Archives for category: Milwaukee

A great victory for real education in Milwaukee, where the business community and politicians have been obsessed with “choice” for 30 years. From the FB page of the Milwaukee Teachers Education Association.

This is a victory for students!

This is a victory for real education!

A Big Victory for Music in MPS!
70 photos5 hours ago
Last night the School Board decided to take the first step in moving towards giving the students of Milwaukee the schools they deserve by unanimously passing an initiative to bring music back to ALL MPS schools. This was a big first step in bringing our schools back to what they once were. Thanks to all who wrote letters, sent emails, made phone calls, and testified at the committee hearing on Tuesday to make this happen. We will win the schools our students deserve! Photos are from Tuesday’s committee hearing. #MPSproud


Peter Greene fact-checked Betsy DeVos’s “back to school” speech at a religious school in Milwaukee and discovered that all of her facts were wrong. But facts, in DeVos’s worldview, are tiresome and unnecessary.

Perhaps most egregious was her paean of praise to Polly Williams, an African American state legislator who supported school choice until she realized she had been duped. DeVos ignores Williams’ change of heart and pretends that she was a true believer until the end. The reality in Milwaukee was that the voucher program was bankrolled by the far-right Bradley Foundation, which used Polly Williams. She eventually became disillusioned.

Peter Greene writes:

DeVos…chose to invoke Annette “Polly” Williams, the mother of school choice in Wisconsin. The Democratic politician and activist wrote the first school choice legislation in the country (adopted in 1989) and became a popular speaker on the issue, particularly to conservative audiences.

But Williams became disenchanted with the school choice movement. Her original legislation did not include religious schools, but was expanded to do so five years later. Williams took to calling the voucher program a “Catholic movement.” She expressed displeasure with some of the folks, like Lamar Alexander and Bill Bennett, who swooped in to speak. She accused leaders of exploiting black and poor families, and of leaving poor families behind with the program expansion. 75% of voucher recipients were not escaping the public system, because they had never been in it. She was critical of education measures taken by Governor Scott Walker, whose supporters have included the DeVos family.

Williams told an interviewer, “Our intent was never to destroy the public schools.” When accused of drifting away from the movement, she would reply, “I haven’t changed. The people around me have changed.”

It’s an odd choice for DeVos to invoke Williams, who seems to have viewed folks like DeVos as having hijacked the charter movement. But DeVos seems determined to launch, or at least lay a foundation for,a national voucher program, and she’s going to paint a favorable picture with whatever brush she has handy.



Valerie Strauss is not surprised yet disappointed that Betsy DeVos kicked off her “back to school tour” at a religious school in Milwaukee, flaunting her contempt for the vast majority of students who attend public schools. By doing so, she showed her agenda: privatization of public schools and transfer of public money to religious schools.

It is ironic that she chose Milwaukee to demonstrate the benefits of school choice. Milwaukee has had choice for three decades: charters, vouchers, and a shrinking public school sector.

All three sectors are faring poorly. On the National Assessment of Educational Progress, Milwaukee is one of the lowest performing cities in the nation.  Students in religious schools, charters, and public schools are doing poorly.

Competition raised no boats. Milwaukee demonstrates the failure of school choice.

Betsy DeVos either doesn’t know or doesn’t care.



As the reputation and fortunes of the corporate reform movement sag, its allies are redoubling their efforts to spread charters and vouchers, as we have seen in recent attacks on public education in Florida, Texas, and elsewhere.

Jeff Bryant writes here about the successful resistance to privatization in Milwaukee, which has had vouchers and charters for decades, with nothing to show for it but three low-performing sectors.

He writes:

Despite the decades-long effort to privatize Milwaukee’s local school, recent events in that community have revealed how public school advocates can successfully fight back against the forces of privatization.

In Milwaukee’s recent school board election, a slate of five candidates swept into officeunder a banner of turning back years of efforts to privatize the district’s schools. The win for public schools was noteworthy not only because it took place in a long-standing bastion of school choice, but also because the winning candidates were backed by an emerging coalition that adopted a bold, new politics that demands candidates take up a full-throated opposition to school privatization rather than cater to the middle.

Unsurprisingly, the coalition includes the local teachers’ union, who’ve long been skeptical of charters, vouchers, and other privatization ideas, but joining the teachers in their win are progressive activists, including the Wisconsin chapter of the Working Families Party, and local civil rights advocacy groups, including Black Leaders Organizing for Communities and Voces de la Frontera.

Unifying this diverse coalition was an uncompromising political argument about what makes public schools truly public and why that distinction matters.





Former Milwaukee School Board President Michael Bonds was convicted of accepting bribes to help a Philadelphia charter school operator. 

