An open letter to Alberta Darling

Note: I sent this to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, but they seem to have declined to run it. I’m not one of those THEY ARE TOO SCARED TO PRINT MY GENIUS WORK people–this was probably just too long and the recent OSPP news no doubt changed the calculus about what was worth printing for them. So I emailed it to Darling and am publishing it here for posterity. If you didn’t read her original thing, it’s here.

Dear Senator Darling,

As a Milwaukee Public Schools teacher and Milwaukee resident, I read with great interest your op-ed “We won’t give up on Milwaukee kids.” While I cannot speak for MPS or even my school, I can speak for myself.

I don’t believe you.

I don’t believe you because your plan, the Opportunity Schools and Partnership Plan outlined in the 2015-2016 state budget, neglects to provide the one thing critical to success in education: money.

Earlier this year, the Wisconsin Budget Project, using data from the Stanford Education Data Archive, compared Wisconsin school districts’ achievement against average family income. No surprise—the wealthiest districts had the best achievement scores.

There were no outliers. That is, there is no district in Wisconsin where poor children are achieving a grade level or more above average or where wealthy children are achieving a grade level or more below average. Money is, without question, the best predictor of success, and it is what you refuse to offer Milwaukee in your plan to help us.

You provide no money to hire an OSPP commissioner. There is no money to pay staff, recruit teachers, attract students, purchase new curricular materials, fund partnerships with universities or other groups, pay for wrap-around and community services for students and families, or do anything else. It’s difficult to believe you have a commitment to Milwaukee’s children when your own plan must be implemented without a penny of assistance from you.

I don’t believe you because you and your colleagues in the legislature have decimated existing school budgets across Wisconsin. In communities that can afford it, referenda to exceed revenue limits have exploded.

Milwaukee is resource starved and cannot afford such a referendum. Yet according to inflation-adjusted figures from DPI, MPS today receives $900 less per student in equalization aid, aid designed to make up for Milwaukee’s lack of resources, than in 2005. That’s over $70 million MPS can’t spend on teachers, books, computers, or its own wrap-around support for students and families every year.

I chose 2005 for comparison because your op-ed made a point of discussing public schools in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, and how, after a decade of reorganization, achievement there is somewhat improved. But you neglected to include in your discussion of New Orleans a major reason why things changed: money.

According to the Cowen Institute at Tulane University, schools there spent on average over $2,000 more per student (inflation-adjusted) in 2015 than before Katrina; traditional public schools spent over $5,000 more per student. After the literal flooding, New Orleans was metaphorically flooded with money—from the federal and state governments, from private philanthropists and foundations—to rebuild its schools and support their continued efforts in a challenging environment.

There’s not even a trickle of investment for Milwaukee in your plan.

I don’t believe you because I know you know money matters in education. You live in River Hills, where schools spend almost $1,000 more per student every year than MPS does, according to DPI’s “Total Educational Cost Per Member” report for 2015. You make a big deal in your op-ed about MPS’s billion-dollar budget, but you don’t acknowledge that scores of other districts, like yours and the one where your plan’s co-author Rep. Dale Kooyenga lives, spend more per student than MPS does.

This is especially galling because those districts are places where resources are more abundant than in Milwaukee. In your home ZIP code, 53217, average household income is $98,000 per year, four times that of households in the much-beleaguered Milwaukee ZIP code 53206.

In the 18 years between birth and graduation, the difference in available family resources for children in those two communities is $1.3 million. How can you claim to want to help Milwaukee’s children and not recognize this massive resource gap? How can you hope to bridge that gap with reduced state funding or, as in the OSPP, no funding at all?

I don’t believe you because you target only MPS, though dozens of schools in the city’s voucher program have results as bad or worse than the worst public schools. Despite this, you and the legislature have boosted voucher funding while slashing oversight, the opposite of what you do to MPS.

Finally, I don’t believe you because you don’t trust or believe us in Milwaukee when we tell you what our students need. You and Rep. Kooyenga claimed to have “spent hundreds of hours in Milwaukee’s inner city” in 2014 before releasing your plan. I’m sorry, but visiting a place is not the same as living here and dedicating your life to the work of making it better.

