Kooyenga and Darling’s plan to kill the Milwaukee Public Schools

It’s out there now, the Republican plan (pdf) to start peeling off Milwaukee Public Schools and handing them over to private operators. And it’s awful.

Sponsored by suburban Republicans Rep. Dale Kooyega and Sen. Alberta Darling, it is full of bad ideas and presents a possible future for MPS that is bleaker than you can possibly imagine. It’s hard to know where to start, so I’ll start at the beginning.

In January, Kooyenga and Darling released a shiny booklet (pdf) about their plan, called “New Opportunities for Milwaukee.” The book opened with an outright lie, claiming in its opening paragraph that the “War on Poverty” launched by President Johnson in 1964 resulted in “little, if any, progress,” in their words.

A careful study by Columbia University released last year showed that government progams, even though they are constantly under attack by Kooyenga and Darling’s Republican colleagues, “are cutting poverty nearly in half (from 29% to 16%).” They’re just wrong, and it’s hard to take seriously any plan that is premised on a falsehood that bold.

The “new opportunities” that followed in their book represented not opportunities for Milwaukeeans, but rather opportunities for private charter school organizations, anti-union out-of-state corporations, and interior designers. (You think I am joking; I am not.)

So now the suburban pair is circulating a set of “talking points” before releasing the full bill that would implement their schools plan, and it, too, begins with a lie. They write, “The consequences of these failing schools are a significant factor in contributing to Milwaukee’s declining economic and social health.”

It may be difficult to quantitatively measure whatever it is they call the city’s “social health,” and it’s probably equally difficult to prove or disprove the causal relationship between our public schools—several of which are consistently rated among the best in the state—and any specific economic measures. In fact, the research usually suggests that it’s neighborhood quality that has a long-term effect on school achievement, not school achievement affecting neighborhood quality.

But there are pretty clear data out there on Milwaukee’s economy, and it is not, in fact, “declining.” While this city is far from perfect—no one is making that argument, and this city has repeatedly been singled out as among the nation’s worst for African Americans, something city legislators have been talking about for years—the city of Milwaukee is in a period of growth and revitalization.

Milwaukee is growing in population—indeed, downtown, the Third Ward, and Bay View are booming—and in employment, with a recent City Observatory report noting that Milwaukee’s jobs grew faster than those of its suburbs. The city is reclaiming its dead housing stock and revitalizing many neighborhoods in all parts of the city. Private and public investments in infrastructure and construction are literally remaking vast swaths of the city, from Century City to the Menominee Valley to the lakefront.

So, twice the Kooyenga-Darling duo have introduced their plans with questionable, if not completely bogus, premises. It should come as no surprise, then, that the bill itself is full of questionable, if not completely bogus, solutions to the problems facing Milwaukee’s failing schools.

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.

The plan also makes no mention of students. At this moment, there are five different education sectors in Milwaukee. Students can and do move freely within and among those sectors. The failing students—for, after all, when we talk about failing schools we’re talking about students with poor outcomes in those schools—from the schools targeted for closure by this commissioner are not, as far as I can tell, required to remain in those schools. If I were a cynical man, I’d worry that without safeguards, the operators of these schools, once they’re converted to “opportunity schools,” will summarily remove students who misbehave or create other challenges, filling empty seats with highly motivated students instead of actually dealing with the problems among Milwaukee’s hardest-to-teach students.

Brother Bob Smith, former longtime leader of the Messmer schools in the city’s voucher program, used to say, famously, “Make the right decisions, or make them somewhere else.” Students who cannot be served by choice schools, because of disabilities, for example, must be taken in by MPS. And we know from years of research that voucher schools churn tremendously. The last study found that fully 75% of students who started ninth grade in a voucher school dropped out of the program before graduation. Many city charters, too, suffer from high student turnover or expulsions.

While I’m sure most educators in all sectors—and I’ve met a lot of them!—are in this business for the kids, the data are undeniable: Milwaukee’s children switch schools far too often, and leave the non-MPS sector schools at an alarming rate.

