Wisconsin Schools Are Being Sold (out)...and it's up to you to say "They're not for sale!"

Wisconsin Senate to hold hearing Oct. 9 on
Racist Mascot Preservation Bill,
Sale of Public Schools to Private Ones

5 October 2013
Dear friends of public education in Wisconsin,

If the record-breaking cuts to public education, ALEC-driven policy agenda, and massive expansion of the private voucher program weren't enough to convince you of just how insidious the Walker administration's plan to undermine public education is, perhaps some of the bills on the table in this session will finally get more people seeing the light and speaking out.

There has never been a more critical time in America to pay attention to the big-money forces behind these legislative efforts to defund public education and move toward increased public funding for private schools and obliteration of local control over decision-making on education issues.   The time to be vigilant is NOW and there are three ways we can best do this:
  1. Stay informed.  In Wisconsin, the best way to do this is shaping up to be by following the excellent work going into reporting on state and national threats to public education at Public School Shakedown, the new website launched by Ruth Conniff as her first official act as editor of The Progressive.  Other great resources:
  2. Stay involved, legislatively.  Know what bills are coming up and what they'll mean (see #1), and then SPEAK OUT. Attend hearings or submit written testimony if you can, and, if you can't, call and write your legislators, cc'ing the relevant committee members, and the governor and, when relevant, Tony Evers (the Superintendent of Public Instruction) and your own school board members.  All of these parties should be connected; they all work for you and they should all be aware of your concerns.
  3. Stay involved, locally.  Follow school board agendas, which are by law posted in advance of every meeting, and attend any meetings where a topic of interest is listed. Write to your school board members and district administrators with any questions or concerns you have.  Ask them how, specifically, policy changes will affect your district. Ask them if they support or oppose specific bills, and encourage them to take a public stance when there is consensus. It is their job to answer your questions and it is their job to advocate for the schools in your community.  It is your job to elect responsible people to these positions and to let them know they have your support in standing up strong for fully funded, high-quality public schools.  It's also your job to share this information with your friends and families to help make sure the cycle of information and action is repeated and the consequences of these policies are fully understood.  
Like it or not, this is our obligation.  We cannot count on the press to do this for us, and we cannot count on the legislators who have so shamefully been sold to the very profiteers who have long been scheming to see this legislation enacted do the right thing. 

As Rebecca Kemble has faithfully reported (and if she didn't, who would?!), several failed bills of the last legislative sessions are back, couched now in more carefully deceptive language to limit public and professional kickback as much as possible. The charter expansion bill, SB 76, in particular, was amended a day before the public hearing to include a blatant power-grab. Despite the amendment's late-hour delivery to the public, its corporate stakeholders (who likely drafted the legislation) were very clearly long-prepared to address the issue at the hearing, and promoted their self-serving agenda in no uncertain terms:
"The most disturbing element of the hearing was the aggressive confidence of charter school and chamber of commerce lobbyists representing both state and national groups, as if their domination of public education policy and budgets were a foregone conclusion. They quoted statistics drummed up inside their own school reform echo chambers about how low Wisconsin ranks on national charter-school friendliness indices, and bemoaned the bureaucratic obstacles posed by the democratic public processes required of local school boards.

"Several lobbyists argued that charter schools run by local school districts should be called something else, like magnet schools, since they were under the influence of the inefficient, status quo-supporting school district bureaucracies. In their view, the term “charter school” should be reserved for private schools that receive taxpayer money but are not accountable to democratically elected local school boards."
From our friend Worley Dervish:
"The children of Wisconsin don't need a two-tiered education system.
Public funds should not be used for private schools."
Press release from WI state senator Kathleen Vinehout (PDF): http://bit.ly/GDDfvG
Notably absent from this conversation were the public school advocates who had been hoodwinked by the misleading language of the original bill and were unaware of the amendment (and it's worth taking a look at the Wisconsin Association of School Board's immediate response).  It's absolutely critical that we speak out (see above) on this bill.  The press is useless in this regard (exhibit A: the Wisconsin State Journal's predictable Chris Rickert couldn't even be troubled to mention SB76, much less google the definition of "local control" in today's dangerously irresponsible piece on the issue of expanding charter authorization powers).  

The administration is hoping we're distracted by the spectacle that is their Tea Party posturing over whether or not to adopt the Common Core State Standards we've already adopted - a move made clear by their decision to hold the SB76 hearing at the same time as three other education hearings, including the one on the standards that drew an overflow crowd. 

This is an important topic of conversation, but don't be distracted by their hypocritical appeal there to "local control."  Every other bill on their agenda takes power away from local electors and ties districts' hands and budgets.

Our only hope is to continue to read, share and write/call our legislators, and keep spreading the word.

It starts with us. And it starts today.  

So here's what's going on this week (full legislative calendar here):

PUBLIC HEARING: Wednesday, October 9 at 9:30 am in 411 South  on several important bills:

SB 318: Sale of Public School Buildings to Private Schools. According to Rebecca Kemble, this bill "Makes it easier for religious, charter and private schools to buy Milwaukee Public School buildings." 

SB 317: The Racist Mascot Preservation Act - consolidates decision-making power at the DOJ and revokes DPI authority; puts burden of proof in proving racism on its victims rather than the districts themselves (now, districts have to prove their mascots aren't offensive; under this law, those with concerns have to come to Madison to prove that they are - an impossible burden that the bills supporters openly admit is just a ploy to ensure no districts will be forced to change their mascots).

+ other items not related to education area also on the agenda, which you can see here: http://docs.legis.wi.gov/raw/cid/993666. 

