In recent weeks, it has become obvious that the assault on Public Education in Wisconsin is high priority to Scott Walker and the GOP. While the attack began with revoking collective bargaining rights for teachers with Act 10, it extended to nearly one billion dollars in cuts to public school districts in the Walker budget. The assault moved on to the University of Wisconsin system last week – singling out the flagship UW-Madison campus with a biased study on admissions; and additional lapses to the UW system budget which hit the Madison campus particularly hard. Now, the Legislature is moving on to approve sweeping Charter School authorizing policies which will encourage expansion of private charter schools, and continue de-funding Wisconsin’s public education system – long the envy of the nation.
The ideological attack on the University of Wisconsin-Madison last week took place in the Committee on Colleges and Universities hearing chaired by Representative Stephen Nass (R-Whitewater). Rep. Nass invited Roger Clegg, President of the Center for Equal Opportunity (CEO) to testify to a study released by the organization recently. CEO is chaired by Linda Chavez , and funded by extreme right-wing foundations such as the Bradley Foundation, Olin Foundation, and Sarah Scaife (formerly Mellon) Foundation. The group has a history of acting as a partisan “think tank” to promote anti-affirmative action policies nationwide. This includes the work of Althea K. Nagai, PhD, author of theCEO Study on UW-Madison Undergraduate Admissions, as well as her late husband, Robert Lerner, PhD. Together they started a research consulting group utilized by CEO to push their agenda. The late Dr. Lerner and Dr. Nagai have regularly come under fire for “data sifting,” or using data in a way that pre-determines an outcome one wishes to see. These concerns were raised when Dr. Lerner was chosen by George Bush to be the US Education “data czar”; and by the University of Michigan recently in response to a CEO study accusing U of M of hiding data which indicates racial preference. This biased, non-peer reviewed UW-Madison study was considered as “expert testimony” in the hearing. A study so flawed, it would have no possibility of being published in a scientific journal (the statistical data failed to include sample size – a statistics 101 omission). CEO refused to comment on who commissioned the study, and a statement by Mark Pocan (D-Madison) sums up the racial bias in the study.
In the same week, DOA Secretary Mike Huebsch dropped a fiscal bomb shell on the UW System. The University is required to meet a one-time budgetary lapse of $65.7 million. While the Administration would not comment on the reason for the higher than expected shortfall, speculation is high that revenues will be lower than anticipated in the fiscal year. Likely an “unintended consequence” of Walker’s budget repair bill (his plan is working perfectly…for the recall). The University of Wisconsin, facing record enrollment and stiff competition is now scrambling to respond to the shortfall in the budget.
The attack on the Wisconsin Public Education system continues with SB-22, the expansion and creation of the Charter School Authorizing Board (CSAB). This bill not only created the Board, but will have a direct negative impact on public schools by decreasing resources, enrollment, and funds.Amendments to SB22 recently passing committee offer an insight into the nature of this legislation:
1. From 2012 – 2017, the authorized number of Charter Schools under contract with CSAB rise from 5 to unlimited.
2. Currently, in order for a School Board to convert ALL District schools into Charter Schools requires an authorizing vote of 50% of all teachers; and the School Board must provide a public alternative for pupils whose parents do not want them to attend a charter school. The amendment repeals those requirements – teachers do not need to authorize, and districts do not need to offer a public alternative if all schools in a district are converted to charter schools.
3. Preferential enrollment would be given under the new law to siblings of current charter students, founder and board member children, and employees’ children, should a school reach maximum capacity.
4. Current law limits the amount of shared revenue deducted from a public school due to charter enrollment within the district. This law would lift that cap – increasing the revenue lost to public schools.
5. The Department of Public Instruction (DPI) is required to create a “Charter School Teaching License,” allowing for teachers to be licensed in more than one subject, and with alternative certification requirements for charter schools.
6. The enrollment cap on students in virtual charter schools is lifted.
The effects of the CSAB creation law would be enormous on public schools. Charters would be cheaper to run, have access to state resources, and receive special treatment for certification and licensing. A district so inclined, and under strain from budgetary requirements could simply “contract out” to a private charter under this law – converting the entire DISTRICT to private charters. Thus ending the public accountability in Wisconsin Public Education, and awarding private charters to corporations funneling money through American Federation for Children to make it so ($2.7 million in 2010-11 so far). The CSAB is an appointed board – not elected, and it would serve as the governing body for these new charters.
The attack on Public Education in Wisconsin continues. From grade school to the University – the influence of privatization is on the doorstep. Collective bargaining and public education should serve as the rallying point for the people of Wisconsin in the coming year – in taking back Wisconsin.