Why is the Milwaukee county executive race so important to Betsy DeVos? 

April 3, 2020 9:20 am
U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos speaking at the 2018 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland

Former U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos speaking at the 2018 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland. By Gage Skidmore CC BY-SA 2.0

Betsy DeVos, President Trump’s Secretary of Education, has long funded politicians who support voucher and charter-school schemes through her group, the American Federation for Children. The same American Federation for Children has funded school privatization efforts all over the country. Betsy DeVos is partly responsible for one of the biggest school reform disasters in the country – the privatization of Detroit Public Schools.

Now comes the election on April 7, 2020 — the Milwaukee Perfect Storm. Throughout this country the coronavirus pandemic has disrupted education at all levels. Betsy DeVos and local allies including the Milwaukee Metropolitan Association of Commerce (MMAC) see this disruption as a perfect opportunity to push their takeover agenda to the Milwaukee Public Schools. That’s DeVos is pouring tens of thousands of dollars into the race.

What could be the takeover mechanism? The County Executive and the Opportunity Schools program!

Most Milwaukee residents may have forgotten the Opportunity Schools & Partnership Program (OSPP) established by Wisconsin Act 55, in the 2015-2017 biennial budget. This legislation is still waiting to be executed by the Milwaukee County Executive. Chris Abele explains in a letter at the end of the Legislative Audit Bureau report on the program why he did not carry out the implementation of this statute, which lacked both state funding and local political support.

Why is it that so many school privatization figures are interested in the County Executive race? The OSPP requires the Milwaukee County Executive to select a program commissioner to operate the new school district it creates. This new district is created by selecting up to five Milwaukee Public Schools deemed failing on the Wisconsin Report Card to be transferred over to the new opportunity district each year. The new district must turn over these schools to a currently operating charter or voucher school. With additional deals or maybe contracts even a new school operator can join in this financial feast on the children and taxpayers of Milwaukee.

What does the school operator receive in the OSPP?

  • The expectation that the students come with the school building, along with the current per-student dollar amount paid to charter operators – between $8100 and $8900 per student.
  • School buildings and all the contents – statute is unclear whether the desks, computers and other equipment transfer with the building or if these items remain the property of the school district.
  • Termination of schools’ existing district employees – If an MPS school is transferred into the program, the program commissioner must terminate the school’s existing employees who are MPS employees and may reassign the school’s staff out of the school. 

What does the program commissioner get?

The commissioner may charge each entity operating an opportunity school a fee of up to 3% of the total per-student payment the entity receives, not to exceed a combined total of $750,000 annually from all entities.

What do Milwaukee children and taxpayers receive in return?

  • Disruption of their education that provides no continuity in curriculum
  • For students with IEP’s (Individualized Education Program) or special needs, mental health services – there are no requirements that their needs be met
  • Loss of civil rights in charter or voucher schools
  • No accountability of any type to taxpayers 
  • Loss of local control by elected school board
  • Loss of use and access to taxpayer-owned properties
  • Disaster for the city and MPS district as this program is not funded by the state and the city of Milwaukee holds the debt for the MPS District

Is the OSPP the reason that Betsy DeVos, MMAC, Howard Fuller, Chris Abele and many others are throwing around their influence and money in this election? What do you think?

Disclaimer: I am speaking as an individual, not representing any organization or government office.

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Marva Herndon
Marva Herndon

Marva Herndon, who was first elected to the Milwaukee Public School Board in April 2019, is a graduate of West Division High School, has enjoyed a 25-year career as a computer programmer, and changed careers after retiring from Harley Davidson in 2009. She and her husband, Carl, are parents of four daughters, all MPS graduates. Their grandchildren who reside in Milwaukee either are MPS graduates or are currently enrolled in MPS.