A digitally altered image bearing a fabricated quote attributed to Opportunity Schools and Partnership Program Commissioner Dr. Demond Means is “not accurate and makes a ridiculous claim,” according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s PolitiFact Wisconsin. PolitiFact gave the “ridiculous” claim by Wisconsin Jobs Now a rating of “Pants on Fire.” The Opportunity Schools and Partnership Program was created by the state Legislature last summer.
Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele and OSPP Commissioner Dr. Demond Means have made a commitment to implementing a community schools model through OSPP. They’re asking Milwaukee Public Schools to say “Yes” to a partnership that would preserve resources and support for MPS schools, students, teachers, and families.
In addition to ensuring that the Milwaukee School Board of Directors would retain their duly elected governance, the partnership proposal submitted by Abele and Means to Milwaukee Public Schools in April of 2016 ensures that: 1) teachers and employees at struggling schools would retain their status as MPS employees, while retaining high licensing standards, ensuring they remain members of their union and keep their MPS employee benefits, including healthcare and retirement; 2) students would remain enrolled in MPS; and 3) per-pupil funding received from the state would be returned back to MPS.
Despite the fact that the proposal protects MPS, opponents, including Wisconsin Jobs Now, “pushed back,” according to PolitiFact:
“The liberal group posted a picture of Means on Facebook on April 28, 2016. The image showed Means holding a sign that read “MPS needs to be gutted!”
Unlike a meme, which typically makes clear the message is fake, the Facebook post included this note: “Abele’s MPS Takeover Czar Demond Means really said this.”
Did Means really say that? In a word: No.”
“People who disagree with our proposal to protect Milwaukee Public Schools jobs, enrollment, funding, and Board oversight are entitled to their own opinions, but not their own facts,” County Executive Chris Abele said. “It’s unfortunate that some people are spending their time and energy telling lies about Dr. Means — an MPS graduate who has spent his entire career working in public schools – instead of working together to find ways to protect MPS jobs, funding, and enrollment.”
Read the entire PolitiFact ruling here.
The Legislature’s Republican-controlled budget committee approved a wide-reaching education agenda that would increase funding for public schools, undo enrollment caps on the private school voucher program, create a special needs voucher and target certain low-performing schools for takeover.
The 12-4 vote on education issues in the two-year budget, with all Republicans in support and Democrats against, came at the end of five hours of debate. Republicans broke with Gov. Scott Walker on several key issues, including by reversing a $127 million cut to public schools in the first year.
The Joint Finance Committee was expected to wrap up its votes on the entire budget next week, before sending the entire plan to the full Senate and Assembly for consideration. Walker, a likely presidential candidate, has said he won’t announce a White House bid until after he signs the budget, likely in late June.
Democrats railed against the education plan, and prolonged the debate for hours by introducing a series of motions to alter the plan, all of which were rejected.
“It’s not going to be Armageddon for public schools tomorrow, but we’re on that road,” said Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton, speaking against the plan.
At times the rhetoric was heated. Democrat Lena Taylor said the Republican-backed voucher school program has “raped” the students of Milwaukee Public Schools by taking millions of dollars away from the district.
The comparison drew a sharp rebuke from Rep. Dale Kooyenga, R-Brookfield.
“I just find that sick,” he said. “That’s actually sick.”
Under the proposal as adopted by the committee, a $127 million cut Walker proposed in public school funding next year would be undone. While Walker’s budget held aid for public schools flat over two years, the new plan would increase funding by $100 per student, or about $69 million, above current levels in the second year.
Walker had proposed eliminating the 1,000-student enrollment cap on the statewide private school voucher program, but proponents objected because the way he funded it would have lowered the amount of the payment to students.
The budget committee voted to eliminate the cap, and instead limit participation to no more than 1 percent of a district’s total enrollment. That would increase by 1 percentage point a year for a decade until there would be no cap.
If 1 percent of all roughly 794,000 public school students outside of Milwaukee took a voucher, about 8,000 students would be in the program. This year there were 1,000 students in the two-year-old statewide program and about 1,700 in Racine, where vouchers began in 2011.
The program, modeled after open enrollment for public schools, is estimated to cost public schools about $48 million over the next two years.
Creating a special needs voucher program, funded similar to the regular program with money coming out of aid to public schools, drew opposition from a coalition of disabilities rights groups. They have long opposed the move, saying students won’t have the same rights in private schools they’re guaranteed in public schools.
Special needs vouchers “are not correlated with improved outcomes for students and every proposal introduced to date has lacked any meaningful accountability for either parents or taxpayers,” the coalition said.
But Republican supporters said it was all about giving parents choices about where to send their children.
