Milwaukee Democratic legislators oppose GOP takeover plan of MPS

We reject and oppose Representative Dale Kooyenga (R-not Milwaukee) and Senator Alberta Darling’s (R-not Milwaukee) proposal to take over the Milwaukee Public Schools by creating a so-called turn-around district.

We reject this idea for several reasons:

First, these legislators should focus on the state budget and fixing the governor’s proposal to further cut $127 million from our public schools before meddling with Milwaukee. Republicans have claimed this is their number one priority; we want them to prove it. There has been a pattern of disinvestment in public education over the past four years and we are unwilling to support any proposal that alters MPS in any way until the state gives all public schools the resources they need to succeed.

Second, with that said, we too reject the status quo. Only six months ago, Dr. Darienne Driver was hired as Milwaukee Public Schools superintendent. She deserves the opportunity to succeed. Through an initiative called Commitment Schools, we are seeing positive growth in the very schools the Republicans are targeting to remove from the district. Positive change is occurring and it should be promoted and encouraged, not undermined.

Third, any review of schools must include all schools receiving public dollars in Milwaukee. There is ample data that show that many of the lowest performing schools in Milwaukee are private voucher or charter schools, yet they are absent from the Republican plan. Only public schools are targeted.

Fourth, if this proposal includes the state of Wisconsin taking on long-term financial liabilities from the Milwaukee Public Schools, taxpayers throughout the state deserve input. Recently in Michigan, a possibly similar attempt to “turnaround” the Detroit Public Schools may leave taxpayers on the hook for over $50 million a year out of the state general school fund. State involvement in local schools could result in long-term financial consequences for all Wisconsinites.

Fifth, the experiment to create a school district within a school district has failed elsewhere. In Memphis, where a state run “turnaround” effort is underway, there are struggles to locate committed school operators. In New Orleans, the nation’s oldest “turnaround” school district, results are mixed at best. We heard directly from parents and advocates regarding the unimproved and challenging conditions of the “turnaround” district schools.

Finally, many important details of this proposal are still unknown and have not been provided to the public, to the Legislature, or even to the county executive who is supposed to be in charge of this new entity. The outline of the plan that has been made public includes no substantial details on funding, performance metrics to measure success, types of services provided to students, or even basic qualifications for teachers (or the district commissioner) in the schools. These are important details that we deserve to have before we make decisions that impact our children’s education and ultimately their futures.

Given the proposal’s massive scope and impact it will have on the people of Milwaukee, any proposal that makes such sweeping changes to our children’s schools deserves a serious and honest public debate. In the days and weeks ahead, we welcome the opportunity to share, in detail, our concerns with our Republican colleagues. It is our hope they will take a step back, be transparent about their intentions, and engage with members of the community, MPS, members of the Legislature, and most importantly the parents and children that will be directly impacted by their decisions.

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