The Puzzling Politics of School Choice
By George Lightbourn
I don’t think it would be possible to make things any more confusing for Milwaukee parents. Their children have become political pawns in a political chess match and it will surprise no one to learn that this group of poor, minority parents is being treated quite shabbily.
The politics that these people are caught up in is being run out of the State Capitol. Governor Doyle went out of his way to tuck a decidedly non-fiscal item into his budget that stands to affect all school choice children. Specifically, he added a long list of regulatory requirements that the schools participating in the Milwaukee’s school choice program would have to follow. Governor Doyle’s list of regulations is torn directly out of the Milwaukee Teachers Education Association play book. After all, MTEA worked hard to deliver a totally Democrat state government and they expect a pay off for their effort. And to the glee of MTEA, Governor Doyle delivered.
Lest anyone be deceived, the aim of MTEA has always been to shut down the private school choice program. They want to get all of the kids back into public schools. Their hope is that these new regulations the Governor put in his budget will make it onerous enough for the choice schools that they will be forced to opt out of the choice program. There is logic to the MTEA reasoning given that choice schools operate on tiny budgets that are already strained.
The tired political battle being waged by MTEA and the Governor is of no meaning to the parents who will get caught in the crossfire. They don’t care about politics or money or power. They simply want a safe, supportive learning environment for their children. They have seen what Milwaukee Public Schools have to offer and they have chosen to send their children elsewhere. They are confused as to why the Governor wants to take away their ability to choose.
And it is equally confusing for those of us who are watching this political theatre from a distance. Why the push to move these children back into Milwaukee Public Schools? Didn’t we just find out that the test results for children in the choice schools are similar, and in some cases better, than those for children in MPS? And didn’t we find out that the choice schools are making do with a fraction of the spending in the MPS schools? And didn’t we find out that the choice program is saving taxpayers $37.2 million?
To make matters more confusing, last week Governor Doyle and Milwaukee Mayor Barrett released a consultant’s report that detailed just how grim fiscal condition of Milwaukee Public Schools is. In releasing the report, the Governor and mayor said, …the unfortunate reality is that academic outcomes throughout MPS remain unacceptably low.” They added, “MPS has serious academic challenges at the same time it is facing a serious long-term financial problem.”
It seems more than curious that now is the time the Governor has chosen to herd as many children as possible away from private schools and back into Milwaukee Public Schools. Quite frankly, the fortunes of MPS have never appeared worse and the prospects for improving MPS’ academic or fiscal condition remains unlikely.
Rather than continuing to push more regulation onto the choice schools, it would seem prudent for the Governor to join the parents of the 20,000 children in the choice program and express his gratitude that Milwaukee has an effective, low-cost alternative to MPS.
-April 16, 2009