Monday, October 20, 2014

CITY BAN ON ‘CASH FOR KIDS’ SPEAKS TO BROADER STATE ISSUES

By Dominique Paul Noth

It’s hard to applaud bravery with a cry of “More work to do!” But that should be the reaction to the Milwaukee Common Council’s unanimous ordinance October 14 barring financial incentives to lure children to its charter schools, demanding this bar be included in any charter agreements the city makes from this point on and urging the state to adopt similar rules to stop “cash for kids” by schools supported by government money.

This is legislative action at the city level that should stir a long overdue discussion in the state. It is already on the periphery of the governor’s race about the rules that should be in place for charter and voucher schools and aren’t, and horribly high taxpayer outlays ($192 million this year for state vouchers alone) that are making scant difference in quality for children.

To lay out the landscape in Milwaukee,  multiple government agencies can approve K-12 charter schools, technically public schools though excused from many conditions, while a direct private or religious school program known as vouchers, or Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP),  has been expanded statewide by the administration of Scott Walker.  In contrast, MPS (Milwaukee Public Schools system with its own publicly  elected board) has never considered cash outlays to attract new students. They do occasional pancake breakfasts to encourage pupils to show up for the state count date.  But UWM has let its authorized private charter schools use the cash or grocery card  gimmick to attract students.  It was this practice at its Urban Day School that first aroused ire

The city ordinance is a firm no-no that covers only its dozen charter schools. It reads: Prohibited Practice a. No charter school shall offer money or any other thing of pecuniary value to a parent, student, teacher, staff member or any other person as an incentive for recruiting a student to enroll at a charter school. b. The prohibition shall be included in the charter school contract and may result in the termination or revocation of the charter school contract.

In making this move, the council also stiffed Milwaukee Charter School Advocates and the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce, organizations that knew better than to formally oppose but submitted an email of caution given their intrinsic involvement in these schools. Don’t “restrict its schools from using funds to encourage new enrollment,” they wrote  the council, hoping the new ordinance would not eliminate offering free uniforms and the like.

The council was certainly polite but its substitute resolution 140912 put the onus back on the private schools about whether I-Pads, meals or uniforms for kids fall in the category of deceptive advantage.

The council reacted because charter schools were waving cash at adults who brought new students to the school by the signup date of September 19, when students have to be there to be counted for state revenue. To encourage parents in mainly poor areas to look at the money they can make rather than the curriculum and quality being offered children has been called flat bribery by community activists and MPS  teachers who have staged protests around the issue. 

That was in contrast to the original JS story that hinted this  was just a shrewd marketing move in a competitive education field.

MPS’  chart reflects   losses attributable to state funded
 voucher and charter competition. 
JS must know that in the public’s mind this per-student support for voucher and charter schools appears cheaper for taxpayers than what public schools with union teachers cost, so stealing $100 or $200 for non-education purpose from the taxpayer was excused as just the cost of competition.

That’s deceptive and obviously depends on ethics and values. Private schools pass off most special needs students to public school districts, which accept all comers and have expertly trained specialists. That public school ability to address individual needs of pupils is a big part of the costs, while Republican legislators pretend it is all about union vs. nonunion. Perhaps that is why private charter schools think it is no big deal to protect their bottom line by putting taxpayers’ dollars not into the classroom but into marketing.

That claim of being cheaper is suspect because this is not apples to apples. Initial funding for these charter schools and continued funding for voucher schools are hardly transparent even before the taxpayer steps in. A few of these schools fulfill the outlined mission of intelligent experimentation on education models. But they have advantages that school districts lack in buying or building the actual facilities, marketing looseness, short-term teachers and larger class sizes, not from classroom expertise if you accept the results of the limited testing allowed.

Full public schools face far more scrutiny despite critics who regard their procedures as  restrictive. Public school advocates see their own mandated rules as built-in transparency protection for children against those who treat children as a financial opportunity and even parents who take a path of religious familiarity and marketing expertise over education outcomes.

Some educators see these charter private network and voucher practices as similar and aimed at destroying teaching as a career given the high turnover of the Teach for America participants. These college grads are personable but they have one eye on Wall Street and for many reasons less than half outlast their two year contract and several abandon it early.  Long classroom work especially in poor economic regions  always has high attrition, but brightness in college is proving  not sufficient for retention, far less than long training and desire to teach.

And it’s no longer cheap for taxpayers. Even in 2012,  voucher schools were allowed by Madison to serve families with twice Milwaukee’s medium income

While the public still thinks cost per pupil hovers around $4,000 or $6,000 a year, that has long vanished. Under Walker’s administration costs have gone up faster than the low income levels that originally justified the creation of such schools.  Now state taxpayer pay $8,075 per charter school kid though most users of this state aid were originally in a private school.

Voucher schools per pupil have jumped to $7,210 per K-8 student and $7,856 for high school in taxpayer aid.

Along the lines of hidden costs for the state taxpayer, the Oct. 15 figures of allocated state aid for education contain some disturbing numbers for Milwaukee.  On the impending property tax bill if you don’t read one of the multiple inserts from the city, you might assume the public schools of MPS are the largest cost to property owners.  In fact, when read correctly, the Milwaukee Public Schools and its current 79,000 schoolchildren drop out of first place. Under the state formula bookkeeping trickery, MPS is credited on the rolls with money it never sees and students it has lost to competition.

The uninformed public does not realize there are nearly 30,000 voucher and charter students receiving tax dollars that MPS cannot count as Milwaukee public students. Even city of Milwaukee charter schools receive state money (and federal grants) MPS never gets near. Yet the state’s tax cost formula muddies the waters.

There are 10 years left of the state voucher school tax and this year it diverts more than $61 million from MPS that is included in the MPS tax pie. The charter school movement in Milwaukee is growing though MPS’ own selective and tightly monitored charters are largely responsible for any decent comparative ratings.  So MPS sees minimal return from the $9.3 million (of statewide $68.8 million) in Milwaukee taxpayer cost for charters.  In essence that’s $65.6 million of the MPS levy going to voucher and independent charter schools, fully 20% of what the public thinks MPS is getting but never receives. 

Yet the same city supplies the property tax bill and needs to do so much more to clarify it. And city charters also take money away from MPS, though this ordinance now finally insists on the behavior with state money that MPS has always done.


Alderman Michael Murphy
This  Oct. 14 resolution was pushed by Ald. Nik Kovac and joined by the president of the common council, Michael Murphy. 
Murphy replaced Willie Hines who left for another job and was seen as something of a rubber stamp for the city’s charter school committee.  At the same aldermanic meeting where the new rules were discussed and headed for approval, the aldermen approved a new term for Mayor Barrett’s charter chair, Jeanette Mitchell, who formerly served on the MPS board and currently is close with Howard Fuller at Marquette University, whose division vets and approves city charter schools.

