|Dancing $100 bills at the Urban Day School website|
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.
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 card. Such 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 schools. But 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.