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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Issue of the Week: This Is What Privatization Looks Like

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If you care about public education, looks like you're bound to be heartbroken during Gov. Scott Walker's term.

Walker and Republicans in the state Legislature have already taken steps to make Wisconsin a grand experiment in the privatization of public education, from preschool to post-grad.

Step 1: Strip teachers and faculty of their collective bargaining rights. Not only will this allow administrators to cut pay, increase class sizes and gut certain programs like art and gym, but it also will decrease the power of teachers' unions in elections. By contrast, Walker provided an exemption for law enforcement unions—unions with members that traditionally vote Republican and contribute to Republicans.

Step 2: Slash funding for public K-12 education by $834 million, but continue to fund school vouchers at the same rate as last year, or $6,442 per pupil. (Wouldn't want private schools to make the same kind of sacrifices as public schools, of course.) Cut funding for the UW System by $250 million and Wisconsin Technical College System by $71.6 million while making it easier for the UW's flagship campus, UW-Madison, to hike tuition.

Step 3: Lie about how public school districts would come out ahead after the cut in state aid as long as those controversial collective bargaining changes are implemented. Unfortunately for Walker, state Rep. Sondy Pope-Roberts (D-Middleton) crunched the numbers provided by the Legislative Fiscal Bureau and found that Walker's savings estimates were off—way off. While Walker had claimed that 94 of 424 school districts would see cuts next year, Pope-Roberts found that an additional 87 districts, or 181 total, would see cuts next year. Walker's estimates for the Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) were off by $12.5 million—not small change for an already cash-strapped district.

Step 4: Expand the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program. Let rich kids into the program even though their parents can afford private school tuition. Allow suburban private and religious schools to get in on the action. Eliminate the requirement that these schools administer standardized tests and report the scores to the public. End the requirement that teachers have a license or that MPS teachers live in the city. Don't address the funding flaw, which increases property taxes for Milwaukee homeowners. And the more students in the voucher program, the bigger the property tax increase at the local level.

Step 5: Let Republican legislators expand the voucher program and charter schools even further. State Sens. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills) and Leah Vukmir (R-Wauwatosa) and state Rep. Robin Vos (R-Racine) are working on legislation that could take vouchers statewide. Walker is planning on creating a state charter board made up of political appointees and removing the cap on charter school enrollment.

Mind you, there's no compelling data showing that voucher or charter schools provide a better education than public schools—including the Milwaukee Public Schools. Yet Walker, Darling, Vukmir and Vos are willing to gut public education in favor of pouring money into private and religious schools that won't have to report scores to the state, can't assure parents that teachers are fully qualified, and don't have to fight for funding in highly contentious state budget battles. That's because Walker and his Republican allies have already decided in favor of privatization—at the expense of Wisconsin's long tradition of strong public education that is accessible to all.

Heroes of the Week
: SeedFolks Youth Ministry Volunteers

Located at 2029 N. 20thSt., Alice's Garden is a 1-acre community agricultural project in Johnsons Park—on land that once belonged to Samuel Brown, an abolitionist whose farm was the birthplace of the Underground Railroad in Milwaukee.

Today, volunteers from SeedFolks Youth Ministry and the SeedFolks 4-H Club sponsor and maintain Alice's Garden, which offers area children and their families a chance to get their hands in the earth and grow their own healthy food. The garden welcomes neighborhood and community children, April through October, for various gardening programs and projects. Classes from schools in the neighborhood and surrounding areas come to the garden for hands-on environmental learning and gardening. The programs are offered at no cost to participants.
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