This resolution was an obvious good first step -- particularly in protecting the reputation of city charter schools that have sprung up in poor communities where cash gifts may be particularly tempting.  Paying an adult $100 at a UWM charter school (Urban Day) to bring in a new student, or giving them a $50 grocery card at another UWM school upset the community, but it was a city charter school’s effort to give $200 per pupil at Central City Cyberschool that spurred the Common Council into action.

And that was brave since UWM has not stepped in with similar strictures on its dozen charter schools nor has the state Department of Public Instruction even been asked for its opinion, which would have to go before a charter-happy legislature. The city is out there in lone legislative nobility.

On the other hand, this is only the obvious canker sore on the city charter body, which needs to be put under a more intense microscope for questionable practices. Murphy is facing pressure for remedial repair given a growing litany of problems.

Rocketship has technically been approved for seven more schools without  re-examining the one it now runs on the South Side with less students and poorer results than originally promised, and Rocketship  has delayed opening an inner city school, yet the city has not actively questioned its model.  JS education reporter Erin Richards attended a detailed presentation at City Hall a day after she wrote about Rand Paul’s praise of school choice at a Milwaukee voucher school. She or her editors just ignored that  presentation in print. It was  a devastating and well researched academic study on Rocketship’s national behavior and secret intentions.

The city has also given regular charter renewal for a school named after Willie Hines’ brother despite constant failure in performance standards. It has approved other schools that miss their enrollment goals or lose students to MPS, which by law must take them, and it turns out to be part of the $100 million investigators claim has been wasted in ineffective or closed charter schools.

For years there has been a cozy relationship between the city charter approval process and the national charter groups that see profit in the nation’s 50 million schoolchildren or a political way to destroy the power and independence of public education, according to many reliable investigators.

Murphy and the council still have to step up to looking back as well as forward, to examine what other controls should be in place on how these schools lure students, what special rewards they bring to education (because despite the claims of choice, the fruit is in the results) and whether elected officials are being duped by secret money while also robbing taxpayers of the truly responsible choices offered by public schools.

Politically these privately operated or religiously operated schools have a public relations advantage with elected officials.  Parents love their idea of “choice” since the schools receive taxpayer money in their name (sort of like buying someone else a car) and are seduced by the personal contact with their nervous youngsters at the school door and some hugs afterward. But the results on the whole demonstrate little in results and many losses in quality, stirring caring parents to regular flights back to public schools.

For the Common Council and other government entities, it’s time for some deeper fishing with stronger hooks.


About the author: Noth has been  a professional journalist since the 1960s, first as national, international and local news copy editor at The Milwaukee Journal, then as an editor for its famous entertainment Green Sheet, also  for almost two decades the paper’s film and drama critic. He also created its Friday Weekend section and ran Sunday TV Screen magazine and Lively Arts as he became the newspaper’s senior feature editor. He was tapped by the publishers of the combining Milwaukee Journal Sentinel for special projects and as first online news producer before voluntarily departing in the mid-1990s to run online news seminars and write on public affairs and Internet and consumer news. From 2002 to 2013 he ran the Milwaukee Labor Press as editor. It served as the Midwest’s largest home-delivered labor newspaper, with its still operative archives at milwaukeelabor.org.  In that role he won top awards yearly until the paper stopped publishing in 2013. His investigative pieces and extensive commentaries are now published by several news outlets as well as his culture and politics outlets known as Dom's Domain.  He also reviews theater for urbanmilwaukee.com

Sunday, October 19, 2014

NO DEBATE – BURKE SUBDUES WALKER AND MEDIA

By Dominique Paul Noth

In an hour video inquisition by JS staffers,
Mary Burke dominated them as she
 did Scott Walker in the televised debates. 
Unquestionably in the second of only two statewide televised debates that Gov. Scott Walker would agree to, he again underestimated how many vital issues and how much authoritative competence Mary Burke had in her corner as she outmatched him Oct. 17 after roundly beating him, according to news reports on both sides, in the Oct. 9 debate.

This was remarkable from a nonpartisan standpoint. Many did not expect a political newcomer to even hold up much less outpoint a glib, prepared, assured veteran politician going through his third round of elections in four years.

To be sure, she had far more examples of his missteps on her side, and wielded the putdown details pointedly.  But he has the edge in campaign coffers, historical experience, superior ad financing and that polished rhetorical evasiveness that was in full swing Oct. 17. Whenever challenged on specifics, he chatted about how much he loved the Kenosha area (to dodge answering why he  had endlessly delayed deciding on a casino there), how much his kids loved basketball (when asked about public funding  for a new Bucks stadium), how much he was a family man (perhaps to subtly contrast himself to a single businesswoman) and kept repeating last month’s routine job growth and unemployment record (not much lower than the dropping national average)  in a report he roundly criticized in 2011 as unreliable. 

After the handshake of the second debate,
Burke handled Walker so handily that
even many Democrats were surprised.
It was a clumsy performance for Walker. But he benefited from a weakling panel of questioners assembled by the Wisconsin Broadcasters Association, as if they were going out of their way to demonstrate how predictable were the male talents employed by Milwaukee’s main television stations.

Veteran Charles Benson of Channel 4 stabbed at competence as did Kent Wainscott of Channel 12 but they disappeared into the woodwork in follow-ups and were quickly forgotten in a boring sequence of standard familiar questions that ignored most of the breaking facts in their own 10 p.m. news reports – and then they were done in by Ted Perry whose folksy storytelling style in small doses has appeal on Channel 6 but here quickly became boring. He was drawing more attention to his chatty self than to issues important to voters that a governor has direct impact on.

The panel makeup suggested a lot of backstage maneuvering for equal attention among the market’s major TV stations, as if the broadcasters group thought a pleasant female moderator, Erin Toner from WUWM, would compensate for lack of balance. Milwaukee actually has fine and sometimes aggressive journalists of both genders and various races, yet it chose what looked to cynics like as setup for Walker, since Burke has more female voters and he is dependent on older white males, and the panel looked like his people and were clearly more about manner than substance.

The panelists avoided the breaking political news statements since that  has been a parade of Walker’s follies in trying to earn votes.  As pointed out by such veteran respected journalists as Paul Hayes, John Nichols and James Rowen in the past weeks, Walker has claimed that the $7.25 federal minimum was sufficient as a living wage, that a travel ban should be imposed against West Africa (yet the American who died of Ebola flew in from Belgium), that his ultrasound probe and 24-hour waiting period reflected his concern about women’s health (though they clearly cause embarrassment and suffering for a legal and safe procedure he ideologically opposes), that he is leaving the environment cleaner and more protected that he found it (a claim easily disproved even without that bill written by a mining company) and that requiring drug tests for people on public aid (mostly white, incidentally) was designed to  protect them!

