Sen. Darling: Why I Refuse to Give Up on Milwaukee Kids

June 27, 2016

by Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills)

In the last school year, roughly 28,000 students in Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) attended a school that fails to meet expectations. That’s about the population of Stevens Point.

Last year, there were two MPS schools with zero students proficient in math.


More than 30 MPS schools have 90% or more of their students who are not proficient in math. Ten percent or less of students are not proficient in English language arts in a dozen MPS schools.

As Milwaukee goes, the rest of the state goes. I refuse to give up on the students in these schools. Far too many students in MPS are trapped in failing schools. Parents should be able to send their kids to a quality school no matter where they live in our state.

Taxpayers send more than $1 billion to Milwaukee Public Schools. They deserve a better return on investment. Our state counts on our largest city to help drive our economy. When our schools fail the students, it’s very difficult for them to find good-paying, family-supporting jobs.

This isn’t a new problem. Many Milwaukee public schools have been failing generations of students. It’s time to stop that trend. In the last state budget, I helped to create a path for success for not just students in MPS, but their families as well.

When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005, schools suffered physical damage while students and faculty were displaced. Officials in Louisiana wanted to quickly reopen schools and an innovative approach called “Turnaround Schools” was introduced to deal with the crisis.

The state created a new school district that transformed local public schools into public charter schools. Charter schools are public schools, but they have more freedom in how they operate. The change created a closer alignment to the students and parents. The impact of Turnaround Schools was significant.

Before Hurricane Katrina, the high school graduation rate was 54 percent. By 2013, the graduation rate increased to 78 percent. In 2013, 57 percent of students performed at grade level in math and reading. The turnaround model delivered a more than 200 percent increase from the 2005 level of 23 percent proficiency. The City of Memphis is already seeing success with a similar approach.

Since kids only spend part of their day in school, I also focused on their communities. Our plan creates public-private partnerships to help deliver “hand-ups” instead of “hand-outs” in the zip code around the turnaround school. State agencies like the Department of Workforce Development, the Department of Children and Families, and others will coordinate existing services which improve health, safety, and employability of students and their families.

Our state can’t afford to give up on Milwaukee’s children and I won’t. Whether it’s through improving public schools, school choice, or creating turnaround schools, I am committed to making sure every kid in the state – and especially Milwaukee – has a chance to succeed.

This op-ed was originally published at RightWisconsin.