Milwaukee’s public schools typify the kind of school district now undergoing state takeover in a wave of such imposition of “recovery” or “achievement” districts being rushed through state legislatures. The bills are often fast-tracked without legislative debate and without input from the communities where the takeovers are being imposed. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel describes the provision—log-rolled into Wisconsin’s state’s budget when it passed on July 12, that grants Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele, “broad authority to oversee a special district in Milwaukee for the city’s most troubled public schools…. The Program, devised by Republican state lawmakers from the suburbs, is designed to take some of the district’s lowest performing schools from the control of the Milwaukee School Board and put them under the control of Abele and a commissioner he selects, or directly under MPS Superintendent Darienne Driver, if she chooses to use that authority.”
But the Milwaukee community is pushing back. On September 18, the Journal Sentinel describes protesters “walking in” (instead of walking out) at 100 public schools across the city. At one of the rallies, Lukas Wierer, a public school civics teacher, declared: “We live in a representative democracy. We get to elect our leaders who make decisions for us. What these actions (legislative takeover) are saying is, ‘You the people of Milwaukee are not capable of choosing your own leaders, that representative democracy is not for you.'”
Kim Schroeder, president of the Milwaukee Teachers Education Association, dissected the history of the state’s intervention in the Milwaukee School District for Jeff Bryant, who describes the conversation in the newsletter of the Education Opportunity Network: “He (Schroeder) argues that funding what are essentially three separate school systems—the private voucher schools, the privately operated charters, and Milwaukee Public Schools—is driving the district toward financial insolvency. ‘We’re reaching a tipping point. If more of our schools are chosen for privatization, MPS won’t exist in three to fine years.’ His concerns echo the MPS board president’s warning earlier this year that, according to an independent news outlet, the Walker-devised plan ‘would bankrupt the district by hijacking money and facilities from the district and into private but taxpayer-supported schools.'”
The Milwaukee “walk in” on September 18 was organized by a coalition of school and community organizations: Centro Hispano, Parents for Public Schools, Voces de la Frontera, Wisconsin Jobs Now, NAACP Milwaukee Branch, Milwaukee Teachers Education Association, Milwaukee Inner-City Congregations Allied for Hope (MICAH), and Schools & Communities United. In their statement, published in the Journal Sentinal, leaders of these organizations declare: “The plan threatens the entire Milwaukee school district—not just the schools identified for takeover. More than 40% of children in Milwaukee already attend privately run charter or voucher schools. When taxpayer money is taken away from public schools to fund privately run charter and voucher schools, public school students lose funding and opportunities… The takeover plan offers no new ideas or resources to help children succeed. Milwaukee already has 25 years of experience with a failed voucher school program…. The takeover schools will leave students without critical services… School takeovers will eliminate good jobs in our city—particularly for African-Americans and Latinos…. Most significantly, the school takeover plan eliminates democratic local control, disenfranchises black and Latino communities, and punishes mostly students of color.”
This blog recently reported on the state takeovers that have been quite recently imposed without the will of local voters in Nashville and Memphis (Tennessee), Detroit (Michigan), Little Rock (Arkansas), Youngstown (Ohio); proposed in New York State; and up for state referendum in Georgia. These add to the school districts controlled by their states for much longer—a decade in New Orleans (Louisiana) and two decades in Newark (New Jersey).
This blog also very recently covered a report released in August by the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools, which describes the conditions that typically define the school districts being seized for takeover by their states: “This fall, tens of thousands of students are returning to schools that have been placed under state authority. Elected school boards have been dissolved or stripped of their power and voters have been denied the right to local governance of their public schools. These state takeovers are happening almost exclusively in African American and Latino schools and districts—in many of the same communities that have experienced decades of underinvestment in their public schools and consistent attacks on their property, agency and self-determination. In the past decade, these takeovers have not only removed schools from local authorities, they are increasingly being used to facilitate the permanent transfer of the schools from public to private management.”