Monthly Archives: March 2012

Big ED Lobbies to Trap Kids in Failing Schools

No child should be trapped in a failing school.

The solution is simple:   a statewide Parental Choice Voucher Program.

All parents must be able to choose their own child’s school, irrespective of their financial status or zip code and the child’s standing as a “special ed” student or not… be it public, private, charter or otherwise.  Without free market demands for honest transparency and real accountability, we will not see any significant improvement in the quality of education, student learning and out-of-control costs to fund public schools.

Expanding Parental Choice statewide and the free market are the only hope for real education reform, improving student learning and their futures.

It’s time for government to get out of the way. Free market competition is our only hope to drive real education reform.

The passage of 2011 Wisconsin Act 32 Biennial Budget created a parental choice program expansion for “eligible” school districts – which means 2nd class cities with school districts identified as being “high poverty”. A determination of high poverty is based on the number of students receiving free or reduced price lunches which reaches the 50% threshold. The final qualification is the student’s “total family income does not exceed 300 percent of the poverty level.”  According to the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI) the household Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) from the prior calendar year federal income tax is the qualifier, which sets the maximum yearly income for a family of four at $69,801 (1).

Although not a statewide Parental Choice Voucher Program, it is a very good step in the right direction.

So what’s the problem?

Detractors claim students in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP) fail to perform better than those in the Milwaukee Public Schools system, when the truth is the voucher program provides better results at half the cost.

“Students attending private schools in Milwaukee with publicly funded vouchers showed stronger gains in achievement than their public school counterparts, according to the latest release from a University of Arkansas sponsored, and State of Wisconsin authorized, longitudinal study…

In simple terms, students in the MPCP outperformed their counterparts by a significant margin when it came to reading. In eighth grade, a voucher student was 17 percent more likely to out gain a regular public school student when it came to reading and literacy.

Growth was also observed in mathematics for these students over the same period. Amongst seventh graders, MPCP students were 11 percent more likely to outscore their MPS peers.”–Official State of Wisconsin Study Confirms Choice Schools’ Success by Christine D’Andrea, MacIver Institute Education Policy Analyst (2, 3) 

One private Milwaukee school demonstrating the kind of student success which has garnered national attention is HOPE Christian Schools. Self-described as a “network of Christian college-preparatory schools in Milwaukee’s central city”, they strive to provide their students with a values-based education to develop not only their knowledge, but character, as well. From it’s humble beginnings as a small K-4 school educating 49 children, it has grown and expanded to providing over 810 students with a high quality K4-12 education in 2011.

“Last year’s eighth-grade graduates grew from the 34th percentile on their sixth-grade tests to the 50th percentile on their eighth-grade tests, which means they gained roughly 3.5 years of growth in two years at HOPE.”–Accountability Reports, HOPE Christian Schools (4)

Testifying at a state Senate hearing in Madison, at the end of February, in favor of SB486 to establish a Special Needs Scholarship Program (see Big ED Lobbies Against Special Needs Kids), I was extremely impressed by all those in attendance representing St Marcus Lutheran School and Messmer Catholic Schools in Milwaukee. Along with HOPE, these are shining examples of what a statewide expansion of the type of educational opportunities a Parental Choice Voucher Program could provide for all Wisconsin children and their families.

Why then, snuff out the flicker of hope to families with children trapped in a school failing to educate?

Good question.

“Big ED”, the education-related organizations including:  Association of Wisconsin School Administrators (AWSA), Southeastern Wisconsin Schools Alliance, United Transportation Union, Wisconsin Association of School Boards (WASB), Wisconsin Association of School Business Officials (WASBO), Wisconsin Association of School District Administrators (WASDA), Wisconsin Council for Administrators of Special Services (WCASS), Wisconsin School Social Workers Association (WSSWA) and Wisconsin Education Association Council (WEAC) are lobbying to prevent the school voucher genie from escaping the bottle because of their interest in maintaining their monopoly and the status quo (5). How often have we heard these powerful education-related organizations of public school employees and officials claim to put children first? It rings hollow. Follow the money.

At St Marcus, student success opened the floodgates of parents eager to enroll their children. In the span of a decade, St Marcus has increased enrollment fourfold, warranting a significant facilities expansion.

“It seems to me that the community is pretty desperate for things that work,” he said. “And when they find things that work, they tend to become supportive.”

Tyson said the longest waiting list of students trying to get into the school is in sixth and seventh grade.

“There’s no anxiety about being able to fill seats,” he said. “Anyone who’s successful is turning people away like crazy.”–St Marcus Lutheran starts $9.4 million expansion by Erin Richards, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (6) 

Clearly, the success of these Choice Schools in Milwaukee and possibility of its expansion statewide is worrisome to Big ED.

I suspect as a result of pressure from school-related special interests groups determined to prevent other Wisconsin families from having the option to escape a failing school – something they call a “loophole” – a small group of bi-partisan legislators introduced and cosponsored SB174 (7). Reportedly, this could result in an expansion of the Parental Choice Voucher Program to as many as 37 school districts, statewide. Is it co-incidental, these legislators represent many of the areas encompassed by these same school districts?

