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Democrats for Education Reform teams up with UW students
April 12, 2013
By Jarett Fields, DFER Wisconsin
Today’s college students are crucial allies in the struggle to ensure children and families around the state of Wisconsin have quality schools. As the education reform movement grows in Wisconsin, it is imperative that we engage with these future leaders.
On Thursday evening, I had the opportunity to speak with students at the University of Wisconsin (UW) in a discussion about education reform at the local and state level. The event was hosted by UW’s Bipartisan Issues Group and Students for Education Reform.
I spoke on behalf of DFER’s mission to support the expansion of independent high-quality public charter schools in Wisconsin. I also discussed the importance of informing parents statewide about the benefits of expanding high-quality educational options.
While speaking with the students, I noted four important initiatives that are currently underway to help improve Wisconsin’s educational landscape through the recently introduced Assembly bill that proposes independent public charter school expansion (AB40). If passed, the bill would do the following: 1) expand independent public charter schools to cities like Madison and Green Bay; 2) provide for a per-pupil funding increase for students attending those schools; 3) expand the Charter School Oversight Board; and, 4) increase funding to ensure Teach for America continues to play a vital role in supporting our schools in the state.
When State Senator Lena Taylor (D-Milwaukee) joined the discussion, students were able to hear her thoughts and unique plans for improving education throughout the state. She proposed focusing on developing parent centers to engage parents in their child’s education as well provide them with educational and professional training for employment.
Education reform issues take center stage at Wisconsin budget hearing
April 5, 2013
Jarett with State Senator Lena Taylor (D-Milwaukee)
By Jarett Fields, DFER Wisconsin
Like so many issues in Wisconsin, education reform has become a divisive one. As legislators on both sides of the aisle continue to clash over the issue, it has quickly taken center stage in budget discussions statewide. Yesterday, Wisconsinites had the opportunity to express their concerns about the proposed state budget at a Joint Finance Committee public hearing in Greendale, WI.
The budget includes several items that pertain directly to expanding and improving independent public charter school options in Wisconsin. It includes a per pupil increase that would allow each student in Wisconsin to have equal support from the state, even if they choose not to attend a traditional public school. The budget also calls for the development of a Charter School Oversight Board that would allow local organizations with community roots to authorize schools that meet specific student needs and respond to local education challenges. This structure would maximize local control, while providing a more specialized alternative for children who struggle in traditional public schools.
I had the chance to testify on behalf of DFER in front of the 16 member Committee, which is tasked with debating the importance of each of the items presented in the state budget that was announced in late February. At the hearing, I spoke out in support of expanding educational options and outlined the importance of providing more quality public charter schools statewide.
During my testimony, I also provided statistics to prove that independent public charter schools do work. For example, in 2011, Milwaukee and Racine test scores showed that 60% of independent public charter school students were at or above grade level in math and 81% were at or above grade level in reading. This is significantly higher than their traditional public school peers.
I believe that Wisconsin needs to embrace the opportunity to expand the role independent public charter schools play in our education landscape, and allow for these opportunities to be expanded to children and parents outside of the Milwaukee area. I will continue to testify at budget hearings, meet with state legislators and spread the word throughout our communities until our voice is heard.
Marquette Law School Poll: Public charter school expansion supported amongst Wisconsinites
March 22, 2013
By Jarett Fields, DFER Wisconsin
The expansion of independent public charter school options in Wisconsin has been a popular topic of discussion among lawmakers and influential community members as the state’s budget discussions are now underway. Despite the choice and charter budget provision controversy amongst state lawmakers, a recent poll conducted by Marquette Law School demonstrates clear statewide support for expanding these educational options to families in districts with low performing schools outside of Milwaukee.
Specifically, public support for public charter schools is significant: 46% of Wisconsin residents surveyed approved of independent public charter schools compared to a mere 16% that did not. Respondents also overwhelmingly recognized that public charters schools provide unique benefits and programs to students and families.
The poll indicated that support for educational reform options is strongest in Wisconsin’s largest cities: Milwaukee, Madison and Green Bay. These cities are also home to some of the state’s most underperforming schools.
DFER-WI is currently working with state lawmakers to expand independent public charter school options to other high need Wisconsin communities. We believe that every child deserves the right to a great education regardless of family income, race, gender or zip code and that parents should have a choice in determining the best education option for their child.
National School Choice Week in Milwaukee
January 30, 2013
By Jason Fields, Former Wisconsin State Representative
Milwaukee pulled out all the stops this year when the National School Choice Whistlestop Tour came to town. This national week-long celebration of expanded public education options for parents and students all over the country began January 27th and continues through February 3rd. This year it ran right through Milwaukee on January 30th.
400+ students from public, public charter and private schools in Milwaukee were in attendance.
The DFER WI team worked like crazy to make sure that the Milwaukee event was the biggest (and best) event on the tour - and I’m pleased to say they were successful. When the Whistlestop Tour pulled into Milwaukee it was greeted by 400+ students and parents from traditional public, public charter and private schools from every corner of the city. This event marks the first time that Milwaukee will celebrate choice in ALL its forms. The Milwaukee Public Schools, the private schools that participate in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program and the independent public charter schools were all partners in the event. This was a first and it was very exciting to be a part of the festivities.
The unity didn’t stop there. As a former legislator, I am all too familiar with the pervasive and often divisive political reality of education policy. DFER WI has made it one of their priorities to make sure this event was not only a celebration of kids and parents, but a reminder that education reform is NOT a partisan issue. Too often politicians stand in the way of Milwaukee children and the schools that serve them. Not today - today some of the top Democratic and progressive leaders in Milwaukee and Wisconsin stood up for them. DFER was honored to welcome Milwaukee Mayor (and two-time Democratic gubernatorial candidate) Tom Barrett, Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele, Milwaukee Common Council President Willie Hines and elected State Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Tony Evers. Governor Walker and cadre of other elected officials from both political parties also joined them to celebrate the diversity of Milwaukee’s education ecosystem.
Congratulations, Milwaukee! It’s about time we really celebrate the options we have made available to our parents and kids. And thanks to all our leaders for turning out to show your support for ALL of our schools and the kids they serve.
See additional photos from the event here.
Jason Fields, a Milwaukee native, served as a Democrat in the Wisconsin State Assembly from 2004 to 2012. During his time in office, Jason was a champion for school choice and charter school programs within Milwaukee and throughout the state. He was the driving force behind a program that helped transfer over 20,000 Milwaukee school children from failing neighborhood schools to private institutions that better suited their needs.
As a legislator, Fields was known for his ability to build relationships on both sides of the aisle. He often put people ahead of politics in order to pursue his passion for education reform and ensure that high quality charter and school choice programs remained a legislative priority.
Will Milwaukee finally elect an Education Reform Caucus?
May 29, 2012
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.
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