There are smart ways to discuss wages, Ebola, abortion, environment and drug tests without attacking Walker and just giving voters a chance to hear different positions on important topics.  None here. It took Burke statements in the debate  to pursue other deceptions – like Walker’s claim that the state has a work problem not a jobs problem or how his concern for inner city violence hardly meshes with  his $76  million cut in shared revenue that massively hurt city police departments.

The game table may have looked stacked against Burke, but she was unaffected, comfortable with all comers and actually managed to dismiss how often Walker tried to drag Jim Doyle into the debate. This is happening a lot, as you will see below.

She clarified fiscal issues as Walker didn’t. How  if you haven’t paid your bills or if you delay moneymaking projects you could have a surplus state budget today and a $1.8 billion projected deficit for tomorrow. She revealed his only first in the nation – the biggest cuts to education funding among all the states.  

She not only won and outdid him on insights into economic repair, she topped with more believable conviction their common and politically required optimism about Wisconsin’s future. She seemed determined to make inroads not only with her base but also with people who previously believed in Walker, not by attacking him but by exposing that his approach to tax cuts was ham-handed economic ineptitude.

That same week there was an even better  opportunity to see Burke’s command of state issues as well as reveal the methods of journalists at their most aggressive and sometimes most foolish in trying to trap the  candidate into a gotcha goof.

This was the fascinating Journal Sentinel video interview posted Oct. 15 -- or should I say E.W. Scripps interview, since that is the chain that now owns JS.  The newspaper endorsed Walker in 2010 and since then has been bollixed about the negative impact of the personality and  policies it once embraced, so it vacillates between explanation-criticism of Walker and shame – while refusing to ever endorse any candidate ever again.  It may be too late for true balance given how many former subscribers seriously ask me who is paying the reporters’ salaries– Journal Communications, E.W. Scripps or the Bradley Foundation?

Journal grillers (l-r) David Haynes, Mabel Wong and Dan Bice
 seek to get Mary Burke to commit to their plagiarism fantasy.
The video questioners were such a healthy mix -- editor Marty  Kaiser,  newsroom types and columnists (Dan Bice, Dan Glauber, Karen Herzog  and James Causey) and editorial opinion types  (David Haynes, Mabel Wong, Ernst-Ulrich Franzen) -- that they could demonstrate knowledge as well as aggression. Kaiser at least seemed to realize this was a needed opportunity for the public to know Burke better (they know almost too much about Walker) and seemed surprised when she quickly answered the bell with three immediate priority areas of action and cost savings.

But the interview ping-pong was infected with chuckle-inducing efforts to catch Burke in a contradiction or embarrass her. She survived this gauntlet in such cool fashion that it leaves no doubt that along the campaign trail she has found the polish and confidence to handle the media better than her opponent.

The JS media sniping was particularly amusing.  Bice was clearly upset that she hadn’t buckled weeks ago to his efforts to play up that plagiarism charge (this was a few passages in a 40 page job plan where a paid consultant used his own words from job ideas written in other states and he was fired for copying himself without telling her). She calmly reminded Bice she had always answered speedily and honestly and implied that Bice had fallen for a Walker ploy:  “All this was politically motivated to take attention away from really bad jobs numbers.”

A few other things emerged in the discussions. Supposedly experienced JS word masters continued to fail a simple English test on the meaning of plagiarism (which is knowingly using others’ writings).  And despite the continuing horror of world-class ethicists and semanticists, these journalists continue to use “pro-life” and “pro-choice” as polar opposites.

Bice so often insisted that Burke had treated his grilling on this as a minor issue that he demonstrated it WAS a minor issue. Timing of the video’s release also wounded Bice. When he suggested this plagiarism charge had caused an irreparable drop in her poll numbers, she had actually gained back the five points she was behind in the Marquette University poll and is actually now slightly ahead.

The reporters also tried to suggest she loved pursuing commission studies  more than jumping to action  based on her refusal to leap into their “decide this now!” traps to stimulate their stories  and given her well-known reliance on charts and business trends.

But she handled that, too:  “Of course I’m going to take time with a $70 billion budget. There are things I can do right away and things that need to wait until we grow the economy. Obviously we need more revenue. Voters should have expectations, some short-term, some long-term. You have to put things in place that will move the needle.”

Burke explains job plan agenda to JS skeptics
 in  an hour video interview.
But she offered a lot of budget and citizen improvements right away -- an immediate $203 million improvement in the budget and billions more over 10 years by taking the Medicaid expansion (“While Walker says the federal government can’t be trusted, it has never reneged on Medicaid funding and I completely trust it won’t now”).   She would stop the statewide voucher school expansion ($191.9 million cost for state taxpayers this school year alone). “Vouchers expansion is draining resources from public schools and does not improve student learning. The cuts to funding (tops in the nation) and to community livelihood threaten the public education of 900,000 students.”

Yet from years of education work in Madison, she also points out that there are good learning  models in all sectors -  public, charter and voucher  -- and as for the long-term Milwaukee voucher school program “I would accept the landscape as it is” but wanted more accountability.

Perhaps pointedly, perhaps not, she had an example of the perils of an  overly touted  learning model --  notably a voucher pet of JS writers, including several interviewing her on camera as well as education reporters who have variously referred to St. Marcus Lutheran voucher school as “ a darling of local private funders,” “high performing” and “excellent.”

Unbowed here came Burke:  “I was just on the home page of St. Marcus. It’s been touted as a great example. Well, the fact is in reading scores 80% are not proficient and it’s close to that number even for students who have been there three to five years.  That’s not good enough. We have got to do better. We have to really understand what it takes within these schools and within the community and build on models that are working.” 

Her economic plans integrally include Milwaukee’s central city, where she wants more local retail and hiring and anchoring institutions that keeps wealth and ownership in the neighborhood.  Fiscal growth is her first area of experience.

“In economic development we are dead last in Midwest,” she said. “If continuing at the same pace in Milwaukee County it will be six more years before we reach the pre-recession employment that the rest of the country already has. So right away we must look toward starting up more companies, getting access to capital, looking at infrastructure projects,” recognizing the different industry sectors require different approaches. “It’s sharp focus, not just one thing.”

On social issues she is quieter, though she detailed how Walker’s ideas on women’s health were intrusive (“Men who are parents and have daughters want them to have their right to make their own opinions”).