As part of an agreement with prosecutors, Bonds, 60, pleaded guilty to two counts in federal court in Philadelphia. He faces up to 10 years in prison and a $500,000 fine at his sentencing, tentatively set for September, but which will depend on when he completes his pledged cooperation with an ongoing federal investigation…

Bonds served on the MPS board from 2007 until he abruptly resigned in July 2018, nine months before his term was to end. 

He was charged last month with conspiracy and violations of the Travel Act for taking kickbacks in return for votes beneficial to Universal Cos. between 2014 and 2016. Two unnamed Universal executives were implicated in the scheme but have not been charged.

Veteran Milwaukee journalist Alan Borsuk described the affair as “a scandal with few rivals in the recent history of Milwaukee education.”  He sums up the details.

Universal Academy. Universal came into Milwaukee riding some celebrity appeal — its founder, Kenny Gamble, was a soul music star — and a reputation for running some decent charter schools, some housing projects and other ventures in its home town, Philadelphia.

Universal also initially named a well-regarded Milwaukee educator as its local leader. Ronn Johnson had founded and led the YMCA Young Leaders Academy. But months before Universal opened, Johnson was charged with sexually assaulting several students years earlier. A few months later, he died in a fire at his home in Brown Deer. His death was ruled a suicide.

The president and CEO of Universal in Philadelphia, Rahim Islam, stepped in to oversee the Milwaukee operation and spent a lot of time in the city. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, he is one of the main figures in the bribery scheme involving Bonds. 

At one point, Universal schools enrolled 1,000 students.

Perhaps because enrollment didn’t meet expectations and then started to fall, and perhaps because Universal was overextended with the large amount of MPS property it was using, Universal began to slide. Islam became unreachable (he had been glad to talk in early times). Leadership of the schools kept changing. It was clear Universal wasn’t investing in Milwaukee any further.

And things got worse. First two schools closed. Then, the third. It was done abruptly, leaving kids and staff in the lurch.

And now a former Board President is headed to jail. Very sad.




Michael Bonds, former president of the Milwaukee Public Schools’ Board, was charged in federal court for taking kickbacks from a charter chain. 

“Bonds is accused of conspiracy and violations of the Travel Act for allegedly accepting kickbacks from executives of the Philadelphia-based Universal Companies in return for votes beneficial to the company between 2014 and 2016. Two unnamed executives of the Philadelphia-based company were implicated in the scheme but not charged.

“According to the charging document, the executives used fake invoices to make payments totaling $6,000 to African-American Books and Gifts, a company purportedly created by Bonds. Efforts to locate a Wisconsin company by that name were not immediately successful.

“The document says Bonds also received “things of value” but did not elaborate. It is seeking $18,000 in forfeitures from Bonds.

“The document identifies the executives only as Universal’s president and chief executive officer, and its chief financial officer. The Philadelphia Inquirer used tax records to identify those individuals as former CEO Rahim Islam and current CFO Shahied Dawan.

“The charges come five months after the FBI raided Universal’s offices and Islam’s home.

“Universal was chartered by MPS to operate the Universal Academy for the College Bound in three Milwaukee school buildings from 2013 until it abruptly left the district in 2017, leaving hundreds of children stranded in the middle of the school year.

“The school received at least $11 million in taxpayer funds in its first two years, according to the court document, yet it struggled academically and financially from the beginning.”




A progressive slate backed by the Working Families Party and the Milwaukee teachers’ union swept the school board election in Milwaukee. 

I received this statement from Rob Duffey of the Working Families Party:

“Last night in Milwaukee the Wisconsin Working Families Party won big, electing a slate of five pro-public school champions who flipped the Milwaukee city school board from a pro-privatization majority to an 8-1 public school orientation. Milwaukee has long served as a laboratory for experimenting with charter schools and voucher programs to no benefit for students. Wisconsin Working Families Party recruited four of the five winning candidates and coordinated a winning strategy that will profoundly affect the decision making for how system budget priorities are set and how private charter schools will be held accountable.”

The slate was led by public education activist and former union president Bob Peterson.

“This is a day to celebrate Milwaukee’s support for public education,” said Peterson, who had gathered with supporters at the Art Bar in Riverwest.

“I look forward — the entire slate looks forward — to working with all the stakeholders, the entire school board, parents, students, the administration and elected officials locally and in Madison to defend and improve our public schools,” he said.

District by district, we will reclaim our schools.


Recently elected Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers has proposed freezing voucher enrollments and charter expansion. 

Neither charters nor vouchers have been more successful than public schools. Milwaukee, which has both, is one of the nation’s lowest performing school districts on the NAEP.

Republicans in the legislature have vowed to protect privatization of public funding. They are determined to eliminate local control of public schools, whichused to be a bedrock tenet of Republican thinking.

