Janesville19.1°

Power brokers cook up secret plan for Milwaukee schools

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Joel McNally
August 25, 2008

In 1999, a backroom plan for Milwaukee Public Schools was put together behind closed doors by the office of Mayor John Norquist and the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce. The plan was presented publicly by the water boys of the mayor and the MMAC who had been elected to the Milwaukee School Board with their political support.


The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel provided the cheerleading as it usually does for anything Milwaukee’s power brokers want to do. The plan was to reduce busing in MPS by spending more than $100 million to improve neighborhood schools and encouraging students to attend schools close to their homes, racial integration be damned.


The plan had political appeal for African-Americans and other minorities whose aging neighborhood schools had long been neglected.


By 1999, MPS had become a “majority minority” district, but the primary unspoken objective behind the Neighborhood School Initiative was to retain as many white students as possible by allowing them to attend all-white schools in all-white neighborhoods.


Well, guess what?


Nine years later, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has “exposed” that the neighborhood school plan it supported is a failure. That $102 million was spent to expand schools where enrollment either went down or failed to grow substantially. It also included millions spent on building new educational facilities in “partnership” with influential religious institutions.


Now MPS is paying on 20-year, long-term leases for educational facilities that are unneeded and standing empty.


The Journal Sentinel conveniently avoided mentioning its own role in selling the failed plan to the community. Instead, the failure is being presented as just one more example of the incompetence of MPS, even though the current administration was not responsible for the plan.


To add insult to injury, those who were responsible for the $100 million failure—the MMAC, the mayor’s office (under another mayor) and other power brokers—are once again meeting behind closed doors to cook up their next brilliant plan for MPS. And the Journal Sentinel is once again squarely on the side of whatever the political meddlers who created the failed neighborhood school plan decide to hand down from upon high as their next solution for MPS.


Thinking big about what should be done to give every Milwaukee Public School student the same quality schools and educational advantages that are routinely available to every student fortunate enough to be born in a wealthy Milwaukee suburb certainly would be welcome.


But any plan cooked up in secret that does not have the goal of providing the same financial resources and educational opportunities to poor black, Latino and white students in the city of Milwaukee that are available to suburban students receiving an array of first-class educational programs is doomed to failure.


All those great, white fathers meeting secretly in back rooms have an obvious conflict of interest. Most of them do not live in the city and certainly wouldn’t allow their children to attend public schools if they did. Despite all their rhetoric, creating successful city schools is not their first educational priority.


While the MMAC pretends to be concerned about the quality of MPS, its highest educational priority remains expanding the taxpayer voucher program to provide public funds to send children to private and religious schools.


The expansion of the voucher program removes financial resources and motivated students from city schools leaving MPS with the hardest-to-educate students not wanted in private schools and less money to educate them.


That was the real reason for the failure of the neighborhood schools initiative. Over the course of the building and expansion program, MPS lost more than 20,000 students as well as the state aid for educational programs that went with them.


As power brokers put together their secret plans behind closed doors, the first thing they should do is stop taking financial resources away from Milwaukee and instead provide the same educational programs for city children as they do for their own children.


Joel McNally is a syndicated columnist. His e-mail address is jmcnally@wi.rr.com.

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