She was quick to criticize kowtowing to special interests (how strange that this was not directly addressed in the televised debate). She told JS: “$700,000 in secret campaign donation from a mining company looks like it should be illegal and smells like pay to play.  There is a difference between getting support from people with shared interests and doing the bidding of organizations who support you – that I will never do.”

You might have missed the variety and full range of the Burke video because of the misleading headline: “Mary Burke distances herself from Jim Doyle policies” – sure enough, that darned Doyle again, stretched to eight minutes of the hour by pestering journalists. She simply said she doesn’t consult with him on this campaign, didn’t like his raid on the transportation fund and his raising of education tuition, but she wouldn’t second-guess his different budget choices during the worst recession in the nation’s history after she had left his administration.  She turned the inquisition upside down by pointing out  her earlier two years as secretary of commerce taught her about business partnerships, had 50,000 more jobs in Wisconsin than now and a lower unemployment rate and, despite naysayers and constant shots at her former boss,  “It was one of best times in Wisconsin in  terms of jobs.”

The interview was filled with more important moments including revealing a refusal to blanket undo all of Walker as many Democrats want.

Even with Act 10. “I’m on record that I will act to restore collective bargaining for public workers, but I do want contributions to pensions and health benefits since both are fair to match what is happening in the private sector.”

Asked if she would eliminate Walker’s lazy Susan of tax credits for specific businesses, she said it depended on whether they worked to produce jobs.  After rattling off the failures of the WEDC under Walker (“Eight different leadership hires, $30 million  not even used, grants with no expectation of job creation or retention”) she revealed: “I will make it work,” adding that  “economic development needs even  a higher level of attention and a more encompassing approach” including directly within her office. “I want to focus my energy on moving forward and not fighting the old battles.”

When questioned whether such personal involvement increased the chances for pay for play, she made clear the distinction between her and the current practice.   “This will be a high ethics administration. I won’t put up with that nonsense. It’s the way I run my life.  It’s the tone and the expectations you set” – which I took as a dig at how Walker operates.

After studying the UW system budget, she said she might keep Walker’s tuition freeze but just for two years because “I need to have more money in the state budget by growing the economy to do all this. What I really want is to bring down the cost of higher education. I want to increase the capacity of our universities since education is key to job growth. If you just say tuition freeze as Walker does, without identifying where you want to cut – that’s irresponsible, easy to get a sound-bite.”  

She gave examples of working with Republicans, including a pleasant hour with one of Walker’s biggest supporters, Kurt Bauer, CEO of Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce.  

Nor would she  play a typical journalism game of mutual admiration with an opponent. When pressed to say nice things about Walker, she briefly tried (“a great politician, a good family man”) and then threw up her hands to speak candidly. 

“I think the voters appreciate honesty and sincerity. I know I do. I look at the campaign, attacking my integrity and dragging Trek through the mud. I knew all this would go on,  but I’m not going to stand up there and  say the politically correct thing when I don’t believe it sincerely.”

No wonder the editorial board was on a seesaw between trying to probe her views and unbalance her.   Burke had the talent  to remain pleasant and stick to or improvise around her  talking points, with specific details about the plans that make her more than ready for the governor’s mansion. (“It will come down to turnout,” she said.) Her freshness may wear off in time, just as Walker’s already has. But if some find her too focused on economic development and less absolute on social issues, that may strike voters as a welcome change.

About the author: Noth has been  a professional journalist since the 1960s, first as national, international and local news copy editor at The Milwaukee Journal, then as an editor for its famous entertainment Green Sheet, also  for almost two decades the paper’s film and drama critic. He also created its Friday Weekend section and ran Sunday TV Screen magazine and Lively Arts as he became the newspaper’s senior feature editor. He was tapped by the publishers of the combining Milwaukee Journal Sentinel for special projects and as first online news producer before voluntarily departing in the mid-1990s to run online news seminars and write on public affairs and Internet and consumer news. From 2002 to 2013 he ran the Milwaukee Labor Press as editor. It served as the Midwest’s largest home-delivered labor newspaper, with its still operative archives at milwaukeelabor.org.  In that role he won top awards yearly until the paper stopped publishing in 2013. His investigative pieces and extensive commentaries are now published by several news outlets as well as his culture and politics outlets known as Dom's Domain.  He also reviews theater for urbanmilwaukee.com


Friday, October 17, 2014

EXTREMIST DIN UPSETTING VOTERS AND COULD UP-END NOV. 4

By Dominique Paul Noth

When Vice President Joe Biden went to Florida October 14  to speak on behalf of newly minted Democrat Charlie Crist in his race against his former party’s big spending governor Rick Scott, a Nov. 4 race that polls put neck and neck, he didn’t engage in plagiarism (as he was accused of in the distant past). But he pushed to center stage an insider observation that every day has a greater sting of truth. 

Biden (left) stumps for Crist
Former Gov.  Crist, Biden said, didn’t leave the Republican Party – “It left him. This is not the same breed of cat that's been around for a long time. This is a whole different deal, folks -- definitely not your father’s Republican Party” – recalling the party he knew of diplomatic congeniality and a willingness to negotiate in the American tradition of democracy.

American politics have had  vindictive if trivial eruptions on and off for more than two centuries, but today it is relentless ugly, a  reality sinking in on voters tired of the noise. It is compounded by many factors of modern society beyond the inevitable difference of eras and demographic shifts. But whatever advantages we can point to in diversity and escape from Puritan excesses, there have also been some profound losses in the tone and prestige of our democracy.

It’ s understandable that many Republicans are not quite ready to leap over the fence to the Democratic side, but even in community meetings and neighborhood parties in Waukesha County (the suburban bane of many Democrats) the traditionalist supporters are profoundly disturbed in the choice of GOP talking heads dominating the cable news channels. (It’s a whole other column why the same quotable dummies dominate the airwaves and radio – or actually sit in the host chair.)

Some other Republicans are knee-jerk in defending their candidates right or wrong (which some Democrats are also guilty of) as if R and D were deadly rivals on the football field and changing colors would be a violation of rah-rah.  But many steadfast sure-fire voters of the recent past are hitting the pause button, weighing the rhetoric and the consequences.  They are mainly interested in family and security, not in political maneuvers, so they, as many Democrats do on their side, just accepted the sound-bites and talking points without question.  Once they start questioning, though, anecdotal evidence and comments are bubbling out even in firmly GOP neighborhoods. 

They have children and aging parents, after all, and even grandchildren attending public schools, and they have to fill the ballot ovals with some sense of moral conscience, which means looking closer at the issues and what truly fits with their convictions – and eyesight. 

Whether such doubts will affect their votes we won’t know until Nov. 4. 