The Journal-Sentinel reports:

MADISON – Gov. Tony Evers in his first state budget is seeking to undo expansions of private voucher schools and independent charter schools passed by Republicans over the last decade.

Aides say the proposals are an attempt to reduce property taxes and stabilize what the Democratic governor sees as two parallel systems of education in Wisconsin.

But Republicans who control the Legislature are likely to block many, if not all, of the measures Evers wants.

Evers, the former chief of the state’s education agency, is seeking to freeze the number of students who may enroll in private voucher schools across the state, including in Milwaukee where the nation’s first voucher program began nearly 30 years ago.

The governor’s budget also proposes to suspend the creation of new independent charter schools until 2023 and eliminates a program aimed at Milwaukee that requires county officials to turn persistently poor-performing schools into charter schools without district officials’ approval.

“I’ve said all along that addressing the pressing issues facing our state starts with education,” Evers said in a statement Sunday. “We have to fully fund our public schools, and we have to make sure voucher schools are accountable and transparent, not just for kids and parents, but for Wisconsin taxpayers, too.”

Advocates for private school vouchers see the proposals much differently:

“Evers’ budget would end school choice as Wisconsin knows it,” said C.J. Szafir, executive vice president of the conservative law firm Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty.

Aides to Evers provided the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel with an overview of proposed changes to the state’s four private voucher programs and its charter schools, some of which were proposed by Evers in September through the Department of Public Instruction’s budget request.

Evers as state schools superintendent oversaw the state’s 422 school districts and its private schools from 2009 until being sworn in as governor earlier this year.

In that time, Evers repeatedly argued the state could not properly fund its public schools while also expanding taxpayer-funded private voucher and charter school options without a funding increase for public schools.

Republicans under former Gov. Scott Walker backed aggressive growth in taxpayer-funded subsidies for students living in middle and low-income households who want to attend private schools, arguing students who lack the financial means to move to a higher-performing school should be able to enroll in them anyway.

Walker and Republicans also implemented new ways to create independent charter schools in liberal-leaning school districts that have long blocked them — like Madison and Milwaukee.

Democrats, teachers unions and public school advocates have opposed the expansions of alternatives to traditional public schools, which coincided with budget proposals that for the most part either cut funding or held funding flat for public schools.

Evers’ budget proposal seeks to pump the brakes on those expansions, following heavy criticism of the statewide voucher programs subsidizing large groups of students already attending private schools without taxpayer-funded help.

The Network for Public Exucation Action Fund is delighted to endorse Bob Peterson for the Milwaukee School Board. Seldom has there ever been a better qualified candidate. Maybe never.

NPE Action enthusiastically endorses Bob Peterson for the at-large seat on the Board of School Directors of the Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS).

Bob started as a Paraprofessional in MPS and later became a bilingual educator, teaching in the classroom for 30 years. Bob was active in his union for 35 years, including service on the executive board of the Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association (MTEA). He was MTEA president for four years immediately following Gov. Walker’s ACT 10 legislation.

Bob is also a founding editor of the Rethinking Schools magazine.

Bob’s campaign message is clear. “We must come together to defend and transform Milwaukee Public Schools.”

He told NPE Action that “MPS has been ground zero for school privatization starting in 1990. The privatizers continue to increase private voucher schools and privately-run charter schools. We need to simultaneously fight privatization attempts AND improve our public schools.”

He plans to fight privatization and improve Milwaukee’s public schools by building “a social movement to secure adequate and equitable funding so that we can lower class sizes, have strong professional development on issues of restorative practices, anti-racist culturally relevant curriculum, social-emotional learning, and the replacement of mass standardized testing with forms of authentic assessment.”

Please head to the polls on November 6th and cast your vote for Bob Peterson.

Milwaukee has been a target for the privatization movement for years. First, the legislature imposed vouchers, without bothering to ask for a vote by the local population. Then it imposed charter schools. Meanwhile, as funds flowed out of the public schools, student performance stagnated in all three sectors. All the miracles of “choice” turned out to be “mirages,” not “miracles.” Today, nearly 30 years after the arrival of choice, the public sector is competing with the other two sectors, and there has been no benefit to students. In fact, Milwaukee is one of the lowest performing districts in the nation on the NAEP tests. No boats were lifted.

In a few weeks, the people of Milwaukee will have the chance to elect a leader of the Resistance to the city school board: Bob Peterson.

Bob taught fifth grade for nearly 30 years in the Milwaukee public schools. He is a past president of the Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association.

There is no one running for the school board in Milwaukee who is as well-informed, as principled, and as dedicated as Bob Peterson.

To learn more, please check out his Facebook page, if you are a member of FB.

I enthusiastically endorse his candidacy and urge you to vote for him.