Thwarting a school takeover scheme: Milwaukee educators show how it’s done

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By Amy Mizialko. Amy is a special education teacher and the vice president of Milwaukee Teachers Education Association.

Make no mistake about it, educators, parents and community activists in Milwaukee are fighting for the very survival of our public school system. For over two and a half decades right-wing foundations and suburban white Republicans in the state legislature have been pressing for the privatization of Milwaukee’s public schools.

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Milwaukee was the first school district to offer vouchers, which siphon off public tax dollars from public schools to unaccountable private schools, and one of the first cities where privately-managed charter schools took root. Between the two, the district has lost 44 percent of its public school student population.

But the privatizers were still not satisfied. They wanted more. Sixteen months ago, as part of the state budget, Republican legislators passed a plan to end public schools in Milwaukee. They empowered the county executive to appoint a takeover commissioner who would choose schools to hand over to charter school companies.

The new law required that at least one school, and up to three, be taken over in the 2016-17 school year. The following year, it could be up to three schools, and every year after that, up to five.

But here’s news worth celebrating: Thanks to the dogged activism of educators, students, parents, and community activists working together, we have staved off the immediate threat. The takeover commissioner backed away from announcing target schools, then resigned his post, and the state announced that Milwaukee no longer qualified for the takeover plan.

How did the defenders of public education in Milwaukee win such a crucial battle? We did it by resisting the privatizers at every turn, by nurturing a long-term grassroots coalition (Schools and Communities United), and by sticking to the principle of “all for one and one for all.”

And the fight goes on. As public school advocate Jamaal Smith put it: “We will not stand by and allow our schools and communities to become additional assets in wealth-building for corporations and elitists. Not on our watch!”

For my more detailed account of how we won, click here.

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