The Doyle/Gard school voucher expansion plan shows how Doyle’s willingness to sell out his base is all pain and no gain.
The Doyle problem II
So now Governor Jim Doyle has signed the bill that he and John Gard wrote allowing Milwaukee’s private and religious voucher schools to expand up to 50 percent. Before this, Doyle had always seemed to stand firm in defense of public education while letting the GOP have its way on virtually every other issue that has a fiscal note attached. Now he is kicking WEAC and MPS in the shins, too. So what’s the big deal?
The bill is both bad public policy and bad politics.
The bill will erode the conditions of Milwaukee Public Schools, has no real standards for private schools, and it will cost Milwaukee taxpayers millions of extra dollars. Howard Fuller, George and Susan Mitchell, and the Milwaukee Archdiocese all claim they are not against public schools. Instead they say that without the “caps” being raised private school students would have not been able to attend the schools they were already enrolled in. That issue has, of course many solutions. Just a change in assigning of seats could guarantee the current students their seats. About 3,000-4,000 students per year leave the program and come back to MPS, so the crisis was largely overblown. In these politically timid times, it is hard to imagine any elected official allowing students to be summarily thrown out of their schools when so much attention is already focused on them.
Now with a 50 percent expansion of voucher seats, MPS will again go through more dramatic budget reductions, have higher concentration of special education students and find it hard to maintain decent programs in MPS (MPS had cut between $20-40 million annually for the past 4 years at least).
The bill’s backers say it trades extra seats for accountability, but a quick glance shows that the accountability is an illusion. Currently there are no requirements of voucher schools where test scores and accreditation are concerned. Under the expansion bill, little will still be known about individual schools since the required test information will not be reported by school but sent to an assessment team at Georgetown whose members are mostly private school academic advocates. This team will do some comparisons between a group of Choice and MPS students. But the tests given by the private schools are easier (Iowa Test of Basic Skills) and not comparable to those done by MPS (Wisconsin Knowledge and Concept Exams).
But this is not the worst part. The private schools get to chose groups that organized them for accreditation, namely, Fuller’s Institute for the Transformation of Learning and the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. Talk about the fox guarding the chicken house.
Expansion will cost Milwaukee taxpayers more because of the nature of the state funding formula. The local taxpayers will have to pay more than $1,000 per child more to go to the private schools than MPS. MPS cannot count any of these students in the state reimbursement system, costing MPS millions more. And to make matters even worse, many students will return to MPS before the end of the school year since MPS cannot turn any student away.
So why is this bad politics? Doyle has not seemed to learn the lesson of the last election or why Tony Earl lost to Tommy Thompson in 1986. If you want to win, stay principled and don’t sell out your base. The idea that Democratic voters have no one else to turn to (since Green or Walker would be much worse) simply does not work. How will the teachers unions organize the base and turn people out?
On the political level, Doyle has managed to demobilize another group of traditional Democratic Party voters, the 12,000 MPS employees. MPS employees and parents now will just less likely vote.
Perhaps the most amazing thing about it is that Doyle did this to the very group that put him through the primary: WEAC. No way would Doyle have survived the primary if WEAC had gone neutral in the 2002 against Barrett and Falk. As it is, he only beat Barrett by 8 percent.
Some people say Doyle had to do this so as not to lose a significant portion of the African American base. But that is a largely false reading of voting behavior. We kept hearing that the African American community was going to go for Bush in the last election which is why Fuller and others organized commercials touting Bush’s education program. But Kerry did better in the concentrated African American wards of Milwaukee than did Gore or Clinton (really, check the numbers). In the end, even for African Americans with children in voucher schools, the idea of voting for Republicans pushing TABOR, cutting taxes, health care, etc. will be hard to swallow.
Finally, does Doyle really think that Fuller, the Mitchells, Reverend Daniels, and Father will be satisfied with this result and will now support him for governor? Does he think the same people who put the despicable ads on TV comparing Doyle to the southern racists of the 1950s will somehow not raise money against him again?
We know what those groups are going to do about Doyle. But what do we do about Doyle?
March 14, 2006
post a letter about this article »
read letters on this article (0)
Dave Weingrod lives in Shorewood, is a school social worker in Milwaukee and serves on the leadership committee of Grassroots Northshore.