Thursday, August 4, 2016


By Dominique Paul Noth

Dale Kooyenga was generally taken apart by MTEA exec
Lauren Baker in an MU discussion that sure
looked like a debate.
If you wonder who besides Donald Trump is tone deaf in the Republican Party, meet Dale Kooyenga (Representative from Brookfield). He clearly regards residents of Milwaukee as untrustworthy children to be led around by uninformed outsiders like Dale Kooyenga.

It would be hard to find anyone as ill-schooled on issues of education while positioned to exert extraordinarily bad influence, as MTEA leader Lauren Baker revealed in a recent “discussion.”

(There is a rumor that Kooyenga has higher political ambitions, specifically Jim Sensenbrenner’s  seat in the House, but then again so does Wisconsin state senator Leah Vukmir. We may have to throw both into a chicken pit to peck away until Sensenbrenner decides to retire.)

Kooyenga is typical of legislators who say they love Milwaukee but not the decisions of its electorate. Read his now laughable explanation from two years ago opposing the streetcar,  advocating for more Madison interference in funding and taking credit for gains that should be spread around.  Yet it is dripping with love. He says he is working for Milwaukee and not against Milwaukee, so just give in.

There’s far more recent evidence of how his hug is the Night of the Grizzly. On Mike Gousha’s TV talk show July 31, Kooyenga totally misunderstood the strong negative  reaction toward his and Alberta Darling’s OSPP, the Opportunity Schools and Partnership Program. That fanciful half-baked proposal (now law)  would take out of MPS hands a few schools identified as troubled (only it’s getting harder to figure out which are troubled since MPS is continually improving the usual suspects). They would be turned over for private school operation with state money by a commissioner selected by the Milwaukee County executive, currently Chris Abele.

Now every knowledgeable educator says a concept without a worked-out plan – and how about a budget? -- will never fly. That’s OSPP. And that’s why MPS offered an alternative that would benefit its education efforts. Everyone except Kooyenga and Darling (K&D)  thinks it’s a great idea and would preserve and enhance the MPS – an early childhood education center in the inner city open to the community and dedicated to best practices.

When Demond Means, that Abele appointed commissioner, learned that not only his plan but also this substitute would not fly with the bill’s authors (K & D), he resigned.  Kooyenga on Gousha’s show interpreted this as Means being “run out of town” not by K & D but by entrenched forces at MPS – rather than the thousands of parents and teachers who stood up and shouted OSPP  down. At several meetings it was like a Capra film. Seldom has Milwaukee seen such community uniformity and  involvement

This opposition called the OSPP what it is: Ineffective, unfunded and patently a takeover effort – another example of gutting local control and treating citizens as plantation slaves who need the master’s direction before they exercise their mental and moral faculties.

Meanwhile MPS chugs along improving schools to the point that Kooyenga’s targets keep shifting. I defy him to identify schools so poor they require a takeover as opposed to the ministrations of Superintendent Dariene Driver.

Of course, every self-proclaimed conservative visionary in Madison knows better than the Harvard educated Driver. They are just like studio executive Harry Cohn who once claimed that his ass twitched whenever he saw a bad movie. So naturally they have the monitoring asses for the educational universe while slowly but surely MPS is improving its educational ladders.

True to Harry Cohn’s behind,  Kooyenga pledged on the Gousha show that come next January, when the legislature goes back in session, he and Darling (from River Hills) will offer something “more aggressive.” He added: 

"What I want to know is, when are people in Milwaukee hungry for change? When do they say the status quo is not acceptable?" This from the incarnation of the status quo.

It’s a familiar arrogance past endurance.  It is also likely a hollow threat since there are elections in November that put half the Senate up for grabs and all the Assembly.  Kooyenga operates in the hubris that things will go unchanged politically. But he is Dale Kooyenga not  Dale Carnegie.

Events suggest he is spitting in the wind. Taking over the Assembly may be out of reach, given the GOP’s 63-36 edge but the Senate will go Dems if  the public gets irate enough.   Right now the Milwaukee public is that irate at how it remains a special whipping boy  for Madison meddling, without recognition that much of the state’s black population and jobless rate are packed into the city.

Dislike of the legislature’s heavy hand on education issues and funding is rapidly radiating across the state, as several conservative school districts will tell you.  

And the Senate (19-14)  is eminently flippable. It only takes three seats.

Kooyenga remains  a formidable threat only because city and county  officials are running scared of what crazy thing he might next do. Ald. Jim Bohl at recent committee meetings almost pleaded with his colleagues not to make the Madison legislature angry, lest they come up with something worse.

In reality, Kooyenga may  be  shooting blanks. He represents the heavy thumb that old-line common sense Republicans are longing to get away from. It may be high time to stand up to  his best shot, to quote “Hamilton.” 

But on education issues local officials are hardly profiles in courage.  The Right Step case has brought that  into bold profile. 

Right Step is being sued by what has now grown to seven parents and seven children for excesses in its boot-camp style all-boy military program,  now open to 154 students grades 5 to 12 at 8684 N. 76th Place (near Brown Deer Rd.  just east of the old Northridge Plaza). The plaintiffs’ attorney, Aaron DeKosky, tells me the case has advanced to the discovery phase.

Right Step wants to buy a former bank at 500 W. Center St., more recently a site for Head Start known as Centro Del Nino,   to open a similar school. But that requires rezoning. The building was owned by MPS and listed as one of its underutilized properties – but it was never a school where children walk the neighborhood, not with that nice liquor store across the street and the other commercial attractions.

