GOP Legislators Propose Plan to Takeover Milwaukee’s Poorest Public Schools – by Bob Peterson

Photo credit: Barbara Miner


On Friday state Representative Kooyenga from Brookfield circulated a new version of a “recovery zone” proposal that he and Senator Alberta Darling have been promoting for several months.

The newest version, called the “Opportunity Schools and Partnership Program”is beset with problems as described in the statement below written by Bob Peterson, MTEA President on May 9, 2015.

The plan by Darling and Kooyenga to take over several of Milwaukee’s public schools is an insult to the Milwaukee community and is part of a larger plan to privatize schools throughout the state. I call on all people who believe in public schools and democracy to oppose this plan.

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. The Commissioner will be able to privatize five schools a year under this proposal.

This proposal is replete with false assumptions, misguided assertions, and unworkable ideas. It would be laughable if not for the fact that anti-Milwaukee bias and anti-public education sentiment among some power brokers in Madison make this threat real.

Twenty-five years of experience with voucher and charter schools in Milwaukee has proven that turning schools over to private operators is not a silver bullet for improving academic achievement. There is no guarantee that students at a privatized school will perform better.



The false assumptions and assertions include the following:

1) The basic “solution” proposed by Darling and Kooyenga is that their “new governance structure in MPS [is] to free students from nonperforming schools.” The assertion that there is a need to provide “new opportunities” to parents and students ignores the fact that the city of Milwaukee has more school options for parents to choose from than virtually any other city in the nation.

2) The assumption that privatizing schools” will improve educational achievement in Milwaukee ignores the fact that after a quarter of a century of massive school “choice” in Milwaukee, there is little evidence showing improved educational achievement.

3) Labeling schools “failing” due to low test scores is wrong. There are a multiplicity of factors – such as low attendance, concentrated poverty, impact of high levels of students with special needs or English language learners – that may contribute to low scores. This does not mean the school is failing. In fact, it is a signal that other institutions in our society are failing.

4) The assertion that “consequences of these ‘failing schools’ are a significant factor in contributing to Milwaukee’s declining economic and social health” shows little understanding of the social, economic, and political history of our city. It ignores the long history of racial segregation in housing, schools and jobs, the devastating consequences of the corporate decisions to move tens of thousands of family sustaining jobs out of Milwaukee, and the hyper-segregation and growing inequality and joblessness that plagues our city.

5) There is no cost estimate or funding source provided for the “Commissioner’s” work, which according to the proposal, includes doing a qualitative analysis of 55 schools and directly managing several schools or supervising charter operators.

6) Under the proposal parents, students and community members are stripped of their democratic rights as to the future of their schools because power will be transferred from the democratically elected school board to an appointed “Commissioner.” The Commissioner will have unilateral authority to choose schools that will be taken from the public school system and privatized.

7) Educators at the privatized schools will be required to “waive current and future privileges to be represented by any union,” which is contrary to federal law governing private sector employers.

8) Apparently the educators at the schools established by the Commissioner will not have to have a teacher or administrator license because, “employees shall receive non-portable licenses as requested by the commissioner.”