By Dylan Deprey
The clock is ticking as the race for the Democratic position for 4th District State Senate edges closer to the Aug. 9 primary election. Although the race is meant to decide political party candidates, there is no Republican opponent in the 4th district. A win in the primary and an unopposed race following is almost a guaranteed seat in Madison.
As crunch time commences for candidates Rep. Mandela Barnes and Sen. Lena Taylor, voters concerned with the state of Milwaukee Public Schools and the voucher program tops the list.
During a debate held by Plymouth Church UCC at the Shorewood Library on Aug. 3, Rep. Barnes said that one of his main focuses was to strengthen public education. He also expressed his concern with the current state of MPS schools.
Rep. Barnes was referring to the recent MPS and Opportunity Schools Partnership Program (OSPP) legislation, which has been a dicey relationship between MPS and lawmakers since it was passed in the 2015 state budget.
Barnes added that his number one concern with the OSPP legislation was the fiscal harm it would have on MPS. He said that taking five schools away from MPS along with the additional budget cuts would create even more issues.
The law introduced by State Sen. Alberta Darling and State Rep. Dale Kooyenga meant to give the powers of the County Executive to choose a commissioner to independently run failing schools. After Chris Abele’s OSPP Commissioner Demond Means stepped down in June 2016, MPS and County Executive Abele were stuck in a standstill.
Rep. Barnes noted that although Sen. Taylor’s push for a mayoral takeover in 2009 did not pass, it was the driving force for the recent OSPP legislation because the Republican Party took the majority.
“If they saw a Democrat from Milwaukee propose a takeover, and when they got both houses in the legislature, that was their opportunity for them to say ‘hey if people in Milwaukee say this is a good idea, then we’ll do it,’” Barnes said.
The 2009 State Senate Bill 405 authored by Sen. Taylor and Rep. Pedro Colon was meant to create more accountability for choosing an MPS superintendent.
In a Dec. 14, 2009 interview with the MacIver Institute, Sen. Taylor said that the bill was to maintain consistency in leadership in the Superintendents office. The bill would have also handed the responsibilities of the budget and curriculum to the superintendent giving the school board the responsibility to focus on other issues afflicting the education.
In the interview she also expressed that the bill was not about placing more power over others but instead, “this is for the kids.”
Sen. Taylor said that she has publicly shown her disapproval in the passing of the OSPP legislation. She noted that when Sen. Darling and Rep. Kooyenga proposed their first attempt, she offered that the only way their first plan would have worked was if they had involved the community. She also acknowledged that the State Senate Bill 405 was not the first step in laying the foundation for OSPP.
“Anybody who has had Sen. Darling as a legislature knows long before we were even in the legislature she’s been authoring stuff off with what to do with MPS and others before us,” Taylor said.