And now Kooyenga and Darling want to hand public school buildings over to these voucher sector and the charter sector, operators who will have no attachment to the students, parents, or communities in and around those schools, and who will seek the easiest path to high scores—enrolling only the best students.

The Milwaukee Public Schools has no ability to pick choose, to tell students to make their decisions somewhere else. Students who leave voucher schools, charter schools, and, soon, these “opportunity schools,” by choice or by force, will be taken in by MPS.

The logical end of this plan, then, which carves out five schools a year from the public district, is that MPS will have only those students whom other sectors will not teach, cannot teach, refuse to teach. As more and more public schools are handed over to a one-man “opportunity schools” commissioner, and as the budget for the public schools shrinks to nothing and the cost of educating special needs students rises, bankruptcy is inevitable. The district is already supporting retirees from when it enrolled 100,000 students or more; when it enrolls half that, or less, it will simply be unsustainable.

And then what will be the “opportunity” for those students only MPS will teach?

Answer that, Kooyenga and Darling.


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24 thoughts on “Kooyenga and Darling’s plan to kill the Milwaukee Public Schools

  1. Gees why would Republicans want to ruin a school system that is so totally working?

    Racist facist homophobes , I tell ya. I bet these same Republicans would be in favor of schools like St. Marcus that try and turn underprivileged African-American kids into white uncle Tom’s, by teaching them to read and such. Why the hell would those pompous asses try and do anything to help black kids. I haven’t quite figured out the war on women angle but I know it is there…. It’s like republicans are declaring sharia law on us.

    1. Compare St Marcus’s scores to the state average, and then get back to me.

      1. State average? Let’s compare St. Marcus with the other inner city dismal schools that St. Marcus destroys with high education standards and integrity standards of its kids.

        Of course you know that St Marcus is better than MOST other inner city MPS schools, hell all of MPS knows which is why they have wasted ridiculous amounts of money in order to prevent them from expanding in order to help more African American children.

  2. Awful, that is why describes MPS.. 40 years ago I put together plan to bust up MPS cause it just does not work. Left only cares about votes, not kids or they would do something. They have plenty of money but 3 or 4 kids cannot read after 3rd grade. They have destroyed the lives of over a million kids the last 40 years and all they do is whine.

  3. Great work Jay. It’s been remarkable how the Cheddarsphere has really grabbed attention to this attempted hijacking of MPS.

    On a related note, let’s see if the WisGOP members on the Joint Finance Committee vote to fill in the $9.5 million hole that’s in Walker’s budget for Milwaukee child welfare programs. Walker didn’t ask for any cuts to the programs, but the amount of funding was off by so much compared to actual costs and enrollment that they need $9.5 million just to stay as is.

    Let’s see if these hotshots from the 262 actually care about the root causes of why so many poor kids in Milwaukee have issues in school, and then maybe I’ll believe they actually care about improving the outcomes of education in the state’s largest city. I’m not overly hopeful.

  4. Amazing. The Left, since the Great Society has done nothing but screw up inner city kids lives, cannot teach them to read and then when some Conservatives want to help the white, male, liberal racists that run Milwaukee have a fit.

    1. Because this isn’t really truly “helping” the kids, especially the ones who need it most, and you and all the other corporatist conservatives know it.

      1. funny, the Left has had control of schools for last 50 years and they jsut get worse, raked as worst in country You have no answers and condemn anyone like Tommy that wants to help the kids.

  5. Another issue to consider when it comes to kids with special needs: private schools are NOT REQUIRED TO SERVE THESE KIDS. The federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act does not apply. One fifth of the kids, suddenly stripped of their special education rights!! (There’s “choice” for you, huh?)

    Meanwhile, if they think they’re going to capture the federal IDEA dollars when a private school does one of these takeovers, they’ve got another think coming.

