The Republican-led Wisconsin State Legislature has been steadily working to include several school-choice-related measures in the 2015–17 biennial budget, and not everyone is happy about it.
During a round of emotionally charged meetings held by the legislature’s Joint Committee on Finance, state Rep. Dale Kooyenga (R-Brookfield) outlined his proposed school reforms, which include a plan that would allow the takeover of up to five of Milwaukee’s worst-performing schools per year, according to the MacIver Institute. Those schools would then be transformed into private schools or charter schools, forcing all teachers to reapply for their positions.
Other proposed school reform measures include expanding school choice and requiring students to pass a civics test prior to graduation.
After the announcement of the proposed reforms, state Sen. Lena Taylor (D-Milwaukee) lashed out at those proposing the reforms, accusing Kooyenga of thinking of himself as a “great white hope” for minority students in the Milwaukee Public School (MPS) system and linking the proposed reforms to rape.
“For years, individuals who sit on this committee and in this building have known that they have been raping the children of MPS,” said Taylor.
Kooyenga responded, saying, “This is the second time in the conversation of these issues… that we use the word ‘rape.’ I mean I just find that sick, absolutely sick.”
“I get it,” Taylor responded. “The word ‘rape’ sounds offensive, but when you consider the fact that 15 out of 100 kids can read on grade level while $89 million have been skimmed from the education of kids, and that you don’t invest it, in even the crisis areas, who are you fooling?”
Taylor also referred to the proposal to require students to pass a civics exam as analogous to Jim Crow laws.
Taylor’s controversial comments have garnered a strong reaction from advocates of school choice who say that their policies are designed to help children, not harm them.
“Sen. Lena Taylor’s remarks are despicable for two reasons,” said Heather Kays, a research fellow for The Heartland Institute and school choice advocate. “First, comparing the cutting off of educational funding to the ‘raping of children’ is disrespectful to the children she speaks of and to every survivor of sexual assault. Being a survivor herself, you would think Sen. Taylor would have more tact, empathy and understanding than that.
“Second, she is just flat-out wrong about the policy issue she is discussing. If throwing more money at a broken public education system worked, we’d see better graduation rates and testing scores every year as we spend more and more money per pupil.”
Not all school choice supporters have been as critical of Taylor, however.
“People say all kinds of crazy things when their emotions are engaged, and I think a lot of Americans like me are getting sick of social media tarring and feathering people over one stupid or poorly worded comment,” said Joy Pullmann, the managing editor of The Federalist and an education research fellow. “So we should all give Sen. Lena Taylor a chance to apologize for what were hopefully spur-of-the-moment comments she regrets. And if she does, we should accept that apology and move on.”
According to the Wisconsin Department of Administration, the budget should be signed by July 1 to meet a state’s budgetary cycle. A delay would mean state agencies must operate at their appropriation authority from the previous budget until a new one takes effect.
Most experts expect the Republican-controlled legislature to work with Gov. Scott Walker (R) to have a budget passed before the July 1 deadline.
Justin Haskins (NewRevere@1791.com) is a pro-liberty author and the editor-in-chief of the New Revere Daily Press. You can follow him @TheNewRevere.