allows a commissioner like this one to license teachers on his own.

“And, really, does anyone believe that the problem in these schools is that the teachers there are licensed and represented by the union? If that is the problem, then why are the top schools in the state full of licensed, qualified teachers? Would Kooyenga and Darling have the nerve to walk into MPS’s Reagan or Fernwood Montessori, or for that matter, Brookfield East or Maple Dale in their home districts, and demand they discharge all the licensed teachers in their employ? Of course not.”

Both legislators stressed their admiration for the current Milwaukee public school superintendent.

“Kooyenga said they are not trying to undermine MPS Superintendent Darienne Driver, but help her by allowing other parties to try something radically different in the district’s most challenged programs.

“Darling added that she thought highly of Driver, and that she would like to see her be considered for the role of commissioner — as long as the school board isn’t involved in the turnaround schools.”

However, Superintendent Druver said that a change of governance would not address the children’s problems.

She said:

“Driver said the impact of poverty on low test scores would not be alleviated by a change in school governance. She also pointed to the fact that private voucher schools have no better performance record overall than the city’s public schools.

“We can’t go to the quick fix,” she said Monday during an education conference at Marquette University. “I just beg everyone: Don’t go to what sounds sexy. Let’s go to the data.”

“Driver said any new plan to address low-performing schools in Milwaukee should also address chronically underperforming voucher and charter schools — not just district schools. She also highlighted programs already in place at some of the district’s lowest-performing schools that have started to show signs of improvement.”

The plan got poor reviews from the state superintendent and the head of the Milwaukee teachers’ union:

“Bob Peterson, president of the Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association union, said the plan was “an insult” to the Milwaukee community and part of a larger plan to privatize schools throughout the state.

“For two white suburban legislators to propose that the white county executive appoint a ‘Commissioner’ who will have ‘parallel authority’ to the democratically elected school board is a racist attack on the democratic rights of the citizens of Milwaukee, the majority of whom are black and brown,” Peterson said in a statement.

“State Superintendent Tony Evers said Monday at the Marquette conference that improving schools doesn’t hinge on changing governance but on hard work and adequate resources.

“Looking for a silver bullet is a fool’s errand,” he said.”

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