A few days ago, Michigan State Senator Marty Knollenberg (R-Troy) made overtly racist remarks about public education in Michigan. To paraphrase Knollenberg, he basically said that he thinks that public schools are failing in Michigan because black children attend them.
You can view a video of Knollenburg’s actual remarks here:
Marty Knollenberg, by opening his racist mouth, single-handedly exposed the fact that the right-wing movement to gut public education in this country by way of charter schools, school vouchers, and other neoliberal/right-wing education policies is entirely motivated by racism against people of color.
You might be surprised to find that opposition to 2015 Wisconsin Assembly Bill 1 (AB1), or what I like to call the “Wisconsin school shaming and partisan takeover bill” because, if enacted, it would result in, among other things, poorly-performing Wisconsin K-12 schools being taken over by a board controlled by political appointees and possibly handed over to millionaire charter school operators, is not solely from teachers’ unions, Democratic and progressive elected officials, and various progressive groups, although all of these are strongly opposed to the legislation for a large number of reasons.
Former Republican State Senator Dale Schultz of Richland Center, a center-right Republican, publicly called the bill “a disaster” and warned that the bill could very well result in “eliminating completely the authority of local school boards and making them subject to a political board”.
Even many conservatives are opposed to the proposed Republican takeover of Wisconsin public schools.
As DuBois Bourenane pointed out in her blog post, the only groups not lobbying against the single worst anti-public education legislation in American history “are those with direct links to the organizations lobbying for “reform” (read: privatization) of public schools”. Sadly, school privatization interests wield a ton of influence in the Republican Party of Wisconsin, and they have large majorities in both chambers of the Wisconsin State Legislature.
I strongly encourage Wisconsin state legislators to vote NO on AB1, as the bill is not a school accountability bill, but a school shaming, takeover, and privatization bill that would destroy public education in Wisconsin. Additionally, I strongly fear that Bruce Rauner, who will be sworn into office as Governor of Illinois tomorrow, will propose legislation similar to Wisconsin AB1 here in Illinois.
The first bill to be introduced in the Wisconsin State Assembly for the 2015-2016 session is a school shaming bill by Republican Wisconsin State Assemblyman Jeremy Theisfeldt of Fond du Lac. Theisfeldt’s bill would allow millionaire charter school operators to take over “failing” K-12 schools in Wisconsin.
While Republicans and the corporate media in Wisconsin are referring to this legislation as “school accountability” legislation, in reality, it’s school shaming, takeover, and segregation legislation. This is because the legislation does absolutely nothing to fix the root causes of why some public schools perform worse than other public schools, allows millionaire charter school operators to take over “failing” Wisconsin public schools (which does nothing to improve the quality of education and makes them less accountable to the public), and, in effect, could leave poor areas and areas with large minority populations in Wisconsin without any service from public schools, effectively resulting in segregation of Wisconsin’s education system along both racial and economic class lines.
You’re not going to fix the poorly performing schools problem in Wisconsin until you fix the poverty problem in Wisconsin. If one were to compare the average household income of families who send at least one child to particular Wisconsin public schools to the performance of said Wisconsin public schools, you would probably find at least a rough correlation, if not a strong correlation, between household income and public school performance, with schools in wealthier areas of Wisconsin performing better than schools in poorer areas. Raising the minimum wage, restoring collective bargaining rights to public employees, and replacing the corrupt Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) by creating a state economic development bank to make it easier for people to start up new businesses and hire people would be a good start toward eliminating the poverty problem in Wisconsin. Sadly, Republicans in Wisconsin aren’t even remotely interested in fixing the poverty problem or improving public education, and Democrats in Wisconsin aren’t much better than the Republicans when it comes to education (Jennifer Shilling, the leader of the Democrats in the Wisconsin State Senate, wants more accountability for school voucher programs, which means that she effectively supports school vouchers because she’s not publicly supporting repealing school voucher programs in Wisconsin).
It’s been only a couple of weeks since Jennifer Shilling, a Democratic member of the Wisconsin State Senate from La Crosse, was unanimously selected by the Democratic state senate caucus to be the new minority leader of the state senate, yet she’s already pissing off Wisconsin progressives and rural voters in a big way.
Shilling assigned 2 state senators to the Wisconsin State Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee (which consists of 16 total members; since Republicans control both chambers of the legislature, 12 are Republicans (six from each chamber) and 4 are Democrats (two from each chamber)). One of Shilling’s picks for the joint finance committee is Jon Erpenbach of Middleton, who has built up a progressive record on most issues as a longtime member of the state senate. However, Shilling’s other pick is Lena Taylor of Milwaukee, who, despite representing a district that has a large black population and votes overwhelmingly for Democrats, is a conservative Democrat who has supported, among other things, the gun lobby’s agenda, giving corrupt Milwaukee County Executive Chris “Boss” Abele more political power, and school vouchers.
For Jennifer Shilling to assign a staunch supporter of privatizing public education like Lena Taylor (the only time she voted against the charter school/school voucher lobby that I know of was when a statewide school voucher program was tied into the Wisconsin state budget) to a committee that is responsible for reviewing legislation on all bills that affect state revenue and expenditures (including education funding, proves that Shilling doesn’t give a rip about public education in Wisconsin. The Republicans that control Wisconsin’s state government are planning on enacting more legislation to privatize and destroy Wisconsin’s public school system, so for Shilling to pick Taylor for a committee that oversees, among other things, state education funding in Wisconsin is downright asinine.
Most of Shilling’s own constituents (Shilling represents a district that includes the La Crosse metro area and mostly rural areas to the south of La Crosse) are strongly opposed to taxpayer money being diverted from public schools to fund private schools, but Taylor wants to divert money from public schools all across Wisconsin into school voucher programs, which could force the closure of many rural school districts in Wisconsin, possibly including some school districts in Shilling’s own state senate district. To put this another way, Shilling is effectively aiding and abetting the Republicans’ push to destroy public education in Wisconsin.
Jennifer Shilling, the new Wisconsin State Senate Minority Leader, has done more to piss off progressives and rural voters in a little over two weeks than the previous Wisconsin State Senate Minority Leader, Chris Larson, did to piss off progressives and rural voters in nearly two years. The current Democratic leadership in Wisconsin has driven the Democratic Party of Wisconsin into political irrelevancy by giving political cover to the Republicans at every opportunity, and the new Democratic leaders in Wisconsin are even worse in this regard by actively helping Republicans implement their far-right agenda. It’s time for a large-scale push by Wisconsin progressives to divide and conquer the Democratic Party of Wisconsin by railing against the out-of-touch Democratic leadership and getting actual progressives elected to public offices and state and local party positions in Wisconsin.