    1. fifty years is how long the Left has controlled the schools and 3 of 4 kids cannot read after third grade. When Tommy , Ryan, Now Darling, Kooyenga bring forth programs the Left pees in their pants cause they are going to lose power and that is what has happened here. I have yet to see the Left come up with any program that will solve the problems, they far prefer to keep the inner city kids in bondage, just voting for them.

      1. Kids can vote now? Wow, that liberal agenda really leads to some crazy things!

        1. Typical stupid leftwing comments. Create problems never have any answers.

          1. So, basically, I called you out on your idiocy and now you have no real retort. Got it.

            1. It’s all dead-end suburb trash like Dohnal have, Mase. All generalities and “facts” that come from Sykes and Belling. Nothing of substance, never a question of whether his white suburban privilege or the regressive policies that come fro his mentality may have a role in the two-tier existence in Milwaukee. And when called out on his fact-free blather, has no response other than reflections or ad hominems. What a tough guy.

              Dumb Dohnal doesn’t care about the fate of kids in the city. He just wants to sit on his backside in the burbs and try to sound superior- even when he’s accomplished NOTHING with the many advantages he was given. You wonder why smart people graduate high school in the 262, see how the bigger world really lives and how backwards their home town’s mentality is, and they never come back? I don’t.

  6. As a RN I have worked with kids from MPS. Those that have disabilities. They have done great things with kids who have a variety of disabilities. They have special education teachers who are great. Poverty is one of the biggest problems of kids not learning or meeting their potential. This is just a take over for Walker’s donors from private charter schools. It is part of the Koch playbook to get rid of public education and this is the way Republicans will move it along. Now as a nurse, I am not qualified to do surgery, but these people also are not qualified to educate without education and credentials in education. Also, this could be challenged in court and I would hope MPS would do it. Taking away schools represented by their communities and community control. Just more of the Republican Fascist policies.

    1. RN, tell me why MPS cannot teach 3rd graders how to read? Countries with far more poverty do that. We spend more per person than any place in the world. During the depression we managed to teach kids to read. No, it is apologists like you that make excuses for every failure of Liberal policy. We have spent 7 trillion on these things and nothing has changed.
      Time to try other approaches.

  7. Dohnal, I think I’d take your criticisms of MPS a little more seriously if you could actually articulate your points clearly. Honestly, I have a lot of difficulty understanding most of what you write, and it doesn’t really give me reason to take what you write seriously.

    At this point you come off more as an angry crank than you do as someone with legitimate points to consider.

    1. Sorry, I keep forgetting who I am talking to, Leftists have trouble understanding words with more than two syllables. Most ideas they just cannot comprehend, only talking points..
      In 1974 I put together plan to bust up MPS, into 18 district,s to give power back to parents and neighborhoods. Slowly, even liberals are agreeing with me, now.
      Finally if you are going to educate kids, forget all the giant programs, start with the basics: teach kids to read. MPS cannot even do that. 3 of 4 kids cannot read at MPS after third grade.
      Can you all handle that?

      1. Now you’re just trolling. Keep it up and I’ll just revoke your ability to post here.

        I understand multisyllabic words just fine; I simply don’t understand gibberish.

        1. Please do revoke this troll’s posting privileges. He has been polluting this site and others with impunity for far too long. Thank you.

          1. Zach, this site is jsut good for a laugh, most peopel are so ignorant of facts not owrth my time but do attmetp to add some sanity from time to time. Please do take me off the damn site.

      2. The problem is not just your typos, Bob, but your bullshit. You keep saying “3 of 4 kids cannot read at MPS after third grade,” which is just something you’re making up.

        MPS’s state reading scores are low, sure, but so are the state’s; by their metric, barely over a third of Wisconsin’s children read at grade level. Surely you don’t think 2 of 3 kids cannot read in Wisconsin after third grade?

        1. Jay hit the nail on the head. I don’t mind viewpoints that differ from my own, but what I don’t appreciate is rhetoric not based in reality.

          1. These things are well established facts. Even worse is that only 3 of 10 tenth graders are proficient in reading. Let’s face it in Milwaukee Libs have been in charge for 50 years and it is total disaster.

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