Members of the Senate Education Committee
My name is Thomas J. Mertz. I have been active in Madison and statewide working for adequate educational funding and equitable educational policies. Like many I see much in Senate Bill 22 that will exacerbate the underfunding of the district schools which will continue to be the source of educational opportunities for the overwhelming majority of Wisconsin’s students, and much that will create greater inequities in access to opportunities. The future of our children and our state depend on investments in education. That this is happening after 17 years under a deeply flawed school funding system and at a time when districts face unprecedented cuts in both state funding and local revenue authority is particularly alarming.
However this is not where I want to focus attention here. I am also a historian of education. It is from this perspective, as well as the perspectives of a parent, citizen and activist that I urge you to reject those aspects of Senate Bill 22 which undermine Wisconsin’s long traditions of non-partisan local control
Our state Constitution states “The supervision of public instruction shall be vested in a state superintendent and such other officers as the legislature shall direct.” Our supreme court has ruled that other officers created by the legislature may not be given powers equal to or greater than the superintendent. The Constitution also specifies that the Superintendent be elected “at the same time and in the same manner as members of the supreme court.” This clause and statutes related to the election of the Superintendent and Boards of Education, as well as those covering those wonderful exercises in direct democracy, School Meetings, are part of a long and careful tradition of separating the governance of education from partisan politics. In 1885, In an an attempt to further separate the political sphere of school governance, Wisconsin went so far as to grant women a limited suffrage, confined to “school matters.”
The creation of a politically appointed Charter School Authorizing Board and Executive Director, with powers and responsibilities rivaling those of the State Superintendent is a heedless and needless break from these traditions. Schools are inherently political, yet Wisconsin’s Superintendents and Board of Education have an admirable record of finding common ground and advancing the common good. Handing control of K-12 schools to people chosen by party leaders introduces a great potential that in decision-making, other than the common good will become primary.
This Board also represents a break from the tradition of local control of education. It opens the door for “sponsors” and the “operators” they contract with to set up networks of schools with limited state oversight and answerable primarily to distant entities. It cannot be forgotten that the resources at the disposal of these entities will be resources not available to the local and locally elected school board.
Schools and school districts define communities; the charter networks enabled by SB 22 threaten local decision-making and the already precarious financial viability of districts. In urban, suburban, small town and rural Wisconsin he health and economic prospects of communities are tied to the strength of our schools.
Schools are also defined by their communities. Through their locally elected Boards of Education and in school meetings, citizens are collectively involved in choosing programs and personnel, in setting priorities and debating budgets, in building facilities and — these days much too often — closing schools.
These ties will be gone with networks of charter schools authorized by a partisan state board and operated by out-of-state corporations.
There are many other aspects of SB 22 that I would like to discuss, but I’ll close by reminding you that in Wisconsin we have some very good public schools and some that need improvement. We also have some very good charter schools and some that need improvement. Local control of charter authorizing is working. The best evidence is that charters are generally no better than district schools and often not as good. They are not in and of themselves “the answer” to our educational problems and in many ways are a distraction from improving the education for the 90%+ of students who will continue in district schools. Don’t let enthusiasm for “choice” and ill-defined “innovation” seduce you into abandoning our traditions, our communities and our schools.
Thomas J. Mertz
For more information, see Public Schools for the Public Good and the Facebook Group, “Stop the Charter School Bill.”
12 responses to “My Letter on Senate Bill 22”
My response to this article is that I’m sure Mr. Mertz does not live in a rural area with one school district covering 6 townships. The one school district is only serving the needs of 140 of the 230 it is suppose to be representing. Our school board does not want a charter. We will never see any change in our school with out Bill 22. In fact the entire surrounding 4 school districts have never approved a charter with pleas from the community. Public education needs choice. If local schools do not have public competition they can be as unresponsive to the needs of the community as they want. Public schools do not want to be challenged. They want what they have and forget about if someone wants something different. As always you need money for a private school if you want something different and access to a private school.
I can understand wanting what you want and not having those options in a place where the district is small. I can also see how in a rural district, under the current school funding structure, lack of resources would limit what the public and realistically private schools can offer. Have you considered running for school board?
I am in contact with our school board members. Our school board unanimously just voted down our proposal and a start up grant with the DPI to start a Charter. I have thought of running for the school board but for this Charter would do no good. You need a majority vote. Our Public schools does not want to compete with another public school. It really is that simple. Especially if it is offering a better curriculum for less money. This is why we need senate bill 22. I want to work with our district and I want to see our local school succeed but we need another choice for not only our kids but for the area kids in the surrounding 4 districts. I am working with a small group of parents trying to create a charter school for a PUBLIC CHOICE in our district. Yes, our district is tiny ,the 2nd smallest in Wisconsin but there is a need for another school when 90 out of 230 kids are not choosing to send there kids to the local school.
You don’t say what you want that the current school is not providing. Bill 22 takes away local control from elected officials. That seems a little crazy to me. What happens down the road when the state board decides that all charters must do this or that without providing funding? Isn’t it better to have local control and local support for charters?
Not when local school boards don’t approve charters. Then the point is mute. That is the point for me. In Senate bill 22 school boards can still approve charters, as can local Universities and local CESA. As well as the state. What happens when the state board decides that charters must do this and that? That is also a mute point.” What if “is not a issue right now. Having access to more charter authorizers is. Like I said, I want to work with our local school board, and this is more likely if they see we can get authorized by someone else, they will have more incentive to approve charters and also improve their schools so that kids do not need charters or want to leave for them. The problem now is Public schools have a complete monopoly on public education and are not serving all of who they should be in all the ways children need to learn. Senate bill 22 will greatly improve education like it has in Minnesota.
