Thursday, September 11, 2014


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.”  

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