March 29, 2011- Wisconsin has long been on the cutting edge of the conservative education "reform" movement. The Bradley Foundation in Milwaukee helped launch the nation's first private-school voucher program, and turned school choice into a major national issue, pushing African American parents in Milwaukee out in front of the issue.
Who wants to argue with low-income parents and their kids that they should be trapped in lousy public schools?
Fast forward a couple of decades. Once again, Wisconsin is leading the way on school choice. Republican Governor Scott Walker has proposed lifting the income cap on that private school voucher program that started in Milwaukee. So, as Madison school board member Marj Passman puts it, "you'll actually have the poor paying for the rich to attend school."
That shift is not lost on people like state Senator Lena Taylor of Milwaukee, who has spoken out loudly against Governor Walker's education "reforms"–which include massive, historic cuts to the state's education budget, lifting the income cap on vouchers, and setting up a statewide system of charter schools that would drain dwindling resources from what remains of our once-great public school system.
A rightwing blog posted video of Taylor talking about the agonizing school choice issue for African American families. At the time, she and 13 of her democratic colleagues had fled to Illinois to prevent passage of Governor Walker's union-busting bill which, among other things, takes away Wisconsin school teachers' bargaining rights.
Blogger Eric Odom misses the point entirely. Calling Taylor a "fleebagger" and a tool of teachers' unions, he dismisses what she says as a "rant against school choice."
(Disturbingly, several rightwing blogs have focused on the tiny handful of African American women in the Wisconsin legislature recently, and posted video that purports to show them acting angry and irrational.)
But Taylor is a star. And what she has to say is powerful because it is the opposite of a one-sided "rant." She urges the Chicago audience to consider the whole picture. She opposes Walker's wholesale destruction of Wisconsin's public school system, she says, "But we cannot afford to pretend like the system we have does not need tweaking, and we cannot afford to pretend that there are not some quality voucher and charter schools."
Some of those high-quality voucher and charter schools are in her district, and she is proud of that, she says. On the other hand, the fly-by-night voucher scandals–teachers who only have a high school education, a principal who turned out to be a sex offender, and crumbling schools that operate for-profit and offer grossly inferior environments to kids–upset Taylor. For low-income African American parents, school choice is not a simple issue.