The school where I teach is a failing school, eligible for takeover under OSPP. Our class of 2016, a class of about 100 students, just graduated with $2.2 million in scholarship offers. Our students, many with Advanced Placement credits, were accepted to selective colleges and universities in Wisconsin and beyond. Yet we “failed to meet expectations.”

Did you ask my students if they felt “trapped” in this failing school? Did you ask them, their teachers, their counselors, their parents, their churches, their state senators and representatives what you could do to help? I suggest you did not, or if you did, you did not listen. My students would not ask for their teachers to be fired and their school handed over to an unknown entity with no budget.

Indeed, Milwaukee’s legislators unanimously opposed your plan.

If you really want to help Milwaukee’s children, turn to what works in districts like your own and in New Orleans—expanded community resources and higher per-student spending. In other words, give us the one thing you don’t offer in your plan to help: money.

This is why I don’t believe you.

Jay Bullock is an English teacher and writer for the Bay View Compass and Email: Twitter: @folkbum.


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28 thoughts on “An open letter to Alberta Darling

  1. Very good letter. Hopefully more of the conservatives voters who still support public education (there are many in Wisconsin, believe it or not) will realize this current crew of elected GOPers are not good for their kids’ public education and stop supporting them. The need for endless referenda is evidence enough that the GOP isn’t serious about saving public education.

    I’m tired of hearing about people trying to talk to, email, and phone call their Republican legislators, expecting to convince them to do the right thing. Time to get rid of the privateer scum.

  2. Excellent letter, well researched and on point! I don’t believe anything Darling and her cronies say. I agree it’s highly unlikely she talked to people in the inner city you listed.

    Thanks for stating the facts and speaking for me and others.

    I don’t know whether you submitted this as letter to the Editor at js or blog. I think js has policy where they don’t publish open letters.

    1. I submitted it as an op-ed in response to her op-ed the previous week. I have had MJS publish my op-eds previously, including in response to specific things they have published.

      1. OK Jay. Again thanks for the letter and I’ll watch for future op-eds from you. Thanks also for your commitment as a teacher.

  3. Spot on………….. the one thing Walker and friends refuse to do is put forth money to solve problems. It’s much easier to attack, point fingers and blame and then dictate. I contacted my legislators when the word went out that Wisconsin schools were failing in spite of our schools ranking within the top 3 in SAT/ACT scores and strong graduation rates. I asked the legislators to name schools that were failing beyond the income segregated poverty neighborhoods in inner Milwaukee. Not a single legislator could name a school within their legislative district that was failing. It is obvious that MPS knows how to educate children as evidenced by their award winning schools and highly rated schools. Walker, Vos, Fitzgerald, Darling and the rest of the Republican legislators who claim to have answers for everything refuse to acknowledge that the failing MPS schools are serving a student population that is lacking in family stability, livable incomes and transient mobile families that rarely allow for students to remain in their enrolled school for any consistent period of time. I recall one effort by a major corporation to provide intensive supportive efforts at a failing school but with little achievement gains. When they looked for answers they found that after two years only 1/3 of the students that originally began their program were left. The task to un-fail …failing schools requires changes to the families well being and the neighborhoods well being along with massive increases in resources for these students and families …and this requires money. If MPS didn’t know how to teach kids so that they can learn why would some of their schools be nationally recognized and others rank as some of the best on Wisconsin.

    1. This is completely on the money. Which is why I support a state-funded relocation program where poor kids in Milwaukee and their families are moved to suburbs with strong schools, and given jobs in those communities.

      I suggest we start with Brookfield, River Hills, Germantown, Mequon and Menomonee Falls. which are all “represented” by Kooyenga and Darling. After all, they care about improving these kids’ outcomes, and I can think of no better way to do so.

      1. There is a program like this already in place. They do not move families into the area but they bus inner city kids up to these area schools. Not disagreeing with you just letting you know there is a preexisting program.

  4. This is a very well-thought letter written by a person who knows what is happening.

    Unfortunately, Darling, Kooyenga and their cronies don’t care about having successful public schools in Milwaukee.

    In fact, they want just the opposite. That way, the companies that are their biggest donors (i.e., private enterprise) can open for-profit educations centers.

