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Mandela Barnes did an old-fashioned grassroots, dialogue-at-doorsteps campaign to win landslide support of voters. (PHOTO: Mandela Barnes, Facebook)

Primary results are a major win for public education


Tuesday's Democratic primary election in Milwaukee was a victory for public education. Who lost? Democrats who support vouchers, the Republican Party and Tea Party activists.

At the center of this election was the seat in the 11th assembly district, a race between Mandela Barnes and Jason Fields. Fields has been a longtime advocate for private school vouchers and other forms of privatization of public education. His work has not gone unnoticed by Gov. Scott Walker, who appointed Fields to the Governor's education committee on reading.

Barnes addressed the issue of vouchers head-on with Fields. Barnes did an old-fashioned grassroots, dialogue-at-doorsteps campaign to win landslide support of voters. Fields, on the other hand, relied on outside support in an attempt to hold his assembly seat.

To rally that support, in stepped the American Federation for Children (AFC). The American Federation for Children is an organization with roots in Milwaukee that promotes public school privatization through "voucher programs" and charter schools. It shares an address and leadership with its 501(c)(3) partner, Wisconsin's Alliance for School Choice (ASC).

The AFC spent over $100,000 in radio ads and glossy brochures sent to Milwaukee voters' homes in an attempt to sway votes.

AFC is chaired by Betsy DeVos, the billionaire wife of Amway founder Richard DeVos and former chair of the Michigan Republican Party. She is a Tea Party advocate and ally of the Koch brothers. In recent years, she has funneled tens of millions of dollars into school privatization efforts and other right-wing initiatives.

AFC is a member of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and is represented by former Rep. Scott Jensen on the ALEC "Education Task Force." Jensen is the former Republican Wisconsin Assembly Speaker convicted in 2005 of three felonies for misuse of his office for political purposes, and banned from the state Capitol for five years. Jensen is one of the AFC's registered lobbyists in Wisconsin.

Jensen has proposed bills to ALEC on behalf of AFC/ASC that were adopted as "model" legislation. For example, in March 2011, Jensen presented to the ALEC Education Task Force the "Education Savings Account Act," which creates financial incentives for families to take their children out of the public school system and put them in for-profit primary and secondary
schools.

This AFC strategy for the Aug. 14 primary election was a total failure. For any Democrats who stroll to the other side, let this be some indication of what can happen in the future.

The results of this election have to be somewhat disheartening to State Sen. Lena Taylor, who endorsed many of those defeated. She is a strong voucher advocate who supported the attempt at mayoral takeover of Milwaukee Public Schools and continues to raise governance issues around MPS, including the possibility of creating a New Orleans-style "recovery district." Most of public schooling in New Orleans has been turned over to private chartering companies with questionable policies and results.

We need to pay attention to who stayed silent on the interference by the American Federation for Children. Silence in the face of right wing power moves amounts to complicity.

Hopefully this election will slow down any future attempts to privatize public schools.

Talkbacks

TonyTagliavia | Aug. 16, 2012 at 11:59 a.m. (report)

Here are some facts that might inform the conversation going on here in the comments section. The most recent state standardized test results showed that MPS students outperformed students in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (voucher schools). That doesn't mean MPS' results are acceptable. But key indicators are headed in the right direction: - The graduation rate for the class of 2011 was 17 percentage points higher than the rate for the class of 2000. - MPS' math proficiency is up 10 points over the last six years. - In the second year of dramatically higher participation, ACT scores rose. - The most recent state standardized test scores show that a number of MPS' historically low-performing student groups are making significant gains, including high schoolers. MPS has schools with proficiency rates of higher than 90 percent. MPS has three of the state's 10 best high schools, according to U.S. News and World Report. Twenty-eight MPS schools roughly meet or exceed the state average in reading proficiency. Twenty-six MPS schools do the same in math. Lastly, MPS does NOT have the fourth-highest per-pupil spending in the country. The most recent census data, which was the subject of a recent Journal Sentinel report, ranked MPS' 2,607th in the country, 27th in Wisconsin and fourth-highest among the 50 largest districts in the country. If anyone has questions, please feel free to email me any time: tagliaaj (at) milwaukee.k12.wi.us. Tony Tagliavia Milwaukee Public Schools

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AverageGuy | Aug. 16, 2012 at 11:06 a.m. (report)

So a current school board member is telling us that competition for MPS is a terrible thing. Makes complete sense. He's in charge of a poorly performing product and an alternative is nothing more than a threat. Seems to be real concerned about the level of education the students are receiving. Nothing to see here! I'd like to point out how many free lunches our kids are receiving, and the unemployment rate of their parents and anything else that will misdirect you from the decades long failure of my organization.

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fetlarpo | Aug. 15, 2012 at 5:09 p.m. (report)

Definite win for children in Milwaukee. This is your I phone and you get one app.. and only one app... What is next are we going to attempt to restrict poor people from going South of I-94 to live? This is your public housing and you can only live here. This is your government approved doctor...

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TheyThink | Aug. 15, 2012 at 4:49 p.m. (report)

Geez Larry. ONE candidate who supports parents having a CHOICE in their children's education gets beat by a fellow Democrat and you summarize it as a loss for the Republican Party and Tea Party??? That's quite a leap. Funny how you neglect to mention that the inventor of school choice won his statewide election last night. You are right though, it was a win for the teacher's union, but not the students or their families who apparently don't want to be in your failing school system anymore. But go ahead and keeping spending taxpayer money like a drunken sailor, MPS *only* spends the 4th most per student in the entire US.

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