Republicans propose bill giving Milwaukee County Exec authority to usurp MPS (UPDATED)

Earlier today it was reported Republican State Rep. Dale Kooyenga and Republican State Sen. Alberta Darling are working on a proposal that would allow the Milwaukee County Executive to appoint a commissioner accountable to no one but the County Executive who could usurp the Milwaukee Public Schools district to take over up to five struggling MPS schools per year.

Notably, the plan being floated by Rep. Kooyenga and Sen. Darling would allow that commissioner to hire teachers without state licenses to work in the schools being taken over, and those teachers would not be able to join unions.

The Milwaukee County executive would oversee the turnover of up to five struggling Milwaukee Public Schools per year to operators of public charter or private voucher schools with better records of success, according to details of a proposal that two suburban Republican lawmakers have been working on for months.

Under the proposal, County Executive Chris Abele would name a commissioner who would have parallel authority to Milwaukee Public Schools but have broad freedom from rules, save for laws regarding health and safety, non-discrimination and special education services, according to the proposal.

Staff at the public schools run by new operators would have to re-apply for their jobs and, if hired, would waive their right to be represented by a union. The plan suggests that staff would not have to have state teaching licenses, but would get a special license to teach in schools under the authority of the commissioner. Staff would have to pass criminal background checks.

Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills) and Rep. Dale Kooyenga (Brookfield) emailed details of their proposal, named the “Opportunity Schools and Partnership Program,” to private and charter school leaders, as well as Milwaukee Public Schools, late last week for feedback.

Curiously absent from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s report on this proposal was any comment from current County Executive Chris Abele, leaving me to wonder where he stands on the proposal.

Giving the County Executive – who is no expert on public education and likely never attended a public school in his life – the ability to appoint an unelected commissioner to usurp the elected School Board is a terrible idea. Then again, Sen. Darling is just full of terrible ideas – after all, it was her idea to semi-privatize the Milwaukee Bureau of Child Welfare in order to “fix” Milwaukee County’s child welfare system, and we can all see how terribly that idea worked out.

UPDATE: Since my initial report, County Executive Chris Abele has released a statement expressing his support for the plan that would give him the ability to usurp Milwaukee Public Schools and its elected board.

“Providing the best K-12 education system for the community should be a priority for everyone who lives in Milwaukee. For the past 20 years, it has been a priority of mine as I have been actively involved in a variety of education policy efforts in Milwaukee. I have worked with every MPS Superintendent going back to Superintendent Andrekopoulos, I helped the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Milwaukee, on whose board I still sit, in partnering with over 35 MPS schools, I assisted in crafting the successful Race To The Top grant proposal that MPS was awarded, and I continue to be involved in Schools That Can Milwaukee, an organization that seeks to ensure that 20,000 Milwaukee students attend high-quality urban schools by 2020.

“In all of these efforts, my goal has always been the best quality education for as many kids and their families as possible, delivered in the fairest, most sustainable way possible. While this legislation is not something I sought, when I was recently approached by Rep. Kooyenga and Sen. Darling asking if I would be the appointing authority, I told them that it was hard to have an opinion absent all of the details. But IF the bill passed that way, it’s a responsibility that I would accept and take very seriously.

“Proponents of this legislation should know the following: I like and respect MPS Superintendent Darienne Driver and would want to work very closely with her; I remain very concerned about the funding flaw that the current voucher system continues to create for MPS; and I believe public money should be directed to open admission schools, not selective admission schools.

“If placed in this position, I’m committed to work hard to take this proposal and ensure that its implementation is as successful as it can possibly be. The families in Milwaukee deserve no less.”


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