    There are people who live outside of southeastern Wisconsin who say that MPS already gets too much money from the state taxpayers. But remember, there is no other school district in the state with as many pupils. Also, other areas of the state don’t have as many disadvantaged pupils as does Milwaukee.

    The citizens of Wisconsin should remember the lessons of Act 10. The Republicans took away the majority of state workers rights when they severely limited what unions can negotiate for. Then, a few years later, they did the same thing for those workers in the private sector with right-to-word laws.

    The same will happen if the Republicans are successful in privatizing the public schools in Milwaukee.

  5. Great letter by Jay, and telling that the pro-corporate, MMAC mouthpiece known as the J-S won’t run this.

    Also worth noting is that the DPI state aid figures came out, and Wauwatosa Schools (which Kooyenga “represents”) had the largest aid cut in the state, at over $2.5 million. Menomonee Falls Schools (which Darling “represents”) was 3rd for cuts, at over $1 million. And these are the first aid figures that show the impact of taking money from all public schools and into vouchers…even if the voucher kid already attended the private school.

    C’mon state. Realize these ALEC-GOPs do not give a rat’s *ss about improving education and talent in the state, and just want to use taxpayer dollars to give more cash to their donors.

  6. Why not address the real issue call poverty.. if families could afford the necessities like early reading books, we would not be in this state.. also look at the day cares, what education are they giving their babies. If we want to improve schools, we must start before they arrive at MPS door.

  7. Amazing isn’t it? study after study has shown those most at risk to failing in our educational system benefit from early childhood interventions and an improved more nutritious diet. Yet time and again these same people like Darling and Kookoo Kooyenga cut spending and raise requirements for these very programs. Now they want to further cut aid to these vulnerable students so the failed for profit schools can profit even more.

  8. Given that MPS obviously has success well in hand, I would recommend that legislators like Kooyenga and Darling completely ignore the needs of those outside their districts. Communities they represent like Brookfield, River Hills, Germantown, Mequon and Menomonee Falls are all doing phenomenally well, with low crime, expanding business, excellent schools and increasing property values.

    Represent and support those communities. MPS has made it clear they don’t need your input or ideas, so I suggest cooperating completely. They’re just going to take out their own frustration & impotence on you anyway and call you a racist no matter what you do or what outcomes would be achieved, so reduce your own stress, and let them run their little show.

    1. WashCoWingnut,

      Until MPS can get deadbeats to pay up, it’s going to be tough.

      “The Case for Reparations:
      Two hundred fifty years of slavery. Ninety years of Jim Crow. Sixty years of separate but equal. Thirty-five years of racist housing policy. Until we reckon with our compounding moral debts, America will never be whole.”

      “And if thy brother, a Hebrew man, or a Hebrew woman, be sold unto thee, and serve thee six years; then in the seventh year thou shalt let him go free from thee. And when thou sendest him out free from thee, thou shalt not let him go away empty: thou shalt furnish him liberally out of thy flock, and out of thy floor, and out of thy winepress: of that wherewith the LORD thy God hath blessed thee thou shalt give unto him. And thou shalt remember that thou wast a bondman in the land of Egypt, and the LORD thy God redeemed thee: therefore I command thee this thing today.

      — Deuteronomy 15: 12–15”

      If you find anything in Coates’ analysis incomplete, or lacking in any way, please quote it in your reply.

      OT, how are the wingnuts coming with ending the job-killing-government-regulations against marijuana?

    2. WashCoRepub, two things:

      One, I am not complacent about Milwaukee’s academic status. I have dedicated my professional life to moving the needle in the right direction. But when I am denied adequate resources, when my students are buried under the weight of 450 years of history telling them they are worth less than, say, Alberta Darling’s grandchildren, it is not an easy battle. If you really cared, you’d come join me.

      Two, I think you underestimate Milwaukee’s (the city, not necessarily the schools) success: while some communities struggle with crime, the city is in the midst of an economic renaissance unparalleled in recent history, with billions of investment in business, housing, manufacturing, and entertainment in process right now. The WOW counties would be dead zones were it not for the thriving heart of downtown Milwaukee.

