WHEELERweek – Milwaukee Public School District

As published by The Wheeler Report –  2/15/91

Sen. Barbara Ulichny (D-Milwaukee), who chairs the Senate Education Committee, said Gov. Thompson’s plan to break up the Milwaukee Public Schools district into four smaller districts is “a great idea…” She said her committee would hold informational hearings on the proposal to get Milwaukee reaction.

A Brief History…

Sen. Barbara Ulichny was referring to Gov. Tommy Thompson’s 1991 State of the state address, in which he mentioned “Beginning in the fall of 1993, school district enrollment will be capped at 25,000 students. This means the Milwaukee public school system will be broken into at least four, smaller, more easily managed districts.”

Discussion of breaking up Milwaukee Public Schools started before 1991. In 1975, AB 572  was introduced by Rep. Dennis Conta to the Assembly. The bill proposed to unify the Shorewood, Whitefish Bay, and Milwaukee school districts. The purpose of this unification was to rid the districts of racial and economic segregation, and to improve the quality of education. The bill established a new “state aid for racial balance” aid formula, which served as an incentive for the districts to integrate schools. The formula entailed that the district would receive credit when minority pupils voluntarily transferred from a high minority school to a low minority school, and when a white pupil to voluntarily transferred from a low minority school to a high minority school. The aid would have been provided to the districts based on their transfer rate. The bill did not pass.

In 1998, SB 2 was introduced at the request of Gov. Thompson. SB 2 established benchmarks for the MPS district to achieve by the 1999-2000 school year. If MPS did not reach these goals, then the governor, the state superintendent of public instruction, and the mayor of Milwaukee would establish and appoint a governing commission to take over the powers and duties of MPS. The bill was voted on in both houses but was never enacted.

In 2009, Gov. Doyle requested that the Committee on Assembly Organization introduce AB 2. The proposal enabled the Mayor of Milwaukee to appoint a superintendent to take over powers and duties of MPS. This bill did not make it out of committee. Additional proposals to dissolve or redistrict MPS were put forward but none were enacted.

The 2013-15 budget introduced the Opportunity Schools Partnership Program (OSPP) signed into law by Gov. Walker. OSPP contains the Milwaukee County takeover of failing schools, in which County Executive Chris Abele appointed an outside commissioner to assist in the takeover of struggling schools.

Special thanks to the Legislative Reference Bureau for providing documents and assistance necessary to do research for this article.

And Today…

Gov. Walker is still considering state takeover and/or the breakup of the Milwaukee Public Schools district as on option. While speaking to reporters after an appearance in Milwaukee this past May, Gov. Walker mentioned that it is “a moral imperative that things get better” for Milwaukee Public Schools. No specific proposals have been put forward at this time.