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GOP Lawmakers Float Turnaround Plan for Low-Performing MPS Schools

The plan would turn over management of some MPS schools to outside operators.

A couple of state lawmakers say they have a plan to turn around the most underperforming public schools in Milwaukee. The proposal by Sen. Alberta Darling of River Hills and Rep. Dale Kooyenga of Brookfield would give the Milwaukee County executive authority to appoint new leaders in MPS schools that are deemed as failing.

Neither legislator returned our calls seeking comment Monday.

Their proposal would allow County Executive Chris Abele to appoint a commissioner charged with turning around up to five underperforming MPS schools per year.

Either the commissioner would directly manage the transition or hire a charter or voucher school operator to do the job.

Rep. Kooyenga spoke about the proposal on WTMJ Radio Monday.

“You’re really empowering Milwaukee Public Schools to go to those schools, go to those teacher unions and say listen, you need to work with us, we need to do something radically different, because if you don’t do something radically different, you’re subject to be spun off into a new type of schools,” Kooyenga says.

Milwaukee Public Schools Superintendent Darienne Driver responded, saying further privatization of education in the city would drain resources from MPS.

“And it just creates, to me, what is already a saturated landscape in Milwaukee around education, it just further adds another layer. And so it’s something that I really don’t support at this time,” Driver says.

Driver says there are a number of strategies in place to raise student achievement at schools the state says are “failing to meet expectations.” The rating is based on student test scores, closing achievement gaps and other measures.

Driver says the district is providing targeted interventions for students struggling in reading and math, and training teachers to help students who’ve experienced trauma.

She says factors in students’ lives that can lead to problems at school cannot be discounted.

“So, everything in terms of the environment and safety and crime and things that are happening in the neighborhoods…thinking about economic development, the fact that we have very high poverty rates, very high segregation rates around race and class and so all of those things play a factor when you’re talking about our lowest performing schools,” Driver says.

Bob Peterson, president of the Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association union, also defended MPS’ turnaround efforts, and criticized the legislative proposal to give away management of certain schools.

“I think we have to keep in mind that what (the GOP lawmakers) are essentially proposing, which is more privatization of the Milwaukee Public Schools, has been tried for the last 25 years without a lot of success,” Peterson says.

Peterson refers to the voucher program in Milwaukee, in which students can use state taxpayer money to attend private, or religious schools.

State test scores show students in voucher schools are doing about the same as students in MPS.

Peterson also says the bill’s authors have no business dictating how Milwaukee Public Schools are run.

“The two, white suburban legislators, they propose that the white county executive appoint a commissioner who will have parallel authority to the democratically elected school board, and in my book, that’s an attack on the democratic rights of the citizens of Milwaukee, the majority of whom are black and brown,” Peterson says.

Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele also did not respond to our calls seeking comment Monday.