      (I’ll add three: it’s hard not to think bad things about people like Dale Kooyenga, who has a demonstrated history of demeaning the capacity of this city’s black and female leadership. He loves college dropout Chris Abele but doesn’t trust Dr. Darienne Driver to run a city school system.)

      (For the record, I think Abele’s doing a fine job, degree or no, as is Driver. Just making a point about Kooyenga.)

  9. We should forward to Governor, Mayor, County Executive, Presidential Candidates…we can do better#

  10. This is a textbook example of “correlation does not imply causation”. Adjusted for inflation, spending on education has increased between 117%-375% (depending on the study you read) over the past 30 years with no positive results. None. Money is not the answer but it’s the easy thing to ask for. Not the easy thing to get, but clearly the easy thing to ask for. It makes for an easy target to point to and place blame on for poor student performance. It’s an especially attractive target because it also lets us blame Republicans, who we tend to hate as people because we can’t just dislike their ideology.

    There is something else, far more important, that poor students tend to lack in comparison with more affluent students. Family support. Affluent students are far more likely to have intact families. They are more likely to have parents who are present. They are more likely to have parents who pay loving attention to them. They are more likely to have books in their homes and parents who read to them. They are more likely to have parents around who can and will help them with their homework and who will hold them accountable when they slack off. They are more likely to have parents who value education and pass that value along. They are more likely to have parents who discipline them and instill respect for authority, which translates into fewer disruptions in the classroom. They are more likely to have parents who take corrective action if there are behavioral/academic issues at school.

    There are student in MPS who succeed and students in affluent schools who fail. Without a doubt, the most common thread between those who succeed and those who fail is the quality of their family life. School districts can spend and spend and spend but will still be sending students home at the end of the day to families who have a far greater impact on whether or not they will succeed in school than the school will ever have.

    For the record, I was a public school teacher in my life before kids.

    1. “Former teacher” Nancy repeats and extends the calumnies about “those parents” that go back to the Moynihan Report. Without a shred of research support, “Ms. Affluent Nancy” blames resource-starved parents for their kids lack of success in schools. These oft-repeated slurs contribute nothing to the real conversation about improving our educational outcomes. Why is it only those at the top who say money makes no difference?

    2. Nancy,

      Looking forward to your response to Marty. Hope it includes links to all the studies you cited

      1. At what schools did you teach?
      2. What years?
      3. What were your class sizes?

  11. I don’t believe her because she and the other GOP have been systematically destroying Wisconsin from the inside. But it’s a great place to live if you are rich and white. There is only one word for the mindset that works feverishly to harm the people in their state: evil. All the GOP must be kicked out of office to let us begin to restore the state with reason and common sense. Not that the Democrats have been the beacon of light in out hour of darkness. But right now this is what we need. We can elect the new party formed by the young and progressive minded later.

  12. Maybe those two politicians should go and teach in a MPS school for a couple of months, weeks, or year. Teachers get to pick the school. I think they should live in a MPS zip code. They must be totally responsible for the well being and learning of students. At the end of their time teaching, the students will tested. If the scores are not high enough, they will be publically blamed. She and others like her will no longer be able to hold public office.

  13. How very true!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    When the Gov. is not a college graduate what can you expect….??????

  14. Sure, for 50 years MPS has failed Milwaukee kids. The white, liberal,male, racists that runs Milwuakee just wants more money. Only 15% of kids can read in 4th grade.
    Believe that?

    1. Dohnal,

      aka, “Bob,”

      aka Wisconsin Conservative Digest,”

      The red, squiggly line underneath a word, such as, “Milwuakee(sic),” means the spell checker doesn’t recognize it.

      You wrote, “Believe that?”

      Does that means you don’t believe what you wrote above it?

      Does you’re commenting on this thread mean, “Nancy,” isn’t coming back?

      Do you agree with her that, “money is not the answer?”

      If you agree with Nancy, has the Ivy League–Harvard, Yale, Princeton,…–along with Stanford, Notre Dame, and the other elite schools been wrong all these decades?

      Thanks in advance.

      1. I think Right Wisconsin noticed this thread getting a bit too much attention for their comfort, and decided to send in a couple loyalists with their “facts”.

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