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Democratic polling memo shows popularity of school choice

By   /   October 31, 2016  /   News  /   No Comments

School choice advocates in Wisconsin are pointing to a Democratic polling memo uncovered by Wikileaks as evidence of the strong support for private school vouchers in the African-American community.

“The Democratic Party needs to reexamine itself as it relates to the support of African Americans,” Jason Fields, the Democratic candidate in the 11th assembly district, said in a statement released Friday. “You cannot say you’re with us, but then leave us in an environment where our children are not receiving a quality education.”

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JASON FIELDS: “You cannot say you’re with us, but then leave us in an environment where our children are not receiving a quality education.”

Fields, who won a three-way primary in August in the predominantly African-American district, added, “When we look at what’s occurring in our community, and if we believe that education is the way out, then the Dems need to question why so many of their so-called faithful are waiting for them to actually catch up and support our rights as African Americans to obtain a great education.”

In the 2008 state-by-state polling memo uncovered by Wikileaks, the Democratic consulting firm The Atlas Project cautioned Democrats there was strong support for school choice in the African-American community in Wisconsin.

“Many community leaders and African American ministers and pastors strongly support continuing this program. This issue has given Republicans an opening to address African American congregations in the past two elections,” the memo said. “There are a lot of politics surrounding the issues of voucher schools; many of the schools generate tremendous revenue for the corresponding churches, and local pastors view their ability to provide a safe and quality learning environment as paramount over other concerns.”

Justin Morales, Wisconsin state director for the American Federation for Children, said in a statement that the memo corroborates a poll in May that showed a majority of voters support school choice. That poll showed 54 percent of likely Wisconsin voters supported the Wisconsin Parental Choice Program, including 42 percent of Democratic voters.

“This should come as no surprise,” said Justin Moralez of the American Federation for Children. “As we continue to see increased enrollment growth and better test scores by choice students, families from all over Wisconsin are embracing the idea of education alternatives. We look forward to more Democratic leaders in office adhering to their constituent’s desire for educational opportunities.”

The memo also said that mishandling the school choice issue could hurt Democrats among black voters.

“Although it has not yet cost Democrats votes, it is extremely important for Democrats to handle their politics and message on this issue very carefully,” the memo advised. “It may and likely will cause them a few headaches, and it will require a little handholding and an examination of the magnitude of the problem facing parents who want their children to get a good education in the city of Milwaukee.”

The email containing the polling memo is one of the “Podesta emails” believed to be taken in a computer hack of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign chairman John Podesta’s personal email account. According to the Associated Press, Wikileaks has released about 31,000 of Podesta’s emails dating to 2008. The FBI is investigating who is responsible for breaking into Podesta’s email account, but Democrats and U.S. intelligence are pointing to the Russian government.

SEE RELATED: Podesta email shows Wisconsin Dems getting advice on school choice

Despite the warning in the polling memo, Wisconsin Democrats continue to attack school choice programs, claiming that more money is spent on private school choice vouchers per student than on students in public schools. The voucher amount for the state’s three school choice programs is $7,210 for kindergarten through eighth grade, and $7,856 per pupil in high school. Spending per pupil in the state’s public schools is $13,031 when all funding sources are included.


James Wigderson is a Wisconsin-based reporter for Watchdog. He is also an online contributor to MacIver Institute and RightWisconsin, blogs at the Wigderson Library and Pub, and was formerly an award-winning local columnist for the Waukesha Freeman. James is a member of Investigative Reporters and Editors. He lives in Waukesha, WI, with his wife Doreen and their children.