Howard Fuller gets off the school choice bus | Wis.Community

Howard Fuller gets off the school choice bus

For about 15 years, I've tried to explain to my progressive friends how I could have been persuaded to support Milwaukee's school choice program. I've replied with the same argument then-Mayor John Norquist used on me in 1996, when I became his chief of staff:

Anyone with money who lives in Milwaukee already has school choice, and they are choosing more and more to send the children to private schools, not Milwaukee Public Schools. Soon, the only children who will be left in MPS will be from low-income families who don't have a choice, and are forced by financial constraints to send their kids to MPS schools, many of which are failing them.


Half of our kids aren't graduating from high school; they're dropping out. What kind of future will they have? Things have gotten so bad in MPS that we should try all sorts of solutions and see if one works. Why not try choice?

Of course, we didn't bargain on choice schools being held to lower standards than public schools. That was never part of the conversation, but it became the reality. Some of the choice schools simply became money-making enterprises, providing little in the way of education in return for the voucher money they received.

It's small wonder, with the lack of standards and regulation, that studies show no improvement in test scores of children in choice schools. It's why I lost my enthusiasm and hope for the program.

Now, Gov. Scott Walker proposes phasing out income limits for choice eligibility. And in doing so he has lost the support of a long-time, frontline, well-respected major ally, Dr. Howard Fuller.

Fuller, along with Norquist, is one of the reasons I bought into school choice. No one could question Howard Fuller's long-standing commitment to improving the lives of Milwaukee's inner city's families and their children. He fought for decades, inside and outside of the system, including a disappointing stint as MPS superintendent, to change the equation. I have great respect and admiration for him, even though he fell in with the likes of Scott Jensen in pushing school choice.

But listen to Fuller on Walker's plan to lift income limits:

The governor's plan would dramatically change the program's social justice mission and destroy its trailblazing legacy as the first and still one of the few in the nation that uses public dollars to help equalize the academic options for children from low-income and working-class families. I did not join this movement to subsidize families like mine, which may not be rich but have resources and, thus, options.


When I got into this battle in 1989, standardized test scores showed Milwaukee was failing to educate poor black children. That's when state Rep. Annette Polly Williams courageously stepped forth to make sure that poor families were afforded some opportunity to choose schools in the private sector for their children. She shepherded the pioneering voucher program through the Legislature.


Since then, I, along with many others, have fought tirelessly for parental choice for low-income families throughout the nation. The governor's plan would turn Milwaukee's program into something it was never designed to be.

And there you have it.

I've never doubted Howard Fuller's motivation for being a school choice advocate. But now I'm starting to understand why Scott Jensen and other conservatives have been on the bus.

Read all of Dr. Fuller's op ed column on the subject here.


April 25, 2011 - 7:37pm