Jamaal E. Smith, a community activist and chair of the education committee at the Milwaukee branch of the NAACP, questions the motives of Gov. Scott Walker and others seeking to undermine Milwaukee Public Schools.
"Education is not a way to escape poverty – it is a way of fighting it!" said Julius Nyerere, former president of the United Republic of Tanzania.
Given the current economic position of the City of Milwaukee (being the second poorest city in the United States), you would think Nyerere’s statement would carry a hefty amount of weight in the city’s revitalization. However, surveying the educational landscape statewide, this just doesn’t seem to be the case. There is an intentional attack on public education taking place in the state legislature that is completely sickening.
It’s bad enough that Gov. Scott Walker, in his state budget, decided it would be a great idea to cut $127 million in funding for K-12 public schools along with $300 million for the University of Wisconsin system. Now we see two Republican legislators — Sen. Alberta Darling and Rep. Dale Kooyenga — presenting a new piece of legislation entitled the "Opportunity Schools and Partnership Program," which would, in essence, place the MPS schools labeled as "failing" in the hands of public charter or private voucher schools with "better records of success."
Additionally, Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele will name a "commissioner" who will have parallel authority to the democratically elected MPS School Board but would be free from rules, save for laws regarding health, non-discrimination and special education services, according to the proposal. Tell me again what experience Chris Abele has in education? I must have missed that part during his campaign. What about Darling? Kooyenga? But they do know business very well, and that is where the problem lies.
The more legislation of this type that is created and presented, the more I can see why the state of Wisconsin was voted "the worst state to raise African-American children." This type of action simply glorifies privatization and capitalism. Keeping a specific group uneducated in order to establish a system that amasses wealth for others at that group’s expense sounds eerily familiar to me. Privatizing education spells doom for democracy and further pushes the initiatives of plutocracy, thus contributing to the problem of the "haves versus have nots."
Coincidentally, Walker stated that education is his top legislative priority. I would assume so, since education in Wisconsin has been turned into a "get rich quick" scheme. The Republican agenda has drained MPS of its funding and resources for years, but then Republican politicians expect the parents and supporters of MPS to believe they have MPS’s best interest at heart? If that were the case, Republican legislators would consider the poor socioeconomic conditions over 80 percent of the students live in and begin creating programs that fit the needs of both the students and the parents. But that would represent a level of socialistic proclivity that we all know they would never be able to support.
This same type of proposal has been a proven failure across the nation, most notably in New Orleans, where the "Recovery District" created to help restore failing public schools resulted in permanent school closures and students being forced to attend the overcrowded schools that remain. Why would that be the path to follow here in Wisconsin?
In addition, there is an expectation that teachers — who have been attacked and vilified under this same agenda, yet are only required to have a bachelor’s degree and work experience to receive a teacher’s license — will properly educate nearly 40 students per class with limited resources and little to no support. And let us not forget the perils and misconceptions of culturally biased standardized testing that takes away more time for teachers to educate our children.
You would have to be a master of the art of naiveté to not understand the difficulties these proposals present to educators, students and parents.
Bob Petersen, president of the Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association, in learning about the new proposal from Darling and Kooyenga, stated that "for two white suburban legislators to propose that the white county executive appoint a ‘commissioner’ who will have parallel authority to the school board is a racist attack on the democratic rights of the citizens of Milwaukee, the majority of whom are black and brown." And he was spot on. Frederick Douglass said, "Once you learn how to read, you will forever be free," yet this deplorable attack on public education seems to be consistent with oppression and subjugation.
To add insult to injury, Walker’s budget eliminates public oversight and makes Wisconsin the only state without student protections at for-profit colleges. Ironically, what demographic is most represented in these predatory colleges? Low-income African-American students. This is nothing but an expedited infusion of black and brown youth into the school-to-prison pipeline.
Test scores used as a "key indicator" of whether more prison cells should be created, overcrowding of classrooms, an influx of inexperienced teachers in high-risk schools, cuts of programs such as home economics, art and music that contribute to the creativity of our children — I find none of this to be merely circumstantial.
The reports of the failing schools and subsequent legislation have been used as the red herring to mask the chicaneries within the true purpose: Our children are the cash crop of the plutocratic corporation we call the state of Wisconsin.