But unquestionably, just as the Democrats have their own unity problems,  there is  growing dislike at the assumption that the GOP vote is diehard secure and greater dislike over what this  breed of GOP sound-biters has come to represent – petty sniping, obstinate of opinion, refusing to  cooperate, holding private meetings to oppose anything that smells of Obama even if in the past they agreed with the idea or even proposed it, dismissive of feminine hormones and relishing the posturing of political testosterone. Perhaps you will argue that this is only extremist behavior and the worried voters will come back home to the Grand Old Party in the end. But even news outlets on their side have made derision and extremism commonplace – and you’d be surprised by how many Republicans don’t like it.

Putting aside glee and hope that change is at hand in Wisconsin, long-term Democrats have also been taken aback by this lack of manners and comity in discussion, recalling the many decent Republican families they knew and still know. When I talk to Democrats in the state Assembly and Senate, their first reaction is sadness. Anger and frustration come second.

Gridlock has infected the universal brain.  The loss of logical analysis has engendered blind support and even admiration for those who show backbone for even proven lousy ideas (yes I am thinking of Wisconsin’s inept administrator in  the governor’s mansion and of Brownback in Kansas, but I am also wondering about those Democrats so angry over Scott Walker’s  disembowelment of unions that Mary Burke’s refusal to send all of Act 10 permanently to hell has made them reluctant allies,  though her moderated approach echoes much of the thinking of today’s union leaders).  

Why have we let partisans elevate ignorance and absolutism into some sort of Holy Grail of ideology? Why have we let extremists and ignorant nostrums dominate our debates?

This column is not another too easy attack on Walker and the well-heeled Republican machinery. It’s more intended to explore what has happened to America on both sides. It’s time to examine the depth of our failure and  how the media has become  intertwined with the new technology and  the dismaying effect of secret big money, which brings ethically questionable  lawyerly evasion and corporate lobbying to unseemly prominence in controlling our thinking. 

This has created a new texture for America that can’t be compared to the strident political editorials and cartoons of the 19th century.   It is all intrinsically linked with social changes – our unreasonable expectations of instant gratification combined with multiple escapist choices that make the public bound to marketing techniques and brisk tech distractions from life, which has carried over into how we contemplate the complicated issues of today.  Right, left and middle, the noise of simpletons it too loud to ignore.

The public is devoted  to a  24/7 news cycle that no government can satisfy,  to facades of “people think” created by Twitter,  Facebook, Tumblr or whatever digital device you “like” to reinforce your existing friendships and frequently your half-baked  attitudes. Digital escape has become the poor man’s version of banquets and other expensive favoritism by those rich enough to cuddle up to leaders and whisper into their ears while the rest of us are hoping the leaders will at least read the media feeds on their smart phones.

Our brave new world allows oligarchic wealth an outsized influential role over our mailboxes, phone polling and TV sets – and these forces have found willing vassals in the media dependent on those advertising dollars and corporate reach.  For the sake of ratings or eyeballs, newspapers, cable news channels, radio talk and web portals are elevating fear not just over Ebola and Isis but over the important instruments of government from tax collecting, disease research, environment protection, sensible regulation of business and other things a democracy once prided itself on.  This isn’t a right or left observation, really, except that the left is prone to more optimism about the arc upwards of justice and the right seems more susceptible right now to panic attacks and clinging to the status quo. 

All these factors equalize in the public mind events that aren’t equal. But they are made equal in media time spent on them.  If important revelations occur, if thinkers raise vital criticism of policies against those struggling to stay in office,  all are rapidly diminished in a blitz of attack ads or by exaggerating a minor language blip or poor political choice into dismissal of a candidate who is making sense on the big picture.

There are many examples. Let’s take Kentucky.  Probably in an effort not to associate herself too closely to Obama, who lost Kentucky in 2012 by 22 points,  Alison Lundergan  Grimes made a blunder though recent polls show her either breathing down  Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell’s neck or slightly ahead of him.

Grimes goofs but McConnell dissembles more in
recent debate
She ducked saying who she voted for president in 2008 and 2012 (though she once admitted voting Hillary in the primary).  Her reason – that the vote is a secret right and as secretary of state she should seek neutrality – is silly. She is a lifelong Democrat as well as a candidate.  She could never vote for McCain or Romney on principle. So it was either no vote or Obama – why deny the obvious?

Politics, of course. She has Bill and Hillary Clinton campaigning for her and is deliberately conjuring up how much influence she is likely to bring Kentucky in 2016, pointedly calling herself a “Clinton Democrat.” (And who do YOU think will be the next president?) She also knows the political consultants for Mitch are poised to pounce on any sound-bite mentioning Obama favorably.

Despite such justifications this was a mistake unworthy of an appealing candidate who has made inroads with a Joan of Arc image of taking on the power structure on both sides.  But it was nowhere near the level of evasive insult to the electorate and hypocrisy of Mitch. 

In debates and stump speeches McConnell is not called out in equal manner yet he says such sillies as he will “tear Obamacare out root and branch” yet he is fine with Kentucky Kynect -- which is the root of Obamacare in his state and highly successful and beloved to boot!  That was damaging nonsense as is his denial of mankind’s involvement in climate change by saying “I am not a scientist.” The mind reels – and only recently have some journalists spoken out.

Mitch’s climate change denial is outright fabrication quite similar to statements (the party line, I presume) by Joni Ernst, the Iowa  castration queen running for Senate, or Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan who goes further, not only saying “I’m not a  scientist” but suggesting that “even scientists don’t agree.” It is an extremely deceptive statement by a man Obama once foolishly called one of the smarter Republicans and it provided a debate success for his opponent Ron Zerban, running an uphill race thanks to GOP gerrymandering.

Now Ryan knows full well that 98% of scientists agree that man has a devastating influence on the climate and they expect Congress to decide among many options of how to address this genuine problem.  For members of Congress to express doubt or ignorance signals lack of action -- a cowardice that spells disaster for the world’s future. It is another stance that is raising doubts in longtime Republican voters.

But as in the Mitch case, the national media hasn’t jumped all over such evasions as idiotic – perhaps because direct attacks on the big lie might offend the powers behind the ads paying their salaries.

Or is it all about spiking the ratings? Clearly the reluctance of a Democratic candidate to support the president will get readership and viewership while Mitch denying that Kentucky Kynect is the heart of his state's Obamacare is a bigger evasion with a more frightening impact from a big stick in the GOP.  But if you’re Chuck Todd and your MSNBC ratings are swooning, you punch up Grimes and skip around Mitch – until other journalists call you on it and you are forced to admit that McConnell is more deeply disqualified for public office.

