MPS Rejects Proposed Opportunity Schools Partnership Plan

Legislators call out MPS for “reckless disregard of state and federal law”

MacIver News Service | June 17, 2016

[Milwaukee, Wis…] Almost two months after Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele and Opportunity Schools Partnership Program (OSPP) Commissioner Dr. Demond Means put forth a plan for OSPP, Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) has come out against the proposal.

MPS Superintendent Dr. Darienne Driver and MPS Board President Mark Sain issued a joint statement on the OSPP proposal, identifying concerns and offering an alternative proposal centered around early childhood education. The statement comes less than one week before a June 23 deadline before which MPS must decide if they will partner with Means and the OSPP as a whole. It is not clear if the alternative proposed would satisfy state law.

Rather than discuss their concerns directly with Abele and Means, the pair held a press conference and publicized their counteroffer in a press release. The MPS alternative would:

  • Create an early childhood education program
  • Allow families to opt-in to OSPP
  • Locate the program inside the former 35th Street Elementary School

The Driver and Sain alternative would also use the 2016-2017 as a planning year, with an initial rollout the following school year.

Legislators immediately reacted to the announcement.

Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills), one of OSPP’s co-authors, said that MPS’ response clearly does not fulfill the obligations set forth by law.

“Number one, there’s a law they have to comply with,” Darling said. “We’re not going to repeal the law, so they have to work within the framework of the law.”

Of the alternative plan proposed, Darling said she believes the childhood education initiative is a good idea that MPS should pursue, but that they must still take action to comply with the OSPP law.

Darling said that the 28,000 kids in schools qualified by the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) as failing to meet expectations cannot be left behind. Almost 40 percent of students in MPS are in failing schools, a number that amounts to almost the size of the entire city of Stevens Point, Darling said. She said that MPS is actively making the process impossible and is more concerned about their market share and teachers’ pensions than the children left behind.

“We’re not going to desert those kids who are in those failing schools, and they’ve been left there over and over again. It’s time they address these situations,” Darling said. “MPS is really worried about their ‘market share’…they want to keep [children] in the system so that they can afford their pensions and other benefits that are on the table.”

Rep. Dale Kooyenga (R-Brookfield), OSPP’s main author in the Assembly, said that he’s disappointed in MPS’ announcement, and that their decision to reject the plan showed that four things are now obvious.

“Number one, that there’s no sense of urgency to take action,” Kooyenga said. “That’s obvious by trying delays for another year. Number two is that the status quo is acceptable. And number three is the parties involved are more concerned about the system than the kids. There’s constant talk about what will you do to, like, keep the system the way it is, and that’s opposed to talking about the children. And fourth, there’s this reckless disregard for state and federal law.”

The Every Student Succeeds Act – federal legislation championed by President Obama and supported by both Sen. Ron Johnson and Sen. Tammy Baldwin – requires states to make attempts to address the lowest five percent of performing schools.

“There’s just a reckless disregard for the rule of law,” Kooyenga said.

In the press release, Driver and Sain reference the record-breaking number of scholarships which MPS students received this year as evidence for the district’s success. Kooyenga rejects that metric and says it’s simply false.

“It’s a really false metric, because what that’s doing is telling you how the top 20 percent or 30 percent of their kids are doing at the best schools. They’re talking about the schools where the schools choose the kids, but the kids aren’t able to choose those schools. They’re selective,” Kooyenga said. “We’re not addressing the kids that are actually dropping out of school or don’t have enough of the skills when they get out of high school to get a technical degree or get a job.”

Kooyenga said the legislation “could not have been more flexible” in its direction to improve failing schools. He said that the parties involved won’t be allowed to simply disregard the law. Those comments follow those of Darling, who said that a state lawsuit against Abele and Means could be possible for failing to comply to law.

The Milwaukee County Executive’s office did not respond to a phone call asking for comment on the announcement.