by Colleen Flaherty
On the 60th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court decision Brown v. Board of Education—the landmark decision that led to the desegregation of the nation’s public schools—Milwaukee educators, parents and community leaders marched together to celebrate how far Milwaukee has come and discuss how the fight for equity in education is far from over.
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“Today, we appreciate. I thank you from the bottom of my heart for knocking down the wall of segregation,” said Milwaukee third-grader Terynn Erby-Walker at the event on Saturday, addressing those who have fought for civil rights.
Unfortunately, especially for Milwaukee area schools, ALEC-inspired legislation targets low-income and segregated schools. By slashing public school funding and pouring tax dollars money into unaccountable vouchers and corporate charters, schools are once again becoming separate but unequal depending on income and race.
According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel analysis of Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) enrollment, “One in three MPS students today attends a school that is intensely segregated, defined as any school with an enrollment that is at least 90% one race. Nearly 20 years ago, that number was far smaller: less than one in 8 students.”
These schools have long been a target for corporate takeover, as Milwaukee has the largest and oldest private school voucher program of any U.S. city.
Gordon Lafer, a research associate for the Economic Policy Institute who released a study on the effects of privatization in Milwaukee, noted that flowing public money into these unaccountable corporate charters and voucher schools has led to different standards for Wisconsin students depending on their zip code.
“The fact that what’s considered the gold standard for poor students in Milwaukee is considered unacceptable for kids in the suburbs is just wrong,” said Lafer.
Ingrid Walker-Henry, a Milwaukee educator and parent, said the repercussions of these initiatives have left resources for Wisconsin schools separate and “very unequal.”
“All children do not have the same opportunities within our city,” said Walker-Henry. “We’re looking at things like only having a librarian in the school building one day a week. You don’t always have art, music or gym for kids.”
“What we have in Milwaukee is de facto segregation, based on issues of race and economics, because they are born in a certain zip code area, they are at a real disadvantage,” said Bob Peterson, president of the Milwaukee Teachers Education Association.
Schools & Communities United, a coalition of Milwaukee organizations dedicated to educational equity, released alarming statistics that underscore inequalities in the state of Wisconsin:
- Wisconsin’s African-American children have the worst well-being of any state, based on 12 key indicators.
- Wisconsin has the widest achievement gap between blacks and whites.
- The Milwaukee-West Allis-Waukesha region is the most segregated among major metropolitan areas in the U.S. The segregation is residential and based on poverty.
- Wisconsin incarcerates a higher percentage of African-American men than any other state.
- The disparity between African-American men and white men in Milwaukee is the widest among the top 40 metropolitan areas in the U.S.