By: Shannon Whitworth
School choice is the vehicle which will drive our nation’s poorest and most violent neighborhoods into peace and prosperity, which is why we celebrate this week as National School Choice Week. And the pandemic has only highlighted this by placing a devastating burden on already financially disadvantaged, inner-city families, particularly black families, with many parents who are unable to work remotely. The final straw for many families, both around the nation and in Wisconsin, has been the unions’ insistence on keeping schools closed for an as-yet undetermined period of time.
So it is no wonder, that when remote learning was proposed for the second half of this school year going into 2021, parents protested in Wisconsin cities such as Racine, Kenosha and South Milwaukee. This phenomenon was seen in cities across the country, with parents protesting in Pittsburgh, Oklahoma City, New York City and Los Angeles. Black parents are coming to see how the teachers union sees their kids: As pawns.
The teachers union in Milwaukee is more than happy to keep its constituents home and drawing a paycheck from which they will automatically draw their union dues. And the more students they keep trapped in Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS), the greater number of teachers and staff will still be employed to pay those dues. There is no incentive to reform as long as the gravy train keeps running.
Not to say that MPS provides the best learning environment, either. Some of these schools sound like war zones, with teachers being physically and verbally attacked, and a complete lack of discipline and accountability. If I were a teacher who could draw a paycheck and not have to return to that environment, I wouldn’t be so quick to get back.
The number of students MPS churns out every year who lack even basic skills in reading and math is shameful, dooming them to a future which consists only of a lifetime of welfare. The longer schools remain closed, the more these learning gaps will be exacerbated.
In the post-COVID-19 world, choice will mean more to black families than ever before. As their children are left behind by public schools, they will be looking for options. The evidence is there: In 2019 WILL’s annual comparative analysis between public schools and the choice program found that the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP) proficiency rates exceeded MPS by 3.9% in Math and 4.6% in ELA. Perhaps even more significant, is the fact that students in the MPCP were 4-7 percentage points more likely to graduate than their public school counterparts.
Not only that, but the choice program is providing this better education for students using far less taxpayer money. MPS spends roughly $15,000 per student per year. Yet the voucher for the Milwaukee choice program is less than $9,000.
So, the choice program is producing better results more cost-effectively. This education is invaluable if there is any hope for the future of the children who live in our inner cities. Far from being further restricted or eliminated (as the governor attempted to do in his last budget), school choice programs should be expanded and supported.
Why are the choice schools producing so much better outcomes than the public schools? At Milwaukee Lutheran High School where I work, the primary answer is that it is less about what we do, rather, than why we do it. The teachers and administrators at Milwaukee Lutheran wake up every morning answering a call from our Lord to serve young men and women who are trying to improve their lives, some under the most difficult of circumstances. We love our students and we let them know it every day by devoting everything we have to those students and families who want something better for themselves. I suspect that among choice schools we are not alone. If you are a parent with inner-city children, why wouldn’t you want your kids in a choice environment instead of a holding pen where failure and apathy are the norm?
The secret is out in black America. Choice schools work better. If the politicians, who have the power to vote for choice, and their constituents really care about the future of minorities as they profess, then they will show some backbone, separate themselves from the teachers unions, and start supporting and expanding school choice for children and their parents. The future of black America depends on it.
Whitworth is a Bradley Freedom Fellow at the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty and is the director of the Free Enterprise Academy at Milwaukee Lutheran High School.