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Milwaukee Public Schools Brace for Possible Impact of State Budget Proposals

Milwaukee Public School Leaders are concerned about the possible impact a so called Recovery District could have

The Milwaukee School Board will hold its first meeting Thursday since the Legislature’s budget committee approved several items that could greatly impact MPS. Perhaps the biggest would be the creation of a Recovery School District. 

It would give an independent commissioner oversight over failing MPS schools. At Thursday night’s school board meeting, members are expected to discuss giving the MPS superintendent similar powers.

Milwaukee School Board member Larry Miller says the state budget language stunned him.

“I just received it about an hour ago. And as I read each paragraph, each paragraph is more alarming than the previous,” he says.

Miller is referring to what he calls the MPS takeover proposal. 

The real name of the legislation is the Opportunity Schools and Partnership Program. It would require the Milwaukee County Executive to appoint a commissioner. In the first two years of the program, the commissioner would take control of up to three of the lowest performing schools within MPS. Miller says the number would rise to five in subsequent years.

“If you look at the wording that I looked at, they’re taking the buildings, they’ll fire all the teachers, all those resources will be taken from the funding that would go to MPS and that is being given to another entity. So for every five schools, we lose $47 million to $50 million in funding,” Miller says.

The state would pay the schools the commissioner takes over just over $8,000 per student. Miller says MPS gets more than $10,000 per student. He says the state would save money, but the district would lose.

“Not only is this a move that will cause serious damage to public education, it looks to me like this is an attempt by Republicans to bankrupt Milwaukee Public Schools,” Miller says.

MPS Superintendent Darienne Driver says the district already has a plan to deal with low performing schools.

“And so this really takes us back a step and it’s just a distraction,” Driver says.

Driver says the legislation seems more like a land grab than anything else.

“The idea that you would take our lowest performing schools and possibly turn them into independent charter schools or voucher schools is very disappointing given that the lowest performing set of schools in our city are the voucher schools as a collective. And so seeing that to me signals that this isn’t as much of a school improvement bill as it is a facilities bill,” Driver says.

The Milwaukee Public School Board is scheduled to vote tonight on a measure that would give the superintendent more control over charter schools and vacant buildings.

Republican Sen. Alberta Darling says the item shows the state is heading in the right direction. She’s co-chair of the Legislature’s budget committee.

“I think that it’s significant that on Thursday, and we’ll be watching, that the school board is now saying you know what, this is really a good idea. We’re going to take the same concept of the Superintendent can take up to three schools, have the authority to do what she thinks is important and necessary to turn the schools around and we’re not gonna get in her way. I think that is so significant and has happen because we have put this initiative on the ground and said you know what, we’re not going to wait,” Darling says.

The local NAACP met Wednesday night to talk about Milwaukee education issues. President Fred Royal says it appears to him state leaders are creating a fourth school system in Milwaukee, after MPS, charter schools and voucher schools.

Listen to an extended interview with Darienne Driver, Superintendent of Milwaukee Public Schools.

LaToya was a reporter with WUWM from 2006 to 2021.
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