State Rep. Dale Kooyenga is ready to consider drastic measures to reform Milwaukee Public Schools after the resignation of Opportunity Schools Partnership Program Commissioner Demond Means.
“We’ll go back to the drawing board. We’ll see if we can improve on the current plan or something different altogether,” Kooyenga said in an interview. “That could include possibly breaking up MPS into several pieces. We could [impose] monetary penalties for obstruction.”
Kooyenga said lawmakers will be listening to people from across the political spectrum for suggestions. “But we essentially want to listen to people who say this is not acceptable what’s going on in Milwaukee, and take action,” Kooyenga said.
Kooyenga said it’s “very unlikely” the OSPP will be in place for the 2016-17 school year. He blamed MPS for the failure, citing what he called district officials’ “good job of bringing absolute chaos, dysfunction and toxic environment for trying new ideas in Milwaukee.”
The OSPP was created by the state legislature to turn around up to three failing schools in Milwaukee in the first year. Control of the OSPP was given to Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele. He and Means, his appointed commissioner, attempted to partner with MPS in the running of one unnamed school, retaining MPS teachers and MPS disciplinary policies.
On June 17, MPS rejected the Means and Abele plan, proposing instead that an early childhood education center be created. That proposal was immediately condemned by Kooyenga and state Sen. Alberta Darling as not sufficient to comply with the law the two legislators wrote.
Means resigned June 29 after criticism of the lack of progress in creating the OSPP.
The future of the OSPP is unknown at this point. Abele has 120 days to appoint a new commissioner, well into the start of the 2016-17 academic year.
While applauding Means’ and Abele’s efforts at working with MPS to try to minimize the “political friction,” Kooyenga said the process has helped clarify the debate over education.
“I don’t think this whole thing’s bad. I feel like the whole process is good because these schools cannot get any worse. These are the worst of the worst schools”, the Brookfield Republican said. “And just let the record reflect that here we are as conservatives fighting for a change in the worst schools, and here is the left fighting tooth and nail to make sure that there is no change in these kids’ lives.”
Kooyenga said that whatever the legislature decides, it needs to put “more teeth” in the law. “Do what the federal government does to us. Put financial penalties if there’s not compliance,” Kooyenga said. “We’ve got to ask what we can do to encourage change in the schools.”
“We’re trying to change things. I think the left has effectively put sand in the gears,” Kooyenga said.