Mary Burke during first debate.
Something similar has happened in Wisconsin – a minor Mary Burke blunder raised to a media frenzy even though Walker’s blunders and beliefs are more damaging. Faced with a hundred year old law challenging him to address the living wage issue, Walker said the federal $7.25 an hour minimum was sufficient, which everyone knows is nutty because of how many workers are  trying to raise families on artificially low wages.

When he said Wisconsin “doesn’t have a job problem, we have a work problem,” he demeaned a million hard working low-income workers or job hunters hoping for action from a governor who failed to deliver the 250,000 new jobs he promised.  (There is no question those boners helped Burke win their first debate and will draw more desperate attacks by his side, probably  reaching back in time to her tenure under Jim Doyle – but that’s the painful politics of today.)

Consider how minor and common was Burke’s error yet what hard play it got from the media  – a paid consultant quoted himself verbatim with jobs ideas from other states he suggested for her jobs program, but he didn’t change a word.  That got him promptly fired and Burke accused of plagiarism, though candidates borrow ideas from each other all the time – in this case good ones, in Walker’s case clones from ALEC or from policies that have failed here.  Yet the reporters gave the Burke issue more space than what Walker said, forcing the voters to dig out the balance the media failed to deliver.

Across the county similar examples of disparate coverage abound. So my complaint is simple.  Journalists should be a bulwark against this leap toward instant gratification and obviously false statements. But when Politifacts flails around more than Tilt-o-Whirl, when news interviewers fail to pin the big lie or follow up with the vital question, journalism becomes just another transient pastime in a world filled with escapist opportunities.

Reporters electronic and print should scoff at a political dodge but bury with invective sheer hypocrisy, which is far more damaging to America in the long run.  That would satisfy both their “gotcha” eureka for ratings and the public’s need to separate a small sin from a major one. 

About the author: Noth has been  a professional journalist since the 1960s, first as national, international and local news copy editor at The Milwaukee Journal, then as an editor for its famous entertainment Green Sheet, also  for almost two decades the paper’s film and drama critic. He also created its Friday Weekend section and ran Sunday TV Screen magazine and Lively Arts as he became the newspaper’s senior feature editor. He was tapped by the publishers of the combining Milwaukee Journal Sentinel for special projects and as first online news producer before voluntarily departing in the mid-1990s to run online news seminars and write on public affairs and Internet and consumer news. From 2002 to 2013 he ran the Milwaukee Labor Press as editor. It served as the Midwest’s largest home-delivered labor newspaper, with its still operative archives at milwaukeelabor.org.  In that role he won top awards yearly until the paper stopped publishing in 2013. His investigative pieces and extensive commentaries are now published by several news outlets as well as his culture and politics outlets known as Dom's Domain.  He also reviews theater for urbanmilwaukee.com

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

MILWAUKEE MOVES TO OUTLAW 'CASH FOR KIDS' AT ITS CHARTER SCHOOLS

By Dominique Paul Noth

Ald. Nik Kovac
Starting today (September 23)  leading aldermen of the Milwaukee Common Council are working out a resolution declaring illegal the use of financial incentives for  adults  to lure children to sign up for state taxpayer money at the city of Milwaukee charter schools.

UWM is currently investigating its own legal reaction to similar “cash for kids” maneuvers -- a $100 referral at Urban Day School and a quizzical $50 grocery store card at another school. State legislators are also asking for answers to the legality of the “cash for kids” concept, one even arguing it is “100% against the law according to federal guidelines” for K-3 and K-4 education.

The aldermanic move is being led by council president Michael Murphy and the 3rd District’s Nik Kovac, though they expect widespread agreement. “I can’t see anyone opposing this common sense cleanup,” said Kovac in a chat September 22.  “I think by the time it is introduced, many others will come along.”

The trigger was evidence that one city authorized charter school, Central City Cyberschool, a K-4 through eighth grade city charter at 4301 N. 44th St. in Ald. Willie Wade’s district, had offered $200 in cash to get a new student to register at the school by the date the state gives out taxpayer money for the first semester, September 19. The referral reward would be paid on the October date the state confirms the school is getting tuition money in the name of the new student.

The school’s literature is particularly blatant in appealing to adults connected with the school to bring in new students: 

Cyberschool Parents! Here is your chance to handpick the students that attend school with your child. If a new student enrolls at Cyberschool by September 19th, and lists your full name on their application in the REFERRED BY section, you can earn $200.”

The appeal is not limited to parents but is extended to staff and various unaffiliated “daycare centers” used by others at the Cyberschool.

 The “cash for kids” device came under fire in recent stories that went beyond the Journal Sentinel view of the practice as simply business as usual in a competitive “free market” environment. It evoked broader outrage in the community about bribing adults to convince families to send their kids to a school for the adult’s financial gain. 

 “At the very least you’d expect a responsible parent to ask about curriculum,” said Bob Peterson, president of the Milwaukee teachers union at a campus rally the MTEA and community education activists organized in great haste and anger in front of the UMW education school building on Hartford Ave.    

“It’s not the same,” one business leader told me, insisting on anonymity because he is a major funder of conservative causes. He was pointing to what he calls the “bring in a customer gimmick” that companies he’s close to --  phone,  cable and even Internet providers –- are now using  to attract new customers.  A private business might see a marketing lure in offering a discount, free service or cashback to an existing customer to bring in a new one   -- “but that should not be applied to children and education.  That is a hell of a way to choose a school for your kid.”

Learning of the Cyberschool flyer, Common Council leaders immediately scorned the practice and are moving to make it illegal for all city chartered schools, hoping to write the resolution to allow “more normal incentives such as a free pizza party,” said Kovac.  Under state law, the city is one of several government agencies authorized to approve charter schools.

Cyberschool received $305,000 in government money from planning to opening (2000) and then into 2003. All required city of Milwaukee charter committee approval before the state as conduit could pass along the federal charter funds. There is a considerable financial reward for such funding of planning and startup. Today a charter school receives annually about $8,075 per pupil it lists as enrolled on Sept. 19. Cyberschool operators were willing to set $200 per new pupil aside -- not for classrooms or teachers but to give adults who goose their numbers.

Those new students can leave a few days later – a growing practice at the city’s private voucher and charter schools -- and Milwaukee Public Schools will have to take them in even if state funding doesn’t follow for months.  In the meantime, the private school gets to keep the state money.

Recent reports from the Department of Public Instruction put Cyberschool’s earlier enrollment (2013) at 278, but neighborhood observers say it has declined since then. Still, in 14 years of operation, the government money for a school of this size can easily top $23 million.

UWM has also said it will investigate the practice at its dozen schools and as of this writing had reached no conclusion.  But pressure is being put on.

