The longest line in the U.S. isn't outside a Super Bowl stadium. It's black parents lining up for a chance to get their kids into a charter school or a school choice program. The lines form in places as varied as New York City, New Orleans, Washington, D.C. and Milwaukee. Only one thing is guaranteed: opposition, whether it's New York's new "progressive" mayor Bill de Blasio or the Justice Department leaning on Louisiana's voucher program. Today we'll visit Milwaukee.
St. Marcus Lutheran, one of Milwaukee's successful independent schools, tried to buy a vacant former public school on the city's north side. The public school system said—get lost.
The 130-year old St. Marcus has become a much-sought school for kids in Milwaukee's Parental Choice Program, thanks to a graduation rate of over 90%, compared to 65% at Milwaukee Public Schools. The school currently enrolls some 730 students grades K-8, and has hundreds more on the waiting list. Ninety-percent are black and 89% are low income.
In 2013, St. Marcus made a bid on the nearby Malcolm X school building, vacant for six years. The school offered $1.25 million for the vacant building and pledged another $5 million to $7 million toward improvements. But rather than accept the offer that would have expanded a successful school, the public school district opted to sell the building to developers at a loss.
The school system agreed to sell the building to developer 2760 Holdings for just over $2 million. The developer plans to demolish half the structure for a housing and retail space, while the school would lease back the other half for its own plan to create a school at a cost of $4 million over four years. In October, Milwaukee County Court Commissioner Serena Pollack wrote a letter to Milwaukee District Attorney John Chisholm and others, asking that they investigate a transaction that appeared both "fraudulent" and a loss to taxpayers.
According to the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, the action is part of a strategy by the Milwaukee public schools to prevent school-choice and charter school operators from getting vacant school buildings for expansion. The school district has at least 15 former schools standing empty because of the union's fear that selling them would draw more kids from failing public schools.
To prevent the school buildings from falling into other hands, the school system has attached deed restrictions to future sales of vacant school buildings, specifying that the buildings may never be sold for a "competing use." Competing use, the document goes on to say, is "use by any school operating under Wis. Stat 119.23," that is, the city's parental choice program, or to any other school that could have the effect of "diminishing Pupil Enrollment as compared to Pupil Enrollment in the immediately preceding School Year."
Public school board President Michael Bonds said in 2011 that letting private education success stories flourish would be like "asking the Coca-Cola company to turn over its facilities to Pepsi."
He flatters himself. Unlike the soda wars, the education battle in Wisconsin is between a failing union monopoly and schools that are actually educating children. If the Milwaukee public schools think that preferential real-estate regulations are the definition of competition, it's no wonder they're failing the kids.