By Senator Lena C. Taylor
State Republicans Want to Dissolve Milwaukee School District
In 2010, I stood on the floor of the Wisconsin State Senate and talked about the governance structure of Milwaukee Public Schools. At that time, MPS was a school district that had been categorized as a District Identified for Improvement (DIFI). For five consecutive years, MPS had failed to achieve proficiency in reading and math across all grade levels.
In 2009, over 70% of 10th graders, in MPS did not achieve proficiency in mathematics or reading. A report that year, from the National Center for Education Statistics, stated that Milwaukee 4th and 8th graders tested worse in math, than most of their counterparts in urban districts around the nation. When parents, legislators and stakeholders learned this information many of us felt like we had to do something.
In a response, a bill titled The Milwaukee TEACH Act, which stood for Milwaukee Transforms Education for All our Children Act, was introduced. The bill would have given control of the school district to Milwaukee’s mayor. Without doubt, it was seen as controversial. In desperation to improve the outcomes for students, nothing was off the table.
Well, that’s not quite correct.
We understood the need for transformational change and were also working to meet President Barack Obama’s challenge for us to “Race to the Top” initiative. This was a bold attempt to incentivize states to spur systemic reform to improve education in America’s schools. Many were on board with the goal of raising standards, improving teacher effectiveness, using data effectively in the classroom, and adopting new strategies to help struggling schools.
While change is never easy, we were willing to do what was necessary and work with our elected school board to make change happen. The operative phrase here is ‘our elected school board.’ Whether in the Milwaukee TEACH Act or any reform initiative, we have always understood the role, value and need for an elected school board that is directly accountable to the parents and students they serve.
Fast forward 12 years and we find that MPS continues to face many challenges on the road to reform. Some issues are a decade old and others have been brought on by the COVID-19 health pandemic. Due to our size and unique make-up, when issues happen in our district, they are exacerbated. While we work towards solutions, Republicans in the State Legislature have introduced legislation again to disrupt the district. This time they seek to dissolve MPS and break it up into smaller districts. With that change, our school board would be disbanded as well.
Under no circumstances should Milwaukee parents ever lose local control of their school board. In no other part of the state, would power be seized in this manner. Education reform doesn’t equal relinquishing our rights to self-governance. That is math we understand very well.