You asked what our Charter wants that our school is not providing ?
1) Flexible calendar. Year round. 9-3 Tuesday through Thursday instruction, and optional drop in on Monday and Friday. 2) It is a field school so it goes on extensive trips and has outdoor time 1/2 the day. Local and international trips. 3) It is multi aged mixed. 4) It is student led and project based learning. 5) It is a nature and environmental school specializing in community involvement and relationship building. 5) Parent involvement is encouraged. lots of parents don’t have time to be involved but you can stay all day and work with the kids if you like. 6) Fiscally responsible.We spend 18k on our kids at the local school and are at risk of closing. We have a parent on our planning board that is running a similar school for 12 years with 200 kids for 10k per kid. We would encourage sustainable living with local and organic meals. We would also encourage the local community to come into the school or go out to the community to share learning resources. This is a BASIC overview of our school and special ed is encouraged.
A very interesting idea and similar to a charter being proposed here in Madison. I am not one of those people who says “we can’t afford it.” I don’t believe that. I just don’t think that supporting SB 22 is a good way to get what you want. It could be that a state board won’t approve your plan either. SB 22, with it’s expanded vouchers, will mean the end of the Milwaukee public school system. That is not something I want to be part of supporting.
At this point it is the ONLY way we MAY be able to get this school. It may not be approved at the state but at least it MIGHT be. And if its not, it always has the university and CESA. And then again, I know our school board will approve it if senate bill 22 comes through because they know its a great idea and they like it and they most likely will vote yes if they know we have a good chance with someone else. They will get some money from our students. Better than nothing.
I am wondering what is that you are talking about with the expanded vouchers? What are vouchers? Are they only for public schools so kids can attend other public schools ? or are they so kids can attend private schools free? How will this affect Milwaukee schools? Just wondering? I don’t understand vouchers.
Vouchers currently are provided to about 22,000 low income students in Milwaukee so they can attend private schools. The money for vouchers comes directly from the Milwaukee school system and has caused a lot of funding problems for the district. The choice schools currently must be accountable (minimally, I don’t know the details). The budget bill expands vouchers to students at all income levels and to other parts of the state and elimnates accountability. In other words we will pay for the private educations of people who can afford to pay themselves and the private schools will not have to show they are educating the students. You might be thinking that this might be an option for you with your local private school but the reality is that it pits committee members against each other.
I think what this bill is saying is that every kid needs X amount of dollars for education and no matter where we send them whether to a private or public or public charter for profit or non profit or run by community members or run by a corporation that money follows the kid. It is the choice of families to send their kid where it suits them best. I get that all this competition is bad for public schools because it does not give them all the kids automatically but, I guess my argument would be that public schools need to make themselves so good that no one will want to send their kids elsewhere. Then public schools will not have to worry about losing kids to vouchers or charters or private schools. I don’t have much sympathy for committee members. My daughters education should not be held hostage so committee members get along and do not have to compete for kids. let them argue about who gets my kid. I would like them to start the conversation and not assume because it is the only choice I have they can sit back and relax. All kids need a great choice in education and they should not have to pay for it out of pocket. let the money follow the kid and give them choices. If public schools fail new ones and better ones will take their place with this bill. Thanks for conversation Laura. Maybe we will just have to disagree on this one.
I meant community members. Not sure how I ended up with committee. Sorry – that is confusing.
You have to understand that not all kids have the choices you are talking about. Anyone with an IEP for example will not be accepted at a private school. This is a problem not only for the child and parents, but for the community because under Wisconsin law, all children are guaranteed an appropriate education. If that education is not provided, there will be lawsuits against the school district and by extension all tax payers. This is really not about competition, which has no place in educating our kids. This bill is about getting rid of public schools so that profit driven alternatives can step in and please parents in a superficial way – with no accountability.
Private schools, even religion based private schools, are not charities. They have to make expenses like any other business and they like to turn a profit so they can expand.
I would say that competition does have a great deal to do with our children’s public education because without it there is no progress. I really believe that. I believe that the more open and choice we have the better society we will become. This is why we are great as a nation at so many things. If a charter is failing, it will close and kids won’t go there. If that is true that all kids are guaranteed a appropriate education it is all the more reason to have more choice in education. There will be less lawsuits because more educational opportunities will exist. As far as the private schools go. I don’t think we need them if we have charters. Charters can be as good as a private school. I don’t think we should have public money going into private schools but, I do get the concept. The public is paying for either way so let them (the families) make the choice. The fact that they don’t take special needs is understandable. like you said, they function on mostly private money and cannot be held accountable for the entire public. I have heard it said by some of my good friends that this is privatizing schools for profit corporations. I don’t see how publicly funding private schools is making schools private. It sounds the opposite to me. Sounds like there making private schools public. And as far as the corporations for profit. If they can make a profit and create a great education all the more power to them. Give the same amount of money everyone else gets for a child and see if they can create something better. I doubt it, but let em try. I don’t have to send my daughter there because, I l’ll have a private, public district, and charter school choice to send my daughter if senate bill 22 comes to fruition. I don’t believe it will ruin school districts. Schools need to learn how to re design themselves so that they can run better on less money. Smaller in not always worse. I think that smaller schools in abundance are better that one huge school. If public school districts want to run like huge expensive monopolies they may just have to start changing their ways.