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WUWM's Emily Files reports on education in southeastern Wisconsin.

MPS superintendent, school board president speak against bill to break up district

Milwaukee Public Schools' central office building.
Milwaukee Public Schools' central office building.

The Wisconsin Assembly Education Committee held a hearing Wednesday on a bill that would break up Milwaukee Public Schools.

The bill from Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills) would break MPS into four to eight smaller districts. A commission made up of the governor, state superintendent, Milwaukee mayor and appointees would decide how to divvy up the district.

Darling said something needs to be done to improve MPS’s academic performance and give parents more voice. On statewide standardized tests last year, about 4% of MPS students were proficient in math and about 7% were proficient in English. Participation rates in the tests were lower due to the pandemic.

"We have to get the discussion going on what are the solutions?" Darling said in Wednesday's hearing. "And not just what are the problems — what are the solutions? And we need to involve all of us to discuss and develop a strategy. It might not work either. But as the chief policy makers for education, we are responsible for public education."

MPS Superintendent Keith Posley testified against the bill. Posley has pledged to significantly increase MPS test scores, but that hasn’t happened. He was superintendent for less than two years before the pandemic started.

"I’ll be the first to say we need to make improvements," Posley said. "But again, it’s the idea of what we need to do together in order to improve. I have the same commitment and zeal for all of those children. I want to see them be successful just like anyone else."

Alongside the MPS breakup bill, Sen. Darling co-sponsored a bill to expand school choice by eliminating income limits on private school voucher programs.

MPS Board President Bob Peterson said if MPS were to be broken up, it would take choices away from parents. MPS has a number of magnet and specialty schools that draw students from all over the city.

"I've heard a lot of talk about parent choice," Peterson said. "To break up this [district] will be a real setback for the rights of parents to choose which public school they want to go to."

If the MPS breakup bill made it to Democratic Gov. Evers, he is likely to veto it.

Other attempts to restructure MPS have failed. In 2009, there was an attempt at a mayoral takeover. In 2016, a proposal to hand over governance of low-performing schools was unsuccessful.

Editor’s note: A portion of the audio is from WisconsinEye

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Emily is WUWM's education reporter and a news editor.
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