Without a doubt, the only hope for education is free-market competition.

This bill is expected to come to the Assembly floor next Tuesday (March 13th) for a final vote. Please contact legislators who signed on to support SB174, urging them to reconsider their decision and your Assembly Representative to vote “NO”. The time is now for our legislators to stand with Wisconsin families and tell Big ED our students will not be trapped in failing schools.


  1. 2012-13 Income Limits for New Students, Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI)
  2. Official State of Wisconsin Study Confirms Choice Schools’ Success by Christine D’Andrea, MacIver Institute Education Policy Analyst (2/27/2012)
  3. School Choice Demonstration Project:  Milwaukee Parental Choice Program University of Arkansas Department of Education Reform
  4. Accountability Reports, HOPE Christian Schools
  5. Legislative bills and resolutions, Senate Bill 174:  “closing the parental choice program for eligible school districts to additional school districts” , Eye on Lobbying in Wisconsin website
  6. St Marcus Lutheran starts $9.4 million expansion:  Project will provide additional classrooms for growing ‘no excuses’ school by Erin Richards, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (11/1/2010)
  7. 2011 Senate Bill 174

Big ED Lobbies Against Special Needs Kids

I’m appalled by the lack of understanding of the issue exhibited in the recent Appleton Post-Crescent editorial, Bill could hurt special-needs students.  Obviously, in spite of the misleading title, the newspaper is only interested in doing the bidding of powerful, paid education and disabilities lobbyists hoping to maintain the public schools monopoly and status quo, instead of supporting a promising effort to truly reform special needs education. 

As a mother of three exceptionally challenged children and as a member of my local Board of Education, I wholeheartedly support AB110 and SB486, and the Special Needs Scholarship Program it establishes.  I commend Representative Michelle Litjens and Senator Leah Vukmir, as well as each Assembly and Senate supporter and cosponsor for recognizing the genuine need for this law.

Will Wisconsin legislators cast their vote in favor of special needs children and empower their parents... or side with powerful paid lobbyists?

About fifteen to twenty years ago, my children, who are vision impaired, with physical and mental challenges, attended public schools.  Our daughter was, in effect, warehoused, spending most days scribbling with crayons on scrap paper, usually half-filling a paper grocery bag each week… yet the school was unresponsive to our concerns.  It wasn’t unusual for her to arrive home bruised or with a bloody face or broken glasses, yet the school was unresponsive to our concerns for her safety.

Exasperated, I expressed my frustrations to my doctor and was asked what I thought the school would do if I sent my daughter to school in the condition she arrived home… the lightbulb went on! I returned home, picked up the phone and reported them to Child Protective Services. That felt so good, I followed up by filing an assault and battery report with the local police. The elementary school wasted no time in politely calling us, requesting a meeting. My husband and I arrived a few minutes early and witnessed the school attorney castigating the principal… and from then on things improved, significantly. That was, until she started middle school and it began all over, again.

Our family didn’t have an opportunity to use a Special Needs Scholarship.  But knowing I could do far better than what our children experienced in public school, I homeschooled them. They not only learned, but did so even beyond my expectations.

In public school, our youngest son was illiterate at third grade when we began homeschooling.  By fifth grade, I had brought him up to grade level. I’ll never forget how after he learned to read – and even became proficient in spelling – he confessed how he always felt “dumb” in public school.  Our daughter excelled at history and geography.  Give her the name of a city and she will tell you it’s country and continent with an amazing level of accuracy. These children can learn, if they are given the right opportunity to do so.

One of the reasons I ran for a seat on our school board was to ensure other families do not go through what we experienced.  Attending the Senate hearing last week and listening to so many parents testify about their situations, it became quite clear things haven’t changed all that much, at least for some.

There are many dedicated special ed teachers in Wisconsin and public schools which do a fine job with special needs students.  However, each child has their own, unique challenges.  Try as they may, no school can be all things to all children.  Parents love their children and know what’s best for them… they are the experts.  But when the local school district is not meeting their child’s needs, parents must have options.  The Special Needs Scholarship Program provides those options by empowering parents.

Special Needs Scholarship Program detractors cite the fact a public school losing a student would likewise lose general aid equal to the amount of the voucher.  Should schools be paid for services they do not provide?  Absolutely not.

Typically, public schools are only partially reimbursed from the state or federal governments, in our district’s case it’s about 27 cents for each dollar spent on special ed services, with local taxpayers footing the bill for the lion’s share at 73 cents. If Special Needs Scholarships become a reality and some parents choose to send their children to another school, far more dollars are freed up than what the school loses.

Parents of exceptionally challenged children pay their property taxes, yet if their local public school district is failing their child, is it right or fair they should have to pay a private school, also? Absolutely not.

When a special needs student’s education is stagnant or she is being victimized by bullies, is it right to trap the child in the ineffective, unsafe or unresponsive school for the remainder of the school year, until the parents can file an open enrollment request… for the following fall, which the local school boards can – and often do – decline? Absolutely not.

