'Not For Sale': Educators and Parents in Milwaukee Score Victory Against Privatization

A recent Milwaukee school committee decision sends a strong message to public school students, parents and NEA educators: When you show up, when you use your collective voice and flex your union muscle on behalf of students, you  can make a difference for schools and students.

Last week, after hearing from more than 50 public-school supporters during more than two hours of testimony, a Milwaukee School Board committee decided to drop privately run charter schools from the list of options for school improvement in Milwaukee. If approved by the entire school board, this would mean Milwaukee public schools on the state’s “not meeting expectations” list — there are currently 48 in the city — could not be privatized in the name of school “reform” and in the interest of private profiteers.

“Milwaukee is ground zero in the school privatization wars,” explained Bob Peterson, president of the Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association, in a recent blog post.  “For a quarter of century there has been a calculated, well-financed, and systematic effort to dismantle the city’s public school system. Conservatives in Wisconsin, emboldened by their control of the state government, have stepped up their efforts to transform public education into a privately run commodity. “

Demonstrators stand outside Milwaukee Public Schools central office.

But, as Peterson notes, with MTEA’s leadership on this issue, Milwaukee’s community members are catching on—and saying no. Improve public schools, don’t abandon them, demanded the hundreds of participants at last week’s Milwaukee meeting.

“I don’t want my children’s education run by private companies who don’t understand what my children need, or know how to deal with a special education student,” said parent Monique McKinney, who cares for 13 children in her home. “As a parent, I’m involved in my children’s education, and I want to be part of the decision making to improve their schools.”

The speakers last week see school improvement as a community project, led by parents and educators working together. In Peterson’s testimony to the committee, he urged them to “unite with the thousands of employees who work for you and with the students and caregivers of our students in a joint effort to improve our lowest performing schools.” He reminded them that, if they chose to turn public schools into privately run charters, they would be out-sourcing hundreds of public jobs to private entities, and millions of dollars in taxpayer money would be going to private educational management firms.

The collective demonstration showed the power of MTEA members, who told committee members of their dedication to working together to create strong community schools that support children and families and improve Milwaukee’s neighborhoods. “It’s the child’s community that will make a difference, not some out-of-state, for-profit business that we know, in our hearts, aren’t out for our children’s welfare,” said MTEA teacher Linda Markowski. “Localizing, not ‘business-izing,’ is the answer.”

For-profit charter school companies aren’t the answer; working with local communities is, added MTEA member Amy Johnson, who is part of a school improvement team at Milwaukee’s Bay View High School. “The best thing to do is bring your community in, bring in your neighbors, your businesses. At Bay View, we’re not where we want to be, but we’re taking those steps.”

Several MTEA members also described the failures of private educational management organizations in Milwaukee. Currently Milwaukee Public Schools have contracts with privately run charter companies for 15 schools in the city. Most of those schools serve significantly fewer English language learners and students with special needs — a Milwaukee Journal study showed Milwaukee public schools enroll three times as many students learning English and twice as many students with special needs than its charter schools – and yet more than half of those independent charter schools are not meeting performance expectations.

The committee’s decision goes next to the full school board, and Peterson notes on his blog that he expects privatization proponents to lean hard on board members. But so will MTEA members, and Milwaukee’s concerned parents and community members. The question for the board, Peterson writes, is this: “Will public education be guided by principles of democracy or by the demands of privatization? Will Milwaukee’s publicly funded schools serve the communities where they are located, or will they be turned over to national McFranchise charter chains?

“Demand that the entire the Milwaukee School Board say ‘no’ to privatization and say ‘yes’ to community-based solutions.”

Photo: Light Brigading

  • Nils

    It is a shame the union is so myopic on school choice. In Wake County North Carolina we have a multitude of choices including private schools and charter schools. In my neighborhood their are both charter and private schools operating at a cost significantly less than the public schools and achieving greater success than the public schools. Your effort to limit parental choice where a parent chooses the best option for their child specific to the needs of that child is penalizing children for the sake of public school mass education. Why do you fear success in other environments? You should be standing for the best educational opportunity for all children. We have grandchildren in a new school in a new high class facility with loving teachers. They are achieving significantly above grade level according to state tests. It costs $5000 per student for a year. They have 20 children in their class. The children are diverse. Scholarships are available. They are middle class children. They refute your argument on all aspects and prove your objectives are purely selfish and not of an concern for the children.

  • Mary

    It is a shame that Nils does not realize that a union is made up of teaching professionals who have dedicated their lives to children – we don’t just say it Nils, we do it. We are the ones who see children who have behavior or academic problems being returned to us after the charters decide they don’t want to take on their issues (but the Charters keep the $ from the state as if they were educating the child all year). We are the ones who see the performances on testing by charters – and they aren’t great, most of the time – they are worse than the lower performing public counterparts. We are the ones who spend our wages on supplies for our clients. We pay taxes and participate in the communities we live in. We see those Teach America recruits who drop out and their classes are left in the middle of the year. Don’t hold up North Carolina as an educational model. NC is an educational nightmare state. They treat their teachers with a lack of professional respect in their refusal to honor teacher’s masters degrees, adoption of a skewed, irrational evaluation system. By the way, what do you do, Nils, to make a living? I’d like to form a committee of teachers to evaluate your workplace, your retirement and your job.

  • tc

    So sad for my granddaughter who is in kindergarten to be in school in her tender years with all the negative hype. I don’t hear teachers complaining just others taking cheap shots and pointing their fingers. Walk into a school( with a background check of course) and see what “We The Teachers” put up with daily. See what we do. See what we bring, give, and repair daily for our children. I encourage you to get more visible and more vocal for all of our kids. Public education has to run with less money each year and more mandates. It smells rotten to me. Teachers provide and create tools needed to push kids further and so many days at home on the evening and On weekends doing what we should do for our own children and grandchildren. Let us work to bettering our schools and supporting outer teachers.

  • republiscum

    Republican Political Terrorism is trying to replace the people who do not vote Republican. Republicans are dismantling Public Education and wants to use your child to fill the stock shelves with units of profit….Your Child.

    If a CEO is installed then the CEO can hire first year Teachers and hold them hostage to vote Republican or face losing their job.

    It is no secret that Republicans use fear and intimidation in election years to fool their ignorant and uninformed voter base.

    Republicans are the clear and present danger to the people of the United States of America and should be considered as the enemy of the people as they ripoff and steal from the one sector of the population that cannot vote……Your Children.

    Republicans should be considered as the Taliban in America

  • Keith

    For those who make decisions on actual information rather than political whims, this was an easy decision. A multitude of evidence suggests Milwaukee’s experiments with vouchers has not worked. It has been an expensive failure draining resources from public education just as it has in Philadelphia.
    It’s really quite simple. You cannot spend the same dollar in two different locations. We have to ask ourselves, are we going to become a nation of elitists, of haves and have nots, or are we going to fund a public education that served this nation so well in the 20th century? Yes the technology and methodology has changed, but the concept of a strong America based on individual merit, not upon who your father (or mother is), or where you live, is what made the United States the wealthiest and most powerful country in the world. Public education is patriotism.

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