Starve them into submission (with some corrections and an update)

[corrected material crossed out; new material in italics, update at bottom]

Wisconsin Superintendent of Public Instruction has officially embraced a policy of starving Milwaukee Public Schools into submission by exercising his power to withhold Federal funds from the district.

Here is the Press Release in it’s entirety (official notice here).

Evers issues notice to Milwaukee Public Schools

MADISON — State Superintendent Tony Evers issued a statement regarding the notice he signed today that will allow him to use his authority to withhold or direct federal funds allocated to Milwaukee Public Schools.

“As the State Superintendent of Public Instruction, I have a legal responsibility to the children of Milwaukee. Today, I issued a notice that will allow me to speed up change in the Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) through the use of my authority regarding federal funds. Using the only tool allowed under state law, I am acting to ensure federal funds are used effectively to improve MPS.

“No one can or should be satisfied with the current progress in MPS to improve. I look forward to full cooperation to implement all required changes, with an increased sense of urgency, as I continue to work with MPS leaders.”

Evers had previously sought the power to  — unilaterally and  with no defined criteria —  declare any district “in need of improvement,” issue directives on almost all aspects governance and education and “withhold state aid from any school district that fails to comply to the state superintendent’s satisfaction with any of the above directives.”  That effort, Assembly Bill 534, failed.

Bribing Milwaukee into submission with uncertain Race to the Top funding also failed.  The carrot is gone now, what is left is starvation and the stick.

The last thing Milwaukee needs is more program cuts.  Just this week, the lack of resources led the distinct to discontinue SAGE class size reduction in 11 schools.  Federal dollars total about 18% of the MPS budget, Title I  — the funds targeted for poor children in play here — probably about 2/3 or more of that, call it over 12% (I’m not sure if Evers can also withhold the ARRA flow-through “state stabilization funds that his buddy Jim Doyle and others dishonestly tried to spin as “state aid”).  It isn’t clear what Evers is going to do and how he is going to do that with by cutting 18% a significant portion of the budget.

At this time there are no details, no plan, just the starvation.

Although not referenced in either the notice or the Press Release, there is a “Corrective Action Plan” that was issued in 2008 and a draft and  update from 2009.  Here is the report on the response by the Milwaukee Public Schools (I will post more relevant documents as I find them).

The lack of plan is foolish anyway you look at it.  From a policy point of view, there is no policy to look at.  From a political point of view, no positive case for the action is being made, no “this has to happen,” only “this can”t go on.”  That’s not the way to win over the undecided or convince anyone that this isn’t a political stunt.

There may be a good case to make that this is a reasonable and justified action, but the case has not been made.  That case would require more than the “No one can or should be satisfied with the current progress in MPS” in the Press Release, it would entail a detailed documentation of how MPS has failed in the Corrective Actions and why Evers thinks that withholding this money will produce better results.  My guess is that we will see some of this in the coming weeks.

Without a governance or educational case being made, this looks like a political stunt.

Since Evers has been linked at the hip to Doyle and Mayor/Gubernatorial candidate Tom Barrett on MPS issues, one calculation may be that Barrett will win votes outside of Milwaukee based on this.  I wouldn’t count on that off-setting the votes lost in Milwaukee or those lost around the state from people who actually know a thing or two about education.  My first reaction is that Barrett just lost the election.  Probably an over-reaction (really too early to tell), but not an outrageous conclusion.

The timing is bad too.  Unless this is direct reaction to the Superintendent hire, it makes no sense to not give Gregory Thornton a chance to at least get settled.  It certainly makes his job more difficult, if not impossible

It is ironic that the standards invoked (and required by statute ) are the NCLB Adequate Yearly Progress standards that Superintendent Evers has never been a fan of.   When power overcomes sense, any tool at hand looks good.

This kind of  bullying  was (mostly)  not part of what candidate Tony Evers promisedMany of us thought better of him, or at very least that he understood that a lack of adequate resources was part of the problem, not the way to a solution.  Time for second thoughts.


Wisconsin Radio Network had a story linking this to the Mayoral Control fight that brought a reaction from Tony Evers:

Update: Evers says the statement to MPS is about the district’s failure to improve in specific areas which are spelled out in the notice, and NOT about mayoral control, and that my attempt to connect the two in this post was “reprehensible.”

Good to have that information, but if you haven’t made the case on education and governance — and they haven’t —  then it seems reasonable for people to speculate about political reasons (I did, not Mayoral Control directly, but politics).

Under the circumstances “reprehensible” seems much too strong.

Whatever the combination of motives, for good and ill, politics will be part of this.

Responses from the MPS Board and Supt. William Andrekopoulos are linked here.

Update #2

Just some links.

Bob Hague at Wisconsin Radio Network has his full interviews with Evers and Andrekopoulos up here.  Worth a listen.

The main Journal Sentinel story is here.

Michael Mathias at Pundit Nation has a long and interesting post.

Gretchen Schuldt at Blogging MPS has a nice roundup (better than this one and she will no doubt be following developments more closely then AMPS, put her on the must-read list).

Thomas J. Mertz

1 Comment

Filed under "education finance", Accountability, Best Practices, Budget, education, Elections, finance, Gimme Some Truth, Local News, National News, nclb, No Child Left Behind, Uncategorized

One response to “Starve them into submission (with some corrections and an update)

  1. Mr. Mertz,

    you are so off base. For years, MPS has been failing its children, and their board of directors has done NOTHING about it. Wisconsin has the largest achievement gap in the nation, mostly due to MPS and MMSD. When put on notice years ago, MPS board of directors throws up a loud wall of “Oh, whoa is us, we aren’t funded adequately” and ultimately, does nothing to change the status quo. They are a district that doesn’t have a standard reading program, prefers to pursue litigation instead of resolution, consistently leaves federal dollars unspent, and what do we have to show for it? The academic achievement of their students still lags their peers in every other urban district except Detroit.

    Sadly, state law, while properly acknowledging the importance of local control of school issues, also leaves the state superintendent with extremely limited powers…and unfortunately, our legislators have done nothing to remedy that.

    When MPS continues to fail its children, scoffing at any inference from the state that they must do something more to raise the achievement level of their students, after a point, you have to call their bluff. You use the tools provided, and in this case, the only tool the legislature has given the state superintendent is the withholding of federal dollars.

    I say it is about time, and maybe the board of directors can get off their collective duffs, and actually make a difference in the lives of the children in Milwaukee.

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