An outgrowth of a state law drafted by Republican Sen. Alberta Darling of River Hills and Rep. Dale Kooyenga of Brookfield and passed as part of the 2015-’17 state budget created the Opportunity Schools and Partnership Program (OSPP), which critics refer to as the Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) Takeover Plan. In this plan, a Commissioner appointed by the Milwaukee County Executive and operating independently from the Milwaukee School Board could target five failing schools for radical governance changes. The first commissioner, Demond Means, a nearby superintendent and MPS grad, resigned June 29, citing an adversarial environment that “is the last thing our children need” (source). As a result, the head of the state Senate, Scott Fitzgerald, said lawmakers may cut the budget for Milwaukee Public Schools because of the local resistance to OSPP.
Background: The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI) has identified 55 Milwaukee Public Schools that fail to meet expectations, representing 83.3 percent of all “failing” schools in Wisconsin. This takes place in a complex city, named #6 in Forbes 2015 Top 10 dangerous cities, where 80 percent of the students are on free or reduced lunch. Milwaukee has one of the oldest-running voucher programs, starting in 1990.
Proponents of OSPP point to the challenging statistics in Milwaukee, arguing since 90% do not read on grade level and 75% do not attend school regularly, something must be done. They point to Milwaukee charter school successes and tout market reform. Opponents of OSPP say that charters scores are not better than public schools, and assert charters dismantles and privatizes the public school system, removes local control, furthers inequity as more English language learners and students with disabilities remain in public schools, and is part of a biased system where white legislators remove authority granted by black voters.
Connection for English Language Arts/ NCTE:
NCTE Policies, including the 2016 Education Policy, affirm innovative approaches to education, and the OSPP is a step to try to answer the complex needs of the school children of Milwaukee. The statement continues: “Regardless of neighborhood, family circumstance, or personal situation, all students have a right to fully qualified teachers and to classrooms and curricula that enrich their lives and provide a foundation for growth as productive citizens,” which is a goal for the OSPP. However, community, schools, and teachers must have part of the educational decision making, which the OSPP takes away, and they must have funds, which are threatened. The complexity of Milwaukee demands greater wisdom and selflessness.