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Wisconsin right-wing politicians move to take over Milwaukee Public Schools

By Sean Orr |
May 20, 2015
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Milwaukee, WI - Late on the night of May 19, Wisconsin legislators made a surprise move to overhaul the state’s public school system. State Senator Alberta Darling introduced the “K-12 Omnibus Plan” during the final hours of a budget drafting meeting. While the overhaul attacks public education broadly across the state, it narrows the attack to Milwaukee. The plan is a aimed at the Milwaukee Public Schools system, the Milwaukee teachers union and the working class community that relies on Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS).

The plan will create an Opportunity Schools and Partnership Program (OSPP) to take over ‘failing’ public schools in MPS and hand them over to private companies to manage. The OSPP will be run by a commissioner who will be appointed by Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele. The commissioner will have parallel authority to the MPS School Board and will only be accountable to the county executive. The commissioner will be able to take over three schools starting in the fall of this year and expand from there, taking over up to five additional schools every year after that. All MPS workers at schools taken over will be fired and forced to reapply for their job. But to be rehired they will have to waive their rights to be represented by a union.

The OSPP plan was created by State Senator Alberta Darling (R) and State Representative Dale Kooyenga (R). Neither of them represents the people of Milwaukee. In fact, they are both representatives of predominantly white suburbs of Milwaukee - River Hills and Brookfield, respectively - that are also the wealthiest regions in the state. The OSPP plan has the full support of the Milwaukee Metropolitan Association of Commerce and the Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele, a multimillionaire with significant influence in the state’s Democratic Party.

The OSPP is a blatant attack on Milwaukee’s working class families and the city’s public teachers union, the Milwaukee Teachers' Education Association (MTEA). The MTEA has been leading the fight against school privatization in Milwaukee, working closely with public school-based organizations like Youth Empowered in the Struggle (YES) to build a broad front in defense of public education. Ever since Walker’s election in 2010 and in the wake of Act 10 - which gutted the rights of public sector unions - MPS has suffered the most severe budget cuts in its history, losing hundreds of millions of dollars and being forced to lay off hundreds of teachers and close several schools. By appointing a commissioner to privatize and de-unionize public schools at whim, Darling and Kooyenga hope to push the public school system as a whole into collapse.

Community activists are already beginning to organize what many see as the last line of defense against the end of public education in Milwaukee. The schools listed as potential targets - 55 public schools in total - have predominantly Black or Latino student populations and are in parts of the city devastated by decades of deindustrialization and lack of social services.

Angela Walker, a community organizer with Wisconsin Jobs Now and veteran activist, has made it clear the form of struggle this defense will take: “We will call this attack on public education and local control in Milwaukee what it is: the attempted colonization and commodification of Black and Brown people, and the further demonization of the working class.”

Only a united front between the public sector unions and militant organizations of Milwaukee’s Black and Latino communities will be able to stop this historic attack. Organizing is already underway to fight back and preserve the only educational system that works in the interests of working class people and oppressed communities.

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