Public schools will continue receiving state aid for special needs students they educate.  If they are truly doing a good job, they have nothing to fear – and may actually stand to gain new students.  At the very least, the passage of AB110 or SB486 will force public schools to look inward and make positive changes by improving special needs students’ learning, ensuring they are not victims of bullies, being more responsive to the parents’ concerns and guaranteeing these programs operate at a higher level of fiscal responsibility.

Another benefit could result from public school districts partnering and working cooperatively in providing special education services more efficiently and with greater effectiveness.  Instead of each public school operating in a silo and reinventing the wheel for their pool of special ed students, much could be gained with a collaborative or reciprocal approach.  Cooperative efforts between public school districts could be a win-win situation for all:  the children and families served, participating public schools and taxpayers.

This is not a Democrat vs Republican issue. It is a matter of elected legislators setting aside their partisan politics and doing the right thing by listening to and representing these children and their families. After all, it is the parents who know what’s best for their own children… not powerful education-related organizations or paid lobbyists standing in opposition to this bill, desperate to prevent the school voucher genie from escaping the bottle while maintaining the status quo.

I firmly believe all parents should have the opportunity to choose their own child’s school, irrespective of their financial status or zip code, and regardless of the child’s standing as a special needs student or not… be it public, private, charter or homeschool.

Bear Grease on the Slippery Slope

Certainly, it is the duty of a school district to ensure student safety and a bully-free environment conducive to learning.  Merrill’s anti-bullying policy already includes prohibitions on cyber-bullying for both students and employees, as do most others.  Should such an incident occur, the complaint is referred to  appropriate law enforcement agencies.  Senate Bill 427, is an unnecessary and unwarranted trespass by the state into the authority of local school boards.

The requirement in SB427 of school districts to prepare annual bullying reports only adds another layer of bureaucracy while increasing the paperwork burden through the tracking and compiling of this data – along with increased costs – so becomes another unfunded mandate.

Exactly what constitutes “appropriate responses to bullying that occurs off school grounds”? Public schools have no legal authority over students off-campus, and especially not in  the privacy of a student’s home, using their own computer. Yet this bill would begin to blur that line.  Whose job is it to determine if the so-called bullying incident “infringes on the rights of the pupil”, especially when the bill’s authors seek to lower the threshold of what behavior constitutes an illegal bullying incident?

“Section 6. 947.0125 (3) (a) of the statutes is amended to read:  947.0125 (3) (a) With intent to harass, annoy, or offend another person, sends a message to the person on an electronic mail or other computerized communication system or posts a message electronically where other persons can view the message and in that sent or posted message uses any obscene, lewd, or profane language or suggests any lewd or lascivious act.”–excerpt from Wisconsin 2011 Senate Bill 427, proposed new language in bold text

Per state law, Wisconsin Statute 947.0125(3)(a) indicates it only takes an “intent to harass, annoy, or offend another person” and if “profane language” is used, the standard is met to consider such actions criminal bullying. Because current statutory language reads:  “…any obscene, lewd, or profane language or suggests any lewd or lascivious act.” instead of “…and suggests”, the inclusion of a swear word in an internet communication can become an illegal act. SB427 further compounds the senselessness of this law by elevating the act of posting such a message to the internet – without directing it any particular person – a new crime! The Class B forfeiture is punishable by a fine up to $1,000. How absurd!

If what a person says online can be controlled to the extent of declaring profane or lewd comments which annoy or offend another as illegal, why limit it to electronic or computerized means of communication? What about speech exercised during protests? Couldn’t the noise and chanting be considered annoying and some of the messages voiced, offensive?

Will SB427 mark the beginning of the end for free speech on the internet?

It’s only when we protect the free speech rights of those with whom we may disagree that we remain free. SB427 adds bear grease to an already slippery slope towards the elimination of free speech for all.

It should be pointed out SB427 wouldn’t just affect students and it really isn’t about cyber-bullying, either. Clearly, it is a back-door attempt to abridge everyone’s right to free speech on the internet. This unconstitutional bill was introduced by Wisconsin State Senators Tim Cullen, Spencer Coggs, Tim Carpenter, Jon Erpenbach, Lena Taylor, Jessica King, Dale Schultz, Fred Risser, Neal Kedzie and our own Jim Holperin. Cosponsors are  Representatives Joe Knilans, Chris Taylor, Mark Pocan, Robert Turner, Anthony Staskunas, Janis Ringhand, Amy Loudenbeck, Sandy Pasch and Sondy Pope-Roberts.

Will SB427 mark the beginning of the end for free speech on the internet? I provided testimony against SB427 at last week’s Senate hearing in Madison and   encourage readers to likewise exercise their right to free speech in contacting these Wisconsin legislators, asking them to withdraw support. Also, please contact your state Senator urging a “NO” vote on SB427 and a redraft of  Statutes 947.0125 to protect free speech.