Ald. Milele Coggs in a recent TV interview.
The Common Council, 9-6, approved the sale  – maybe because they feared that gun full of blankety  blanks. Most of the aldermen, even some who voted for approval, join Ald. Milele Coggs in disliking how Madison’s new law has taken away their ability to evaluate the quality or value of any charter or voucher school competitor that wants an MPS building. Only those voucher or charter operations are allowed to buy or lease one of the buildings (10 on the list) – which is bizarre in how it chills real commercial development.

The reason more aldermen are not upset is because the buildings are not stacked up in their territory. 

It’s an intrusive law, since MPS is known as a good absentee landlord and private operators offer a bit of upfront money and a lot of lingering doubts. Plus there seems an almost automatic pass-through of taxpayer money into their outstretched hands. 

The current Right Step,  aside from being sued by parents and investigated by the FBI, has a troublesome academic record along with its Heil Clarke mentality.

Coggs’ issue is not with the school per se, but the inability of aldermen to say anything but yes or no, the way the law is written. If it were not for the zoning issue, she points out, it would be full speed ahead despite the wishes of her constituents.

But local officials, and their lawyers at the city attorney’s office (which represents both the Common Council and MPS) are very squeamish about going to court against the right-wing money represented in the threat to opposing the law. 

This is actually more cowardly than Republicans are with taxpayer money.

AG Schimel has no hesitation on
spending taxpayer money.
The state went too far in its voter ID law, stretching its demands from driver license photo to limiting early voting and harsh strictures on what constitutes a proper ID. Appeals courts around the country have said so about similar laws. In Wisconsin two judges – both  federal in different suits --  have amended the law or ruled aspects unconstitutional (starting with November election). Yet  the state attorney general is spending on appeals – taxpayer money since the conservatives are in charge. He’s happily wasted such money before on issues he was clearly going to lose.  The city attorney’s office seems scared of any similar effort even as more courts are stepping in against these GOP laws.  

Coggs thinks many in her community would support court action on the MPS empty schools bill. Lawyers say there is a constitutional issue of local authority to fight for.  But when  the city attorney says don’t fight, the Common Council buckles. I guess it depends on who is risking taxpayer money. I also now  suspect that rather than Kooyenga’s OSPP law being threatened with local government court action – since it sure smells of overreach --  we’ll be subject to a similar crawl back into the shell.

Kooyenga could get a job in Door County because he likes to cherry-pick. Like when he said on TV about kids in Milwaukee, “40% of them are not even graduating high school.”

Let’s first clarify that most of the OSPP targets  are far lower than high school, and there is always a statistical lag between progress in  elementary schools and better graduation rates in high school. Few voucher or private charter schools even risk dealing with grades 9-12 – leaving MPS to absorb their poorly educated students.  Two of MPS high schools regularly rate in the top 200 of US high schools (Rufus King and Reagan) and several others are not far behind.

And while no one is happy with the graduation rates, Kooyenga – as did the McIver Institute in a similar story curiously timed to his TV appearance --  chooses what statistics to report, ignoring that the  state is a national leader in graduation rates.

In fairness, MPS schools are predominantly black, but that’s hardly the whole story.  In the latest 2010-2013 figures available for MPS graduation, it’s 58.3% for blacks,  56.4% for Hispanics but also  77% Asian and 74% whites.  So Kooyenga could have easily said 25% but chose 40%. 

The mostly black or brown  voucher elementary schools in Milwaukee  are now the feeders of  high schools, and many are worse than MPS and only a few are equal. In fact, the strong evidence emerging is that Milwaukee needs more integration rather than less. There’s nothing in OSPP for that.

Even in Mississippi, with an education system few want,  black students have a higher graduation rate from high school  because they are spread around the state in all schools. So white as well as black parents are fighting for fair funding.  In Wisconsin, the black  population is crammed into Milwaukee and each student receives some $1,300 less than a student  in Kooyenga’s  whiter Brookfield – and his ideas would make the gap larger.

Incidentally the large Elmbrook Schools administration building is for sale (the district includes Brookfield). Imagine how  that community would react if all-boy Right Step marched there rather than on Center St.  Kooyenga would never survive. He would be sent packing back to Trump University.

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 original 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 archives at  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


  1. Dom, Means did not resign because MPS offered their own plan and MTEA opposed him. He resigned the day after WILL threatened to sue him personally if he accepted MPS's offer.

    It is important to keep these facts straight. You are right that Means was not run out of town by MPS's being stuck on the status quo--that is a flat-out lie Kooyenga must keep repeating to make himself seem credible. But the truth, that Kooyenga's so-called allies in WILL were the ones responsible is far more damaging to Kooyenga's plans than the fiction he is spreading. Please update your post to reflect this truth.

  2. Democrat Chris Rockwood is running against Kooyenga for Assembly. Chris supports public schools. He is an engineer and activist who would make a great representative.

  3. Jay, I think we're saying the same thing, so there is no straightening of facts. I think my further discussion in the story about fear of being sued played a part but I have it on good authority that while K&D now pretend they wanted to work with Means, his plan was almost as big a problem to their takeover aims.

  4. Jay, I think we're saying the same thing, so there is no straightening of facts. I think my further discussion in the story about fear of being sued played a part but I have it on good authority that while K&D now pretend they wanted to work with Means, his plan was almost as big a problem to their takeover aims.

  5. Kooyenga and Leah Vukmir will have plenty of company in the GOP primary when Jim Sensenbrenner retires. Half the Republicans in Waukesha County will run, and all of them make Sensenbrenner look good by comparison.