Thursday, June 15, 2017

That V Word: Vouchers and the Milwaukee Educational Crisis


Three months ago, I read Matthew Desmond’s Evicted (https://www.amazon.com/Evicted-Poverty-Profit-American-City/dp/0553447459/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1497280091&sr=8-1&keywords=evicted) .  His study focuses on poverty amongst Milwaukee, Wisconsin’s African Americans and Caucasians.  For two weeks, each time that I turned on my shower, I thanked God for clean water, working plumbing, and the ability to bathe in a clean environment.  The book paints a dark picture of life for poor Milwaukee residents.  Desmond also delves into the racial tension amongst blacks and whites within the urban city.  Dr. Desmond spends a significant amount of time discussing the impact that poverty has made on the children whose parents struggle to pay rent. At times, they are forced to live with relatives and/or in shelters due to their parents’ evictions. 

One cannot help but wonder how their living conditions have impacted their education. It would have been interesting if Desmond had explored how the children struggled with poverty and education, especially since Milwaukee has the oldest school voucher program due to the significant number of African American children living in poverty.   In “Lessons On Race and Vouchers From Milwaukee,” Claudio Sanchez discusses the pros and cons associated with the usage of school vouchers (http://www.npr.org/sections/ed/2017/05/16/523612949/lessons-on-race-and-vouchers-from-milwaukee) .  He states that during the 2016-2017 academic year, the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program “issued nearly 28,000 vouchers for low-income kids to attend dozens of private and religious schools at public expense.”  Some would think that since these vouchers were allowing children to have a private education, that their academic experiences would be a vast improvement over their Wisconsin public school one.  For many students, their educational experience worsened.  Consequently, this has led to a major divide between African American Milwaukee leaders.  Dr. Howard Fuller and Wendell J. Harris are prime examples of this schism.  Fuller, a Marquette University professor, is a proponent of vouchers whereas Harris, a “member of the NAACP’s education committee in Wisconsin,” was one of the plaintiffs who sued Wisconsin in 1990 in an effort to prevent the issuance of vouchers.  Fuller uses Brown v Board of Education to support his views regarding vouchers.  Per Fuller, the landmark Supreme Court decision did not lead to equal educational opportunities for America’s black youth.  Harris, however, views vouchers as a means for Caucasian churches to improve the physical conditions of their churches on the “backs” of African Americans.  He argues that the Catholic and Christian schools are exploiting black children in order to “save” their church.  In short, the vouchers were providing the churches with the money needed to make repairs and replenish their building fund.  All of this was being done under the  “guise” of Jesus’ commandment, “Let the children come to me.”  In short, some parents feel that their children being in a safe learning environment supersedes what they learn, and these sentiments are nothing more than educators exploiting black children.

Charter versus public schools.  Charter versus public schools.  Daily, I feel as if America is on a never-ending merry-go round when it comes to this topic.  I have to agree with Harris – America has been “demonizing” public school teachers and schools for the last 25-30 years.  Charter schools and vouchers have been deemed as the “cure” to the United States’ epidemic regarding ineffective school systems.  From my assessment, vouchers are serving as a cute, Hello Kitty/Marvel Comics Band Aid to a wound that needs surgery in order to properly heal.   Children, with learning disabilities, are leaving public schools and enrolling at schools that accept vouchers.  There, these schools are not required to retain them. 

The theory of “Well, my baby is at a Christian school all day, and is being taught about the goodness of the Lord” appalls me.  I love the Lord, and I am a product of a Catholic K-12 education; however, there has to be a balance.  My parents did not spend thousands of dollars for me to learn about Jesus.  They paid tuition in order for me to receive an education that would enable me to be accepted into a university.  Learning about Jesus should not take precedence over receiving knowledge about the three Rs. 

From my assessment, vouchers are another form of racism.  Rather than running to schools that accept vouchers, I need for minority parents to find an educational advocate and learn more about public versus charter/private education.  This is how parents can become empowered.  

Questions to consider:

1.     Parents, if the statistics are showing that vouchers are not improving your child’s educational experience, why is your child still attending that school?

2.     For low-income parents, what doors will these schools open for your children?  Oftentimes, the vouchers do not cover book fees, uniforms, etc.  . .
3.     Who actually benefits from vouchers – children or these churches?
4.     Dr. Fuller supports Betsy DeVos.  Parents, are you alarmed?  Please educate yourself regarding how DeVos treated black children who were educated in Michigan charter schools (particularly in Detroit).


4 comments:

  1. I have a lot of strong opinions on the voucher program. I am not a fan. Let me say immediately that we live in an town where the public school system is #4 in the state. Our children work an entire year ahead of the state standard. My opinion does not come from my own district issues. However, my mother is a teacher in a low income school district. Their school cannot afford to have money taken away from their program to fund charter school. The charter schools here are stand alone schools that are failing. FAILING! These children, many who come from foster care, broken homes, non-english speaking families, are being set up to fail in every way possible. I feel that many times people hear the words "private schools, charter schools, academy" and think that instead of being invested in your school system and your child's education, these schools are the answer to absolve a parent from being responsible when it comes to education. How can the public schools thrive if their already slim budget is having money taken from it to fund failing charters? Vouchers do give empowerment to choice, it makes schools powerless to change.

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    1. Good morning! Thank you for commenting. :) So many charter schools are setting up children for failure. I see it often in AZ. Many of the AZ ones target low-income children who have been kicked out of public school due to grades or behavior issues. We have told many of these students that they would have been better off getting a GED. Please be sure to share my blog with your mom. I would love to know her sentiments about this post. Your last statement is extremely powerful! I've been wanting to write about this topic for the past week, and this was one of the hardest posts to construct. I'm all about parental empowerment, but these parents aren't empowered, because they are blindly accepting these vouchers without truly doing their research.

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  2. My son's elementary years were spent in catholic schools then I fell for the charter school myth ( great education without the high prices) then I saw the fake set up ( A's on report cards and assignments) but at home he/we struggled in complete understanding. I spoke with his teachers and they raved on and on about him being the star student, how are you seeing star when I'm seeing a dull shine at home.ok, spoke with the principal she questioned my public school education instead of acknowledging this parent has figured out our BS so we made our exit.

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    1. Dear Janine: I simply love your response to my post, and I plan on using it to create another blog post. Your comment RE: the "great education without the high prices" is golden. I am glad that you were able to notice that your son was struggling. RE: your public school education, you were attending school when teachers TRULY cared about students' educations. She had a lot of nerve to question your education. Sigh. Thank you for visiting!

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