Chapter 220 Participants Hoping Milwaukee's School Integration Program Will Be Saved

May 19, 2015

Wisconsin might end its Chapter 220 program. It started decades ago to integrate public schools in the Milwaukee area. A federal judge ruled in 1976 that they were unconstitutionally segregated.

Gov. Walker wants to phase out Chapter 220 over a 12 year period; he cites minimal participation. On Tuesday, the legislature’s budget committee will vote. We spoke with people who hold strong opinions about the program.

About 100 children who live in Milwaukee board yellow school buses every day for a 45-minute ride to Mequon. They’re participants in the Chapter 220 program.

Jeremiah Howard steps off the bus at Homestead High School, where he’s a sophomore. “It’s a new beginning and I get to meet new people,” he says.

Howard has been a student in Mequon-Thiensville schools since 7th grade. Before that, he attended Milwaukee Public Schools.

“I was getting all C’s in sixth grade. When I came out here, the first year I was pretty on point. I was getting A’s and B’s, 3.0,” Howard says.

The teen says he doesn’t mind being one of only a few African-American students in a predominately white system, because it’s helping him concentrate on his education.

“It gets you started with finding a college and college applications, the essay and things like that, we practice ACT planning,” Howard says.

Howard’s mom, Shekila, says peer pressure in MPS distracted her son. “In MPS, they look at more of what you’re wearing and what type of shoes you’ve got on instead of being more focused on your education,” she says.

Howard says she’s sorry to hear that Wisconsin may end Chapter 220, even though her family would not be affected – if it’s phased out over 12 years. Her other two children also attend Mequon schools through the program.

Superintendent Demond Means says a handful of Mequon students have used it to attend MPS schools.

“Young people who’ve lived in suburban communities who’ve gone to the language immersion schools, the Milwaukee School of the Arts, Riverside University High School. Milwaukee Public Schools have amazing schools and amazing educators who are doing great things for kids every day and we have families who have accessed those amazing programs,” Means says.

Means does not want Chapter 220 to end; he says it’s the only program in Wisconsin designed to racially integrate schools.

Terry Falk fears a return to segregated schools. He’s a member of the Milwaukee School Board.

“The real question is, do we value having a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic society? And, it appears the governor doesn’t see much value in that, at least from an economic standpoint,” Falk says.

Falk expects the Joint Finance Committee to agree with the governor to end 220. Republican Rep. Dale Kooyenga of Brookfield sits on the panel. He says the program has outlived its purpose.

“They’ll still get diversity in schools without having this program because diversity in schools and communities happen naturally over time,” Kooyenga says.

And, Kooyenga says Wisconsin’s open enrollment program has helped integrate schools. It allows students to apply to schools outside their district, but does not have a racial component.

He says, over the past decade, minority enrollment in his Elmbrook School District has grown from 14 to 24 percent. In MPS, the student population is 86 percent minority.