Monday, March 28, 2011


Why does everything have to be so complex? Why couldn't we have some more black vs. white or right vs. wrong?

I just returned from testifying at the school board meeting. I'm not known for my estimating abilities, but I'd say there were over 110 people there who spoke. At least 100 people spoke in favor of a particular charter school. I think there were only 5 or 6 of us who spoke against it.

That was one of the hardest things I have ever done. Don't get me wrong, I speak at school board meetings regularly. I think the school board members see me and think "oh no, not her again." But tonight was different. I was shaking in my shoes.

The charter school in question was a charter school for disadvantaged African American boys. Anyone who knows me well knows that this is a cause near and dear to my heart. I've been a "Big Sister" to some amazing African American young ladies for over 20 years. I've lobbied the board over and over and over again to provide MORE resources to our minority and low-income students. I enthusiastically send my kids to an amazing public school in which minorities are the majority and 70% of the kids receive free/reduced lunch.

But - the way they wanted to structure this charter school was troublesome. In Madison we have "instrumentality" and "non-instrumentality" charter schools. "Instrumentality" means that the Board of Education has some jurisdiction over the school. They get some authority over the administration of the school. "Non-instrumentality" is essentially a private school. (But one that gets public money.)

So, I had a decision to make. Here is a charter school that serves a population that I have devoted a great portion of my time/energy to help. Every single speaker tonight struck a chord within my core. They spoke the truth. There *is* a huge achievement gap within our school district. I know, I see it on a daily basis.

But....this particular school is a procedural example of everything I feel is wrong in the education reform movement. I firmly believe that the proposals in front of Wisconsin for expanded vouchers and charters (SB22 and the other bills) will completely destroy our public education system.

So, I stood up.

I asked them to keep their ideas and innovation and enthusiasm and to channel it into an "instrumentality" charter school. Yes, that would require more bureaucracy and it will certainly take longer. But it would be available to every single student - not just the ones who won the charter-school-lottery. You see, the kids I have fallen madly in love with don't even have the resources to apply to the charter school. Some of their parents don't speak English. Others don't have parents who are involved. Still others are homeless. A charter school lottery will certainly help a small population. But it won't help everyone.

The board voted 6-1 in favor of the charter school. Marj Passman was the one board member who seemed to share my concerns.

I spent most of yesterday at a marathon school budget meeting. I can honestly say this was the first budget meeting in which I witnessed grown men cry. Yes, the budget situation in WI under Walker is that dire. The superintendent at one of the districts was describing some of the budget cuts his staff would be taking (20% pay cuts, layoff, etc.) and he started to cry.

So, of course, I started to cry too. I'm still crying tonight. But tomorrow morning, I will get up again, and start the fight again. Our country NEEDS public education and I refuse to give up.


Queen B said...

Wow Kristen. Thank you soooooooo much for speaking out! This is always my concern with charter schools - that it won't reach those kids who need it the most - exactly how you said it - those who parents aren't involved, don't speak english, etc. Thank you for speaking on behalf of those students - the ones noone is speaking on behalf of. They need your voice. Please keep it up.

MK Chang said...

Thanks for standing up. You're right that the kids most negatively affected would be minorities and those with parents who are not involved with their kid's education.

I'm the child of refugees. My parents knew no English and had no idea how to take part in my education at school. Just to fill out a form for school was a difficulty. So I know without a doubt that I would've been lost, if I or my parents had to navigate a charter school system and figure out the process of landing me a good school. If Walker and the other Republicans had their way back then, I probably would have ended up at an extremely under-funded public school without the resources to help me learn and succeed.

Don't give up.

Tammy said...

I am so proud that you took such a well-thought-through stand on this. Kudos!