Their recent chancellor, Mike Lovell, was tapped by Marquette University to become its first lay president in August (and he will probably not be totally out of this thicket over there, since the vetting organization for city of Milwaukee charter schools is Marquette University’s Institution for Transformation of Learning, run by Howard Fuller, whose admirers stack the city of Milwaukee charter committee, which is also being questioned on this practice).

UWM meanwhile is searching for a new chancellor, and the issue has been put before the University Committee (leaders of the faculty senate), an influential search arm.  The faculty is directly being encouraged to weigh in their search for a new chancellor this practice of bribe/incentives as well as the larger impact on a public university of authorizing separate K-12 charter schools that undermine the state’s financial support for MPS, according to speakers at the public comment sessions. 

The city says it is not waiting on UWM in outlawing the practice at the schools it charters. The aldermen are confident that the resolution will move through with little objection if written precisely, partly because leading charter school spokesmen are quietly agreeing that the come-on of “cash for kids” has been a black-eye for them.

There is a larger hidden reason for the charter leaders’ distress. They have reason to fear future scrutiny by Wisconsin, which has expanded voucher and charter funding but without some of the immediate controls and accountability pushed for by educators.  There is already agitation in the state legislature, hardly all Democratic concerns, to move beyond outlawing direct financial gimmes to establishing tighter rules of the road on how voucher and charter schools can market themselves to children. 

Bob Peterson
MPS didn’t seek out this issue, Peterson told me. “A person who lives in the Urban Day neighborhood alerted us to the bribery scheme after she got a flyer at her house. After it was posted on Facebook other people described similar schemes.”

“The good thing about this whole incident is that it exposes how far the privatizers will go to undermine the public schools. They use public tax dollars to increase enrollment at private schools at the expense of public schools -- it's like the taxpayer gets hit twice.”

While a strong advocate of unionized teachers, Petersen says his main reaction was surprise at the degree of ignorance among citizens to the double whammy.

“It became obvious after our picket line and further discussions at UWM that many UWM staff are not even aware that UWM charters privately-run schools,” he told me. “Furthermore they have no clue what the process is.”

UWM’s charter advisory  committee, chosen from its various education divisions and including five faculty members, a community member and a representative of the dean of education,  recommends which private schools, K-12,  will receive state tuition money for each student under UWM’s authorization.

According to vice chancellor Tom Luljak, UWM administrators did not know in advance of the Urban Day School’s marketing method -- despite the advisory committee’s mandated responsibility for operational policies and monitoring.

Said Peterson: “It's a sad day when a public institution like UWM or the Common Council of Milwaukee charters privately-run schools which ultimately have negative impact on Milwaukee public schools.” 

About the author: Noth has been  a professional journalist since the 1960s, first as national, international and local news copy editor at The Milwaukee Journal, then as an editor for its famous entertainment Green Sheet, also  for almost two decades the paper’s film and drama critic. He also created its Friday Weekend section and ran Sunday TV Screen magazine and Lively Arts as he became the newspaper’s senior feature editor. He was tapped by the publishers of the combining Milwaukee Journal Sentinel for special projects and as first online news producer before voluntarily departing in the mid-1990s to run online news seminars and write on public affairs and Internet and consumer news.From 2002 to 2013 he ran the Milwaukee Labor Press as editor. It served as the Midwest’s largest home-delivered labor newspaper, with its still operative archives at milwaukeelabor.org.  In that role he won top awards yearly until the paper stopped publishing in 2013. His investigative pieces and extensive commentaries are now published by several news outlets as well as his culture and politics outlets known as Dom's Domain.  He also reviews theater for urbanmilwaukee.com


Thursday, September 11, 2014

RALLY AT UWM ATTACKS ‘CASH FOR KIDS’ SCHEMES AT CHARTER SCHOOLS

By Dominique Paul Noth

Marva Herndon of Women Informed addresses
 the UWM campus rally Sept. 11 while Father Tom Mueller (center)
 listens. Watching (back to camera) is MTEA President Bob Peterson.
It was somewhat impromptu when the teacher’s union and community groups called within hours  for a rally in front of Enderis Hall, the UWM School of Education building,  September 11, to protest the “cash for kids” insult to public education represented by revelations that week that not just UWM charter schools but – it turned  out –  a city of Milwaukee charter approved school were engaged in such lures to boost enrollment in time to get state  taxpayer money.   

(Central City Cyberschool in Ald. Willie Wade’s district has a flyer offering $200 for a student referral by Sept. 19, so look for a major City Hall protest soon that will likely draw more than 40 insiders to the issue.)

While Milwaukee teachers were there, and community activists including South Side Greek Orthodox priest Thomas Mueller, it was notable how many UWM staff and teachers also participated since they see this as a stain on their own public university's values. The late afternoon rally with bullhorn and media observers drew fleeting attention from most students rushing to classes, but dozens of other students  stopped to listen and seemed caught in a bizarre middle – attending classes at a place being criticized by people who teach them or whose professions they are studying to join. 

Some asked for more information. One student watching from behind a  glass window wondered  if $100 per child was reducing children to the sort of discount items he associated with TV or phone service (“give us a new customer and you’ll get a free month”). Another asked if all this proved these charter schools, set up in poor neighborhoods to draw students from MPS, were “failing if they have to pay to get their hands on our taxpayer money.”

And a UWM staffer asked if  using adults to trap children pointed out a bigger problem in today’s education game -- that saving money can sound  more attractive to struggling parents  than curriculum or quality. 

“With kids and education,” one student asked me as I watched from the sidelines, “isn’t that bribery?  Is it legal?”

UWM administrators and public officials are now belatedly asking the same question, as UWM vice chancellor Tom Luljak confirmed in an email:

“UWM was not aware of and did not approve  incentive programs that some of our Charter schools have used to increase enrollment,” he wrote.

“In its sponsorship of Charter schools, UW-Milwaukee has always been focused on one key objective – helping students receive the very best education possible.  In determining whether the use of incentives is appropriate . . . we will evaluate whether they serve the best interests of students and do not detract from the quality of educational programs within the schools.”  

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

$100 FOR A CHARTER REFERRAL EXPOSES SCHOOL CHOICE MOVEMENT AS CRASS CHARADE

By Dominique Paul Noth


Dancing  $100 bills at the Urban Day School website
A hundred dollars for any parent who refers another parent to a charter elementary school? Even when the Journal Sentinel reported this scheme by UWM chartered Urban Day School, it couldn’t resist some false equivalency. It suggested that such cash for kids in a poor neighborhood  – timed to the date the school would get taxpayer money if the referred student shows up – is somehow a shrewd extension of the competitive “free market” system in education, to paraphrase the article.

