Sweeping GOP education plan would dismantle MPS, expand private school vouchers

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MADISON, Wis. (CBS 58) -- There are new sweeping K-12 education proposals that would dismantle Milwaukee Public Schools and expand private school vouchers for all students, under a Republican package of bills.

A group of Republican lawmakers are looking to overhaul the state's largest school district by breaking up MPS into smaller public schools.

State Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills) sent her colleagues a memo outlining the package of education bills which she said was in response to "a number of issues parents and children are seeing as COVID-19 and failed school leadership are eliminating educational opportunities in our schools."

Under one bill, Milwaukee Public Schools would be dissolved by July, 2024 and be replaced with four to eight smaller schools.

The location of the new school districts would be determined by a commission that consists of the governor and the mayor of Milwaukee, who would also select two appointments to the commission. The state superintendent would serve on the commission, too.

Any student could apply for a private school voucher, regardless of a family's income, under another bill.

It would also boost the number of charter schools in the state and offer money to parents who want to pay for additional education courses, including college level, under the proposal.

Rep. Robert Wittke (R-Racine), a co-sponsor on the bills, said the current education system is not working to give students opportunity for growth.

"Parents are afraid we are falling behind, and their kids will further fall behind because they are not getting the education they want," Wittke said.

The package of bills was widely criticized by Milwaukee leaders and Milwaukee School Board President Bob Peterson.

Peterson said the proposals are "a recipe for chaos" because it would not only impact families who rely on education, but also meals.

"It would be a disaster for our students and their families," Peterson said. "We do a good job feeding 70,000 kids and that would also be dissolved."

Eliminating MPS is not a new concept. In 2009, two Republican lawmakers tried to overhaul the district, but failed.

Governor Tony Evers, the former state superintendent of schools, said he hasn't reviewed the bills but emphasized his support for public schools.

"At the end of the day, my goal is to be supportive of public school districts across the state of Wisconsin, not just Milwaukee," Evers said after an event in Genoa City Tuesday.

Evers could veto the bills if they make it to his desk. Lawmakers are remaining hopeful Wisconsin will elect a Republican governor in November to gain support for their education proposals. "

We have to do something," Wittke said. "I'm curious to see what’s MPS plans to improve our schools?"

Peterson responded by referencing the Legislative Blue Ribbon Commission on School Funding created in 2019 that offered dozens of recommendations to lawmakers, including additional funds per pupil, expanding special education programs and more investments in English second language programs.

"Republicans have all along wanted to destroy public education and privatize the entire system," Peterson said. "That would happen if there was a Republican governor."

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