Contact info for this committee (be sure to cc the Governor, who will ultimately have the power to stop this dangerous legislation):

AT THE SAME TIME, on Wed. Oct 9,  in a different room (415 NW), the Assembly Workforce Development committee will be holding a public hearing on a Technical College Grant Bill, AB 399: Relating to: career and technical education incentive grants and making an appropriation. "Under the bill, the Department of Public Instruction (department) must annually confer with the Department of Workforce Development and the Wisconsin Technical College System to identify industries and occupations that face workforce shortages or shortages of adequately trained, entry-level workers."  Which sounds pretty good, right?  Jobs might eventually come of this?  Until you follow the money.   The myth of the "skills gap" has been a persistent ploy of the Walker administration to funnel tax money directly to crony industry partners under the guise of addressing undemonstrated "worker shortages" and the "problem" of un- or under-skilled workers, a convenient mechanism for blaming the workers - rather than his own failed jobs policies - for high unemployment rates.  It's also a way to coerce DPI into forcing industry-specific trades on high school (and younger) students and opens the doors even wider to farming low-wage workers directly out of our classrooms. Not every student is college material.  But all students should have a choice on which direction their education will take them.  This bill puts that decision in the hands of the Dept. of Workforce Development and Scott Walker's cronies.  And we all know that the history of such moves have led to one abuse of power after another and a whole slew of criminal crony activity.

Don't like what you're reading?  Good news: you can do something about it.  [See above, steps # 1-3]. 

Here's to staying informed and involved, and moving forward.

Your partner in action and dissent,

Learn all about how big money turns into bad policy for public schools at PublicSchoolShakedown.org

P.S. Special thanks to Rebecca Kemble for her persistence and vigilance in informing us all about upcoming hearings and legislative action, and for her spot-on analyses of what's really going on at the statehouse.  If there's an award for this (and I think there is), she should get it.


  1. Re: Senate Bill 318, proposed state legislation designed to yank buildings from Milwaukee Public Schools. Please send an email to
    State Senate Committee on Government Operations, Public Works, & Telecommunications asking members to convene that hearing in Milwaukee so parents/concerned citizens/taxpayers can participate. The proposed legislation is about Milwaukee Public Schools. The hearing should be in Milwaukee and in the evening when most people affected by this can be there. Perhaps most committee members will not be sympathetic, but there's nothing to lose by asking. If we don't ask, the answer will definitely be no. Committee members:
    'Sen.Farrow@legis.wisconsin.gov'; 'Sen.Gudex@legis.wisconsin.gov'; 'Sen.Lasee@legis.wisconsin.gov'; 'Sen.Kedzie@legis.wisconsin.gov'; 'Sen.Wirch@legis.wisconsin.gov'; 'Sen.Harris@legis.wisconsin.gov'; 'Sen.Shilling@legis.wisconsin.gov'

  2. To:

    Subject: Written testimony for 10/9 public hearing on SB 317 and SB318
    Dear Senator Farrow and members of the committee,

    The following is submitted as written testimony for today's hearing on SB 317 and SB318. Please enter it into your records and provide copies for all members at the hearing.

    I strongly oppose SB 317, a bill which turns the clock backward on a long-fought fight for equity in our public schools, violates the constitutional rights of our students to an equitable eduction, and offends not only native Americans but those of us who strive in our everyday lives to treat other humans with the respect and dignity they deserve. There is no sustainable argument that these nicknames "honor" the native people of America. The idea that you can tell someone who comes before you to say "I am not honored by this, I am offended by it" that they are wrong is shameful.

    By shifting the burden of proof from the offending party (the school) to the offended party (or the "victim" of this discrimination), you are creating an unfair and impossible burden and only setting the stage for further humiliations. Further, by stripping DPI of its authority on this issue, you are undermining the public education system's autonomy and consolidating power at the state level in a way that makes me extremely uneasy, as such a move makes the injured party subject to further victimization by those with a political agenda and little or no knowledge of the complexities of these issues. The government should not put itself in a position to tell someone "you should not be offended by this." The burden of proof should remain on the school to ensure that it is meeting its own anti-discrimination policy. This bill is inherently offensive and racist at heart, and the fact that one of its own supporters even said in the press release announcing it that the bill is intended to "avoid costly name changes" is proof that the intention behind it is to deny claims by the injured parties and preserve the status quo. This is criminal, and an insult. I have children in public schools and I will not let them participate in sporting activities against teams whose districts show such contempt for the people of the first nations. This is not the sort of "education" we should be providing to our children, and it is a blatant act of racism and discrimination. It should not be tolerated, much less attempted to be upheld by the state legislature. There is no cost - in dollars - that can compare to the damage done by institutionalized racism. Please do the right thing and oppose this bill.

    SB 318: I oppose making it easier for private schools and charters to buy public school buildings. This move is an obvious power-grab to take advantage of a district that has been so defunded it is unable to fully make use of its resources and allow outside entities to profit on our lack of full investment in public education. Instead of selling off our schools, we should be investing in making our school system stronger. This bill gives the impression that we are feeding the circling vultures who hope to profit off our own abandonment of public education and is one of a series of bills before this legislature that serves to undermine and weaken our public education system at a time when we should be investing in strategies that ensure success for all learners.

    Thank you for hearing and taking seriously my concerns. I believe that the hyperpartisanship of the current administration has obscured the many places we need to come together on these serious issues and urge all members of this committee to think about the ramifications of these efforts on future generations and the message they send to the children we entrust to our public schools.

    Thank you,