Friday, March 27, 2009

It’s Time for a Game-Changer: Abolish MPS

Milwaukee Public Schools has failed. It has failed parents, it has failed the community, it has failed Wisconsin taxpayers and we have failed to meet our moral obligation to educate our children.

Here’s the thing; we know it’s a failure and for one reason or another, year after year, politicians do nothing but use MPS as a pawn. Critics cite MPS as the result of all that is wrong with our educational system, a financial drain, the black eye on Wisconsin’s education scorecard, an adult jobs program for teachers, administrators and bureaucrats.

Supporters of the district argue that MPS struggles because, class sizes are too large, it doesn’t have enough teachers or money, or that the students have different social needs and backgrounds than the rest of the state.

Both sides use MPS to make an argument and meet their agenda, but in the end teachers continue to get raises in salary or benefits, board members get re-elected, taxpayers statewide get the tab and children pay the price.

It’s a seemingly endless cycle, and it’s our job to break it. People have been playing this game for generations and we’re all losing. The failure of Milwaukee Public Schools can no longer be seen as a “Milwaukee problem” to the rest of Wisconsin. It’s time for a game-changer. It’s time for action. It’s time to tell the children of Milwaukee that failure is unacceptable.

I learned by serving on a local school board that public education works best when the entire community takes ownership of its schools; when parents and teachers and principals and school board members all work together. In Milwaukee, an expansive and ineffective bureaucracy stands in the way of this type of harmony.

This is what I am going to do about it.

My plan is to abolish MPS. I want to break the district into eight new, independent school districts and end the era of one superintendent for 200 plus schools. Each district will have its own identity and its own newly elected school board. The only things the districts will share are the common goals of empowering parents by localizing control of education and focusing on preparing children for careers or college.

My legislation asks the Wisconsin Legislature to stand up and acknowledge that we are failing Milwaukee’s school children. It sets in place a process of orderly transition to new districts and district leadership by specific dates and it protects the existing Milwaukee Parental Choice program.

What it does not do is complicate matters by legislating details about where district borders will be drawn. It does not fire teachers or dictate where they will report to work. It does not pre-select new school board members or necessitate any current administrative employees lose their jobs. It wouldn’t raise taxes or make budgeting decisions that should be left to parents and board members.

Milwaukee and Wisconsin are socially and politically complex. This complexity has a tendency to slow progress and resist change even when change is desperately needed. Passage of this bill will be a test of how complex and diverse groups can come together to make real change for the betterment of Milwaukee’s children and the betterment of our entire state.

It won’t be easy; but it’s our obligation.

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