By State Representative, Leon D. Young
I would be the first to admit that Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) has had its issues in trying to educate the vast majority of students in its charge over the years. MPS is the largest public school district in the state.
It is comprised of nearly 80,000 students and roughly 90 percent of its population are students of color. In years past, there have been several threatened attempts to wrestle academic control of MPS.
Fortunately, for the MPS students and parents that would have been impacted, these earlier efforts failed to gain traction. However, that was then, and this is now.
Under a new law, passed by the GOPcontrolled state legislature this past session, Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele was ceded authority to oversee the turnaround of MPS schools.
Commissioner Demond Means was subsequently appointed to lead what’s called the “Opportunity Schools and Partnership Program.” His job is to analyze 55 failing schools and decide which to incorporate into his program.
The Opportunity and Partnership Program is the brainchild of Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills) and Rep. Dale Kooyenga (Brookfield); two self-appointed, white suburban legislators who act as if they intrinsically know what’s best for our community.
Darling and Kooyenga have admitted that their objective is to spark change at schools that desperately need it, and to work around the Milwaukee School Board which, according to Darling, has blocked reforms over the years, by protecting teachers or maintaining the status quo.
However, County Executive Abele and his commissioner are touting a different tune and now insist that they won’t take over any MPS schools as a part of the state directed public school Takeover. Moreover, Abele purports that he only intends to take over empty MPS buildings.
But, here’s the truth: merely changing the school governance structure of low-performing MPS schools does nothing to address the systemic problem that exists.
Milwaukee’s extreme poverty in the inner city is a major contributing factor on low MPS test scores. Sen. Darling and Rep. Kooyenga may have duped certain factions of the public into believing that they have conjured up some new approach to combating poverty in the inner city. However, from my vantage point, this approach is nothing new. In typical Republican fashion, they want to privatize public schools; give corporate/business interests free-reign to exploit the community; and undermine union and collective bargaining rights for workers by establishing right-to-work zones.
If Republicans are true interested in improving the quality of public education not only in Milwaukee but across the state, they must stop cutting the funding for K-12 education.
The Opportunity and Partnership Program does nothing more than puts MPS, and its students, on an even more hazardous, slippery slope.