“The sky is not falling,” said Rep. Mary Czaja, R-Irma. “The sun will come up tomorrow morning. This is just one more option for parents.”
Another part of the plan would give control of the worst-performing Milwaukee Public Schools to a commissioner appointed by the county executive who could then convert them into independent charter or private voucher schools. The plan would also apply to other districts with more than 15,000 students that meet certain criteria, including having the lowest rating on school report cards two years in a row.
A rally to “oppose the takeover of MPS by private companies” will take place today (Sept. 17) at about 4:15 p.m. CST.
The rally is being organized by the Coalition to Oppose the MPS Takeover, a group of local organizations including the Milwaukee Teachers Education Association, Voces de la Frontera, Milwaukee NAACP and others.
The event will take place at the Milwaukee Metropolitan Association of Commerce office, 756 N. Milwaukee Ave., Milwaukee.
A news release announcing the rally said, “The MMAC is an organization of businessmen that wants private companies to take over a large segment of the Milwaukee Public School system. The MMAC wants to pass a state law that would remove dozens of schools from MPS and put them in the hands of private companies. The plan would remove the lowest performing schools in the Milwaukee Public School system from the authority of the democratically elected MPS school board and place them under the control of an appointed individual or board.”
The coalition maintains in the announcement that:
• Twenty years of experience and data prove that giving our public schools to private companies will not produce better outcomes for children.
• The business people at the MMAC have never asked parents whether they want their schools handed over to privately run companies. They have also not explained to parents at the remaining MPS schools how this plan will financially cripple the district and threaten the existence of all MPS schools, including high-performing MPS schools.
• When public schools are handed over to privately run companies, they do not serve all students. They don’t offer bilingual education, and often “counsel out” students with special needs and/or behavior problems. The mission and purpose of public schools, on the other hand, is to serve and welcome all children.
• Privately run schools are not accountable to parent governance councils or our democratically elected school board. Voter rights and educational accountability are eroded when parents and elected officials have no say over our schools.
The Milwaukee Public Schools Board has again delayed action on facilitating access to domestic partner benefits for MPS employees.
The current application process is more burdensome than any used by other employers in Wisconsin, say equality advocates.
The system is based on a mysterious $65,000 report commissioned by MPS, a report that the school board has refused to make available despite requests from Equality Wisconsin and the ACLU of Wisconsin under freedom of information laws.
In May, the board agreed to review the system in advance of the July school board meeting. But at that meeting, board members released a report defending the unwieldy and unusual procedures already in place, while continuing to duck questions about their origin.
Responding to protesters attending the meeting, the school board promised to revisit the matter, but it has failed to do so every month since then. Ironically, the latest pass given to the issue occurred at a meeting held on Spirit Day, a day when people are encouraged to wear purple to show their opposition to the bullying of LGBT students.
“It’s an unconscionable tragedy that on Spirit Day … Milwaukee Public Schools continue to stonewall on this important issue and infringe upon the negotiated benefits of their employees. This is yet another example of bullying faced by hard working LGBT public servants,” said Equality Wisconsin executive director Jason Burns.
In addition to an application process that former school board member Jennifer Morales described as an obstacle course, MPS estimated the value of the benefits at $20,000, twice the amount set by other local governments and school boards. That estimate creates an excess tax of nearly $3,700 for each employee and $755 per policy for the employer, according to EW.
Heterosexual married couples pay no taxes on health benefits and must simply present a marriage license to qualify. But domestic partners must produce extensive proof of their relationships, including life insurance policies, wills, mortgages, checking accounts and credit cards in both names, along with other documentation.
Equality advocates contend that couples should not have to submit anything but proof of domestic partner registration, which is what other employers require.
WiG first reported on the issue in an Aug. 7 story titled “Milwaukee Public Schools stonewalls on partner benefits.” Two months later, WiG received an email from MPS chief human services officer Karen Jackson charging that the story “contained numerous misrepresentations, mischaracterized the implementation of domestic partner benefits … and assailed the character of dedicated and fair public servants.”
She said WiG had not contacted the MPS communication office or filed an open records request, as EW and the ACLU of Wisconsin have done unsuccessfully.
While the school board has repeatedly told EW that it is reviewing the terms of the application process, Jackson said the board has no authority in the matter.
“The eligibility rules were in fact negotiated with the Milwaukee Teachers Education Association (MTEA) – not unilaterally decided upon or implemented by the board, the superintendent or his administration,” Jackson said. She added that the rules were not discriminatory toward gay and lesbian couples, because they are also applied to unmarried opposite-sex couples.
Calls to Jackson’s office were not returned, and the MPS communication office could not clarify the situation.