Sorry guys. Bribery ain’t an “economic incentive” outside of cadging cigarets in prison.

The Wisconsin funding formula does put pressure on all schools to make sure students are there to be counted on the third Friday of September – the state’s official enrollment day to get taxpayer money.  But in the city of Milwaukee, parents unhappy with their voucher or private school education can approach the MPS any day of the school year to get their child transferred, regardless of whether (weirdly) the MPS has to wait a semester or more to get state payment. 

Not apparently at Urban Day. The $100  offer to a referring parent --  who may quietly share the proceeds with accepting parents, there is no regulations about this, and it’s even more lucrative if you bring in two or three children --  disappears after Sept. 19, as the website warns.  And if the school gains back with dollars  the 110 kids it is short,  this “public school” can cut applicants off, which strikes me as hardly public.

The school doesn’t see anything wrong with giving $100 per student, because it eventually comes from the taxpayers to go to adult salesmen.

The charade is exposed. (And that should have been the JS headline.)  The school choice movement  has lost any intelligent claim that it is concerned about the kids, not the money. 

“Free market” competition? Natural share? Well, nature is working in favor of  the public schools and  so is the competitive  marketplace when you take away gimmicks.

Noted Rep. Evan Goyke, in whose legislative district the school at 1441 N. 24th St. is located, “This disgusts me. It reduces educating kids  to the level of a retail market, like cable television, which offers a discount if you bring in a customer.”

For years educators have been pleading in vain with the Walker administration for  some oversight agency with teeth  to monitor how charter and voucher schools peddle their wares. Now those who care about education have  been done in yet again by unsupervised schools feeling free to hire marketing Mad Men.

Of course there are some good charter schools, but more and more news analysis is exposing how much of the charter movement is a racket under investigation.

Privately operated charter and voucher schools claim that profit is not primary in their blandishments.  The selling game at Urban Day School flat undermines that concept. It  also should serve as a warning to neighborhoods that think there is anything permanent in the polished presentations and promises, since all those riches and attention can rapidly evaporate as the market turns and the only way to keep enrollment up is manipulation of parents, not what is happening in the classroom.


For those who don't Internet, the
school produced flyers.
Bob Peterson, the president of the Milwaukee teachers union, posted an angry blog about this but it can hardly be regarded as a pro-union comment by an outspoken pro-union figure. Peterson was making a basic point about education. Schools should be about what’s best for the child, not artificial inducements that drive a parent to drag a child to a school regardless of curriculum. Because that is what Urban Day School is doing. And authorizing agency UWM, as he says, should be ashamed at this  blatant appeal to the wallet.  It isn’t even asking parents who like Urban Day to tell their friends. It is a bribe to any parent who makes a referral.

So any claim that this is simply a competitive marketing ploy evaporates when you think of sticking a hundred dollars into some grownup’s hand to talk another parent into getting his child there by a specific money-generating date. Any conniving citizen who needs a hundred bucks (not all parents are saints) could have many motives beside education.  And if they do care about their kids, they have to realize that the MPS doesn’t do this and they can walk away to another school a week later! So much for family involvement.

At Urban Day it’s $100. At another UWM charter school a referral brings a $50 grocery store  cardSuch rewards for referrals are clearly the bridge too far for serious educators.

The false equivalency rampant in our media was also in the JS story, comparing this tactic to simply making sure students show up for the Sept. 19 count.  But when MPS offers pancake breakfasts that key day, which the article points out, that is for students already enrolled. It’s a nutritious way to assure they show up  rather than stuffing bills in a parent’s pocket. 

Other complaints I got from UWM staff  and Milwaukee parents dealt more with the  optics – the JS story used a totally unrelated photo of a happy CEO surrounded by grinning Urban Day kids rather than the school’s website of  floating $100 bills for greedy parents. TV stations proved more mature in their coverage, realizing the brazenness of the website was the real story.

The come-on damaged Urban Day’s self-proclaimed vision of competence.  The school has  suffered a major enrollment drop in the last few years and also lost its federal Head Start funding. Previously it had not been demonized as one of the problem offspring of the voucher and charter movement, having been around for more than a century in various forms, then taken over as a UWM charter school in 2010. 

But this selling tactic as a response to its free market economic downturn  reflects poorly on its prestigious set of officers and trustees representing such organizations as the Milwaukee Bucks, Northwestern Mutual, We Energies, Time Warner and even a children’s court judge, all of whom must now be raising some troubling questions of their own. Apparently the dollars for kids idea has never been adjudicated or even found legal.

We weren’t aware of this before,” said UWM spokesman Tom Luljak in a phone interview September 9, “and our legal team is now investigating.” 

If charter schools – technically public schools though MPS always accepts every student without checking with the bookkeeper, while private charter schools seem able to turn away kids or find ways not to take them in – are allowed to behave this way, the next question is clear: Just what is going on at voucher schools? 

Up to now most of the coverage has focused on the cost in the voucher legislation to public schoolsBut now that  Gov. Scott Walker seeks to expand  it statewide despite outrage in Beloit and elsewhere, more attention is being paid to how these schools sell parents to participate despite poor educational outcomes.

News story exploring the insides of the voucher schools in Milwaukee have largely had to appear in publications outside Milwaukee, given what many academics regard as a partisan tilt in local education coverage. But as more such stories are coming out,  their conclusions are frankly sickening, even if a must read for any parent contemplating this path.

Perhaps in its blatancy, Urban Day has done a public service. Its overt grab for artificial enrollment figures using money as a carrot for grownups has launched in-depth investigations by UWM, the DPI and Madison legislators, all thinking the state is now suffering an ethical black eye.


About the author: Noth has been  a professional journalist since the 1960s, first as national, international and local news copy editor at The Milwaukee Journal, then as an editor for its famous entertainment Green Sheet, also  for almost two decades the paper’s film and drama critic. He also created its Friday Weekend section and ran Sunday TV Screen magazine and Lively Arts as he became the newspaper’s senior feature editor. He was tapped by the publishers of the combining Milwaukee Journal Sentinel for special projects and as first online news producer before voluntarily departing in the mid-1990s to run online news seminars and write on public affairs and Internet and consumer news.

From 2002 to 2013 he ran the Milwaukee Labor Press as editor. It served as the Midwest’s largest home-delivered labor newspaper, with its still operative archives at milwaukeelabor.org.  In that role he won top awards yearly until the paper stopped publishing in 2013. His investigative pieces and extensive commentaries are now published by several news outlets as well as his culture and politics outlets known as Dom's Domain.  He also reviews theater for urbanmilwaukee.com