Home » DFER Wisconsin Blog Home » General

Will Milwaukee finally elect an Education Reform Caucus?

By Katy Venskus, DFER Wisconsin State Director

Welcome to Wisconsin, the land of the perpetual election cycle. We’re in the home stretch of the gubernatorial recall with a small handful of legislative recalls sprinkled in for good measure.

But we’ll have to get to that later. Frankly, I find those races far less interesting than the Democratic primaries coming up in the City of Milwaukee in August of 2012. For the first time, there is a citywide slate of Democratic incumbents and challengers that, if they can get across the finish line, are committed to thoughtful comprehensive education reform strategies that will improve education opportunities for all students in public, charter, and choice schools in Milwaukee and across the state.

While education reform is a key issue in more than half a dozen Senate and Assembly seats in Milwaukee County, there are a small handful that are really worth watching:

1. Representative Elizabeth Coggs’ run for the 6th Senate District: The Coggs Family has one of the proudest traditions of public service in the City of Milwaukee. Representative Coggs’ parents - Issac and Marcia Coggs - are two of the most revered civil rights leaders in Milwaukee history and they have passed that legacy on to their children. The 6th Senate District is being vacated by Spencer Coggs, elected City Treasurer in April 2012, the first African American elected to citywide office in Milwaukee’s history. Representative Elizabeth Coggs served on the Milwaukee County Board before being elected to the State Assembly two years ago. She has proven a thoughtful, committed leader on education issues. She supports the Milwaukee Public Schools vocally and effectively, but has consistently called for better policy on charter and choice schools as well. She has made clear her commitment to all parents having a choice for their children and that those choices should be equitably funded and high quality. Her commitment to her community is unwavering and she is willing to work across any line necessary to deliver for her constituents. She clearly has a record of success to run on, but she is in a tough 6-way primary (at last count). Her election to the Senate - given a slim majority either way - is a game changer as it would create a bipartisan reform minded majority.

2. Re-Election of Representative Jason Fields in the 11th Assembly District: Jason Fields is the closest thing Wisconsin has to an ed reform rock star. First elected to the Assembly in 2004 as a first time candidate, he has wasted no time in achieving big things for the Milwaukee kids and families he represents. His fingerprints are on every piece of legislation that has been enacted to expand choice and charter options for urban students. His consistent drumbeat has been that quality and accountability have to be first and foremost. True accountability doesn’t just mean understanding how bad something is, it means having the courage to fix it. These things have made him a hero to parents and hated by the status quo. His consistent support for strengthening and funding public education coupled with his intolerance of the excuses for failure make his the most impactful voice in the legislature on education. We’d replicate him if we could, but for now we need to re-elect him.

3. Jarrett Fields, First Time Candidate - 16th Assembly District: Did I say we can’t replicate Jason Fields? I was only half right. How about we elect his brother? Jarrett Fields, or as his brother calls him, the more impressive Fields brother, is making his first run for legislative office in an open assembly seat. Think Jason, but additional credentials and the benefit of hands-on experience working with some of the best choice, charter, and public schools in the City of Milwaukee. Jarrett, like Jason, is the real deal. A Milwaukee native, he is as committed to the community as his brother and as well versed in how to be an effective leader. While he is a newcomer, Jarrett is working hard and his message is resonating with the people he talks to. We’ll be looking for a Fields’ sweep on election day.

4. Other notable races to keep an eye on: Representative Josh Zepnick is running for reelection in the 9th Assembly District. He is arguably one of the most deliberate legislators in the building. While he has not supported every education reform initiative we’ve worked on, he’s been a reasonable, honest broker on a number of issues that have improved public, charter, and choice schools. Millie Colby is a first time candidate in the 10th Assembly District - she is a dedicated faith leader in the African American community and is fighting off a well funded establishment challenger who is moving into this district to run after being redistricted out of her Assembly seat. Millie has a tough race, but I think she’s up to the challenge.

These races could change the entire dynamic of the education issue in Milwaukee and the State Legislature. Stay Tuned.

Katy is a Wisconsin native who came to DFER in January 2009, bringing with her 10 years of public policy and political experience. Katy has managed several issue and political campaigns in the City of Milwaukee and statewide. She became interested in the education reform movement after leading the Democratic effort to lift the enrollment cap on Milwaukee's groundbreaking Milwaukee Parental Choice program. Read more about Katy here.