Fate of MPS Governance Bills Uncertain

MacIver News Service

Lawmakers did not have many details going into Governor Jim Doyle’s self-described Education Summit this past Monday, but they did eventually have a good idea of what the main theme would be.The Governor’s office put out a invitation late last week to select legislators announcing the event at the Governor’s residence.  The guest speakers included Charlie Rose from US Department of Education, and Tom Payzant, former superintendent of Boston Public Schools. Based on that limited information many guessed correctly the summit was about giving control of Milwaukee Public Schools to the Mayor of the City of Milwaukee.

The event was by invitation only and closed to the public, although the Governor did hold a media availability at the summit’s conclusion. Republicans, including members of legislative Education Committees did not attend, nor did many prominent Democratic members, including Representative Kristen Dexter, vice-chair of the Assembly Committee on Education.

Doyle believes mayoral control of MPS is critical to the state’s application for federal Race to the Top funding, which is due January 19th. Wisconsin is competing against other states for a share of $4.3 billion in federal education grants.

“The status quo in the governance of Milwaukee Public Schools is failing our students, as was made clear again today by the U.S. Department of Education,” Governor Doyle said.  “I am calling a special session of the Legislature because we must act now to drive real change that improves students’ performance, month after month and year after year.”

The Governor’s call for a Special Session of the Legislature is for Wednesday, December 16th.  He wants both the Senate and the Assembly to take up the bill authorizing mayoral control, and another bill that grants sweeping new powers to the Superintendent of Public Instruction.

It is far from certain that the Governor will get his wish. Whether the Legislature even actually debates and votes on those bills will depend on the results of closed-door Democratic caucus meetings next week.

The takeover bill is being backed by Senator Lena Taylor and Representative Pedro Colon, both from Milwaukee. However many of their Democratic colleagues from Milwaukee are opposed to the Governor’s plan.  Two of them, Milwaukee’s Senator Spencer Coggs and Representative Tamara Grigsby, recently introduced a bill that would allow the mayor more say in MPS, but stops short of handing over full control to the Mayor of Milwaukee.

What is certain is that members of the Legislature will be in Madison on Wednesday. Leaders of the two houses will convene an extraordinary session to address toughening Wisconsin’s laws on drunk driving. Whether having all the lawmakers in one building makes forging an agreement on MPS reform easier, however, is unknown.

The MacIver Institute will be following this story throughout next week and will be providing new reports and additional analysis.